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.

Wines of the Week- O’Briens Fine Wine Sale

The beginning of December sees the calm before the Christmas storm for drinks retailers.  Many offer enticing discounts in an effort to lure in the early shoppers; so it’s a great time for savvy consumers to pick up a few bargains.  Today sees the beginning of O’Briens Off Licence Fine Wine Sale, with over fifty of their premium wines getting discounted by up to 40%.  Over the coming weeks I will do a post about the best bargain Christmas Cracker wines in each major retailer, but today is all about that special Christmas Day dinner wine.

The key to matching wines with Christmas dinner is not so much the meat served, but the accompanying sauce.  If you lean towards a rich red wine gravy and cranberry sauce over your turkey and ham, match it with a wine of similar stature, such as an Amarone.  These are big bruiser reds from the north-east of Italy, made by partially drying the Corvina and Rondinella grapes; a method known as appassimento.  Raisining the grapes concentrates their flavour and richness before fermenting them into a rich, dry, powerful (and high alcohol!) wine.

Due to the long, expensive production process, these wines are never cheap but there are a number of great quality Amarone wines included in the Fine Wine sale.  At €24.99 (down from €34.99), the Rizzardi 3 Cru Amarone 2010 offers terrific value and is a great introduction to the Amarone style.  However, if your budget can stretch to the Musella Amarone Riserva 2009, you will be well rewarded.  At €40 (from €52) this is a big outlay for one bottle of wine and may not be to everyone’s taste.  But if you like a highly concentrated wine with massive body and lashings of deep, dark fruit, balanced with a rich elegance you will not do better than this superb wine.

castillo-ygay-2005

Castillo Ygay

Sticking with big reds, the Spanish are represented in the sale by one of Rioja’s great houses: Marqués de Murrieta.  Founded in 1822, this is one of the stalwarts of the Rioja region and continues to make wines in the classic style; expect plenty of oak ageing and complexity from time in the bottle.  The daddy of the Bodega is Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva 2005.  Made from Tempranillo and Mazuelo grapes from their premium 80-year-old La Plana vineyard, this wine is left in predominantly American oak barrels for over 2 years, before ageing in bottle.  It is full of cherry and bramble fruits, toasty and complex, with a long spicy finish; still surprisingly youthful for a 10-year-old wine. Delicious.

21597-00_marques-de-murrieta-gran-reserva-2007

Gran Reserva

However, as their flagship wine, the Castillo Ygay is still €63.75 (from €85) in the Fine Wine Sale.  As this falls well outside most of our budgets, you can pick up the excellent Marqués de Murrieta Gran Reserva 2007 for a more reasonable €24.99 (usually €34.99).  This offers a very similar palate to its illustrious older-brother without the price tag.  With deep, rich black and red bramble fruits; spice, vanilla and toast from the oak barrels.  As the world moves in the direction of more fruit-driven, fresher red wines, I remain a huge fan of well-made classic Rioja Gran Reserva and this is a big, classic Rioja at its best.

Capellanía

Capellanía

Although not in the Fine Wine sale, I would like to give an honourable mention to Marqués de Murrieta’s Cappelanía; a classic oak-aged white Rioja.  With roughly 18 months in wood (depending on vintage) these wines are a rare gem as the wine world becomes more homogenised.  Although they will certainly not be to everyone’s taste, these wines offer notes of over-ripe pear, Christmas spice, toast and vanilla alongside a distinct fino sherry-character from the intentional slow oxidation.  These white wines age extremely well and there are a few vintages to be found around Dublin for the intrepid Bacchant.  The 2010 is currently available in O’Briens and the 2005 is available from Sweeney’s on the Finglas Rd.

kirwan

The pick of the French is Chateau Kirwan 2012: reduced by €26 (from €65 to €39).  This elegant Cabernet-dominated Margaux offers rich black fruits and a spicy finish; although drinking very well now, it would be even better if put away for next year.

The O’Briens Fine Wine sale ends Sunday and store limits apply, so be quick. Happy Drinking. HB.

A Day To Celebrate

gay flag

Over the past few years it has been rare that Ireland finds itself in the international news for positive reasons, but today is certainly one of them.  The first country to offer the electorate a vote over same sex marriage and looking likely to be the first country to pass that vote.  And by a landslide no less.  There seems to be a real positivity in the air, enhanced by the beautiful May sunshine: almost as rare as a positive Irish news story.  So, what better way to enjoy this beautiful and historic day than a barbeque with a few good Sauvignon Blancs from the O’Briens wine promotion?

 

Mionetto Vivo. WAS €17.99. NOW €14.99.

Mionetto Vivo. WAS €17.99. NOW €14.99.

Ok, this is cheating slightly, as Sauvignon Blanc only makes up a tiny part of this blend, but how better to kick things off than with a bottle of fizz?  Relatively light in alcohol (10.5%), this is made in the Extra-Dry style, meaning it has a little residual sugar sweetness.  Alongside this touch of sweetness is a lovely rich body with hints of pear and stone fruits.  This is a little more expensive than some other Prosecco (more fizz pressure=more tax!) but well worth it for this celebratory day.  Complex and easy drinking, this will pair up with plenty of foods- oysters or buffalo mozzarella aperitifs spring to mind.

O’ Briens Off-Licences: Was €17.99. Now €14.99.

 

Châtelain Desjacques Sauvignon Blanc. WAS €14.99. NOW €9.99.

Châtelain Desjacques Sauvignon Blanc. WAS €14.99. NOW €9.99.

This is a lovely dry, classic Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley.  Dry with lovely high acidity, and fresh citrus fruits, enjoy this chilled with chicken or cheese dishes.  This is great value for under a tenner.  Excellent value for a good barbeque wine.

O’ Briens Off-Licences: Was €14.99. Now €9.99.

 

Ara Pathway Sauvignon Blanc. WAS €15.49. NOW €12.99.

Ara Pathway Sauvignon Blanc. WAS €15.49. NOW €12.99.

If you prefer a bolder, fruitier style Sauvignon Blanc, the Ara Pathway from the extremely popular Marlborough region in New Zealand is certainly worth a look.  It is very aromatic with notes of cut grass and herbs, peaches and passion fruit.  It also has a lovely stony minerality adding some lovely complexity.  This is an extremely easy drinking wine and would go great with grilled white meats straight off the barbecue.

These are just a few good value suggestions to try on this historic day.  But whatever you do, enjoy your weekend and appreciate what the people of Ireland have achieved.

Happy Drinking.

HB.

Bertani Lugana Collezione

Bertani Lugana Collezione, Lugana DOCG 2012. O'Briens Was €16.49 Now €10.99.

Bertani Lugana Collezione, Lugana DOCG 2012. O’Briens Was €16.49 Now €10.99.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first time I tried this wine was at O’Briens Wine Fair last October and loved it so much I picked a bottle on special, threw it on a wine rack and forgot all about it.  Seeing it on special again in O’Briens this afternoon made me root it out and try it today with a risotto dish I am trying desperately hard to taste like anything other than salty play-doh!

Made on the slopes of the hills running down to Lake Garda, Lugana is a Northern Italian wine made from the Trebbiano grape.  Pale gold, this is a silky smooth wine with plenty of nice stone fruit, warm lemony citrus and a touch of minerality.  For the sale price it is a pretty nice, easy drinking, food-friendly wine, but would hesitate to buy it at the original price.

On a better note, the leek and pangasius risotto turned out perfectly- I realised a scoop of mascarpone is a great cheat to get it nice and creamy!

Rating: DECENT 3/5

Masi Wine Tasting

 

masi

Who you drink wine with is a lot more important than where you drink it.  Wine is made to be enjoyed with friends and one of my best memories is tasting wine in a garage winery in Toro, using the concrete floor as a spitoon!  However, sometimes a location suits the occasion, and tonight’s Masi wine tasting in The Adam’s Suite of The Shelbourne Hotel was a fitting venue to try their elegant Italian wines.

 

Hosted by Findlater and O’Briens, the president of Masi, Sandro Boscaini, was the guest of honour, giving a talk and guided tasting to a room full of eager wine lovers.  Making wines in the romantic setting of the Veneto region, the stunning landscape bounded by Lake Garda and the Alps, Sandro is the sixth generation of his family to make wines.  And from one evening in his company, it is obvious to see his passion for wine making.  This passion for food is ingrained in the Italian psyche and I’ve no doubt Sandro would be as equally passionate making bread as he would making Amarone.  As he says himself, the land is the most important factor in food, followed by the ‘magic of fermentation’, be it a cheese or a fine wine.

 

Appassimento

Masi pride their wines on being a marriage of tradition and innovation.  In the strictly controlled DOC system of Italian wines, it can be difficult to make an innovative wine, but Masi have consistently pushed boundaries and marry new techniques with traditional methods.  Leading from the front in this fashion sees some of their wines fall in to the second tier of Italian wine classification (IGT), but is a refreshing attitude from such a well-established winery.  One of the methods Masi are particularly adept at using is appassimento.  This is a traditional wine-making technique whereby fruit is partially dried on mats to remove some of the water, leaving shrivelled, raisined grapes that offer much higher concentration of sugar and flavours.  This method is traditionally used to make Amarone and Ripasso red wines in the Valpolicella region.  Masi, not content with simply making red wines, have utilised this technique to produce a stunning rosé and white wine.  Falling outside the top DOC tier, but widely acknowledged for their elegance and innovation, these wines are known as Supervenetians.  Surely this slightly comical name alone is enough to give them a try!

 

Wines

Producing world renowned, quality red wines- Masi have been shipping here to Ireland for 25 years- many of you will know how good (and often expensive) their reds are.  Instead I want to concentrate on their rosé and white, as these were the star of the show for me.

 

Rosa Dei Masi, 2013

Rosa Dei Masi 2013. O'Briens €19.49.

Rosa Dei Masi, Venezie IGT, 2013. O’Briens €19.49.

This wine is made with Refosco, a grape usually high in tannin and acidity- not suited to making elegant rosé wines.  Undeterred, Masi used appassimento to lightly dry a small quantity of the grapes, helping to bring down the acidity and soften the austere nature of Refosco.  The resulting wine is elegant and smooth, full of ripe raspberries and cherries.  It is lovely and dry with a very long, pleasant finish of red berries.  This is excellent on its own, but would be even better with food.  Pretty much any Italian fish or meat dish would do nicely.  It’s a little expensive, but for a special occasion wine, on a nice sunny evening (if we get any more!), this is absolutely perfect.

 

Rating: EXCELLENT 4.5/5

 

 

 

Masianco, 2013

Masianco, Venezie IGT, 2013. O'Briens Was €19.49 Now €14.99

Masianco, Venezie IGT, 2013.
O’Briens Was €19.49 Now €14.99.

Masianco is a blend of Pinot Grigio and Verduzza.  As with the rosé above, Sandro wanted to improve on the Pinot Grigio grape, believing it to be a bit too light on the finish.  To give it a bit more body, Masi use Verduzzo grapes that have undergone appassimento.  Usually reserved for sweet wines, this process gives the Verduzzo a lovely honeyed complexity and creaminess.  The wine has a lovely balance of sweet wild honey and fresh acidity alongside fresh peach and pear leaving an incredible finish.  Again this is a great wine and is reduced in O’Briens at the moment if you wanted to spend a little more on a special weekend wine.

 

Rating: EXCELLENT 4.5/5

 

It was a great night and for only €15 each (through DiningRoom.ie) including a €10 O’Briens gift voucher to spend on Masi wines, it was terrific value.  Grazie Mille to Sandro and all involved.

 

‘Wine is the companion of life, companion of friendship’.

-Sandro Boscaini, President Masi Agricola.