Some Easter Tipples and 15% Back at O’Briens

It has been a fortnight of celebration here in Ireland.  Last week saw the St Patrick’s day festivities and this week will see the commemoration of the Centenary of the 1916 Rising on Easter Sunday.  To help us celebrate, O’Briens Wines are giving 15% back on your Loyalty card when you buy 6 bottles of wine.  There is also a 6 For 5 deal on Irish craft beers, so below are a few recommendations to help celebrate this long weekend in style.

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Wicklow Wolf, Children of the Revolution IPA, €3.95/500ml

First up is a celebration IPA from the lads in Wicklow Wolf brewery.  This beer got some great press when some bored whingers with nothing better to do with their time accused the brew of being aimed at children due to the name.  Surely if your kids manage to get their mits on beer you have bigger things to worry about?

Keeping in style with their regular bottles the lads have subtly blended in the shadow of a Tricolour on the label to distinguish it from their Free Ranger IPA.  A deep golden colour in the glass, this beer has a warm white grapefruit and orange peel nose.  Made with a medley of 5 different hops, it unsurprisingly has a satisfying hoppy finish alongside refreshing citrus flavours.

The Irish Wino’s Verdict:  This beer is the best to come out of Wicklow Wolf yet.  Refreshing and easy to drink (possibly dangerously so!) I reckon this Centenary Celebration brew will sell out quickly, so stock up if you see it.

 

Conde Valdemar Gran Reserva 2007

Bodegas Valdemar, Conde Valdemar Gran Reserva Rioja 2007, €19.99 (down from €33.45 for Easter) O’Briens

The first wine comes from the consistently impressive Bodegas Valdemar; a family-owned winery dating back to 1889 and now boasting its fifth generation of winemakers.  Only produced in the best vintages, their Gran Reserva wines are made from carefully selected estate-grown Tempranillo, Mazuelo and Graziano grapes.

Unlike most other countries, Spain has imposed a legal definition on the terms Reserva and Gran Reserva appearing on wine labels.  This wine is aged in oak barrrels for 26 months before being left to develop in bottle for a further 4-5 years.  Even then the wine is subject to the strictest of standards and only the crème de la crème will achieve the Conde Valdemar label (the 2008 vintage fell at this final hurdle).

The care and attention that go in to making these wines means they are capable of ageing incredibly well and tend to develop a rich meaty and balsamic character with time.  Last year I tasted a number of older vintages, dating back to 1973, and they were still deliciously vibrant.

 

The 2007 above has a lovely perfumed and floral nose, helped by the small dash of Graciano in the blend.  The oak is still quite evident (spice, coconut, vanilla), but is balanced by ripe cherries and deep black fruits, as well as an attractive fresh tobacco aroma.  In the mouth the wine really packs a punch of bramble fruits and sweet spices; as well as a more savoury character on the finish from the long ageing.

The Irish Wino’s Verdict This wine is a perfect match for an Easter Sunday roast beef.  If you have the patience (and dosh!) grab a few at this price and lay them down for a few years; they’re a great addition to any budding wine cellar.  If you like this, try rooting out Bodegas Valdemar’s excellent Maturana- a long-abandoned Rioja grape variety that is being rejuvinated by a couple of pioneering wineries.

Chateau-Les-Auzines-AOC-Corbieres-2011-Cuvee-Les-Hautes-

Château Les Auzines, Hautes Terres Rouge Corbières 2011, €12.95 (down from €14.95 for Easter) O’Briens

The second wine has a suitably Irish connection.  It is made by Laurent Miquel and his Irish wife, Neasa, in their organic estate high in the hills of Corbières, in the south of France.

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The picturesque village of Lagrasse in Corbières

On the nose this wine has deep red fruits- cherry and overripe strawberry- from the Grenache, as well as some darker bramble fruits and black pepper from the Syrah.  In the mouth it follows through with the bramble fruits, sour cherry and some balsamic notes from the ageing.  It has a long, pleasant finish.

The Irish Wino’s Verdict:  This wine is screaming out for a nice rack of lamb and mint sauce.  At €12.95 this is a very good value wine from a top producer.

Lidl Christmas Wines

Once viewed with a certain degree of skepticism, the German discounters have fundamentally changed our supermarket habits.  Not only because one can buy scuba-diving equipment and a welding torch along with their groceries, but because Lidl and Aldi bring a practical efficiency to shopping-small ranges of good quality products at a consistent and competitive price.  Their wine range is no different, where the quality is constantly improving in an attempt to entice the well-heeled through their doors.

Their bare-bones approach means they don’t offer the service knowledge or rare, niche wines offered by an independent wine specialist, but their unrivaled buying power means they can offer superb value at the budget end.  Over these next two posts I will recommend some of the best value wines offered by Lidl and Aldi.

Lidl White Wines

Cimarosa New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (€8.79)

For the past number of years New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has been on the crest of a wave that doesn’t look likely to break any time soon.  Consequently, the prices have steadily increased and it is hard to find good wines under €15.  This example from Lidl is a great bargain at €8.79.  On the nose it has the typical cooler Sauvignon Blanc notes of freshly cut grass and green vegetables.  On the palate it offers a touch of passion fruit, with a lovely acidity and weight of mouth feel.  This is a lovely wine at an extremely competitive price.

Engelberg JP Muller Alsace Grand Cru AOP Riesling 2012 (€12.99)

To some the second white will be a little from left-field; a fantastic introduction to Alsace Riesling.  The Alsace Grand Cru appellation designates the prime vineyards and (theoretically) best wines within the greater Alsace region, which borders Germany in east France.  Strict quality criteria, such as grape yields and minimum ripeness levels, have to be met to qualify for the designation.  Many consumers are
wary of buying Riesling, uncertain of whether it will be sweet or dry, but it is a wonderfully adaptable, aromatic grape that should be explored and most Alsatian wines are dry (sweet wines will have Vendange Tardive or Sélection de Grains Nobles on the label).

This wine is dry with an enticing smokey minerality, offering soft white and tropical fruit on top of red grapefruit flavours.  There is a hint of floral and a lovely rich mouth feel with a satisfyingly long finish of pear and lime.  A delicious wine that will reward the adventurous!

There are a number of other budget wines worth an honourable mention;

Cimarosa Australian Chardonnay/Colombard 2014 (€6.49),

Cimarosa Californian Chardonnay 2013 (€6.49),

Macon-Villages AOP 2014 (€9.99),

Roessslin Alsace Riesling AOP (€9.99).

Lidl Red Wines

Baturrica Gran Reserva Tarragona DO 2007 (€7.99)

The first red is from Catalunya in northern Spain.  Made from a blend of Tempranillo (Ull de Llebre in Catalan) and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, it is aged for 2 years in oak before bottling, before being cellared for at least three years to integrate the oak and smooth out the tannins.  This long oaking and ageing process produces a complex, full-bodied wine with big notes of vanilla and toast alongside more balsamic and meaty flavours.  However, like any good Gran Reserva there is also more than its fair share of red berries and blackcurrant fruits present that belies the fact it is 8 years old.  A big bold and rich wine similar to a Gran Reseva Rioja, but without the same price tag.

Chateau Sigognac Medoc AOP Cru Bourgeois 2010 (€12.99)

This Bordeaux is a lovely alternative to the Spanish bruiser above.  2010 was a great vintage in Bordeaux and this wine shows all the complexity and finesse one would expect.  Loads of black berried fruits and hint of smoke and spice, this wine has great body and good round tannins.  It finishes with a rich and long length of blackcurrants and pepper.  Delicious claret.

 

Lidl Sweet Wine

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Vidal Pillitteri Estates Canadian Icewine

 

Vidal Pillitteri Estates Canadian Icewine, 20cl (€18.00)

Icewine is one of the most fascianting methods of wine production.  The grapes (usually Riesling) are left on the vine until winter begins.  Only when the temperature reaches – C, and the grapes freeze through, are they hand picked (usually at night).  The grapes are pressed immediately, leaving behind the frozen water and releasing a small quantity of juice- intense with concentrated sugars, acids, flavours and aromas- that is slowly fermented.  Because of the lost water weight, it takes roughly ten times the quantity of grapes to make an icewine compared to a regular dry wine.  Due to these demanding production methods, icewines can be prohibitively expensive, but the Lidl example is fabulous value, despite the small bottle size.  A little glass will go a long way.

Coming from the Niagara region of Canada this complex wine has terrific apricot, honey, peach and pineapple flavours.  It’s sweetness is tempered by high acidity, leaving your mouth feeling fresh, with the long lingering kiss of honeyed fruits.  Enjoy a small glass of this with dessert.

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.

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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.

Priorat- Part II. Clos Mogador

 

Celler Clos Mogador

Celler Clos Mogador

 

Although the phrase ‘living legend’ is often flung about with the hyperbolic abandon of wedding confetti, it is genuinely hard to find a more apt title for René Barbier.  Few wine regions in the world owe its success to one winemaker more than Priorat does to the founder of Celler Clos Mogador.

Despite the Agricultural Ministry recognising it as having potential in 1932, a combination of phylloxera in the 19th century and political upheaval through the 20th saw most Priorat vineyards abandoned and the area heavily depopulated.

Coming from a long line of winemakers, René Barbier arrived in Priorat in the late 1970’s when the region was producing little more than bulk jug wine for the Barcelona market.  Determined that it had huge quality potential, René convinced seven* other winemakers to experiment on this parched, baked llicorella (local slate) soil.  These early pioneers formed a winery producing one wine from their collective grapes, but released under their respective names.

Their powerful wines quickly gained international attention for the concentration, minerality and purity of fruit.  They went on to become some of the best known wines in Spain: l’Ermita, Clos de l’Obac and Clos Mogador.  Old, abandoned vineyards were snapped up as investment poured in to Priorat, tripling the area of land under vine in 35 years.

This oenology revolution culminated in 2000 when Priorat was awarded DOQ status by the Catalan government; one of only two Spanish regions (Rioja the other) to achieve this premium accolade.

Despite his global recognition in the wine world, René Barbier is an immediately hospitable, approachable and likeable gent.  On a recent visit to the Clos Mogador winery he gave me a private tour of his vineyards in an old Mitsubishi 4×4.  He told me in his dulcet, deliberate manner (so even my elementary Spanish could keep up) that Clos Mogador was the first wine awarded Vi de Finca staus, recognising it as a single vineyard wine of unique character.  Using no pesticides or herbicides these steep terraced vineyards are teeming with insects, wild flowers and grasses; the oldest vines producing as little as 250g of exceptionally concentrated fruit per year.

 

 

Back in the winery I was entrusted to the next generation of Barbier winemakers, René IV, whose perfect English gave my miniscule Spanish a welcome break!  Working with his father for over 20 years, René Jr is as affable in manner and as he is passionate in winemaking.  Unwilling to simply grasp his famous sire’s coattails, René Jr is continuing to innovate with his wines, both in Priorat and neighbouring Montsant; full-bodied whites, ageworthy rosé, natural wines, and the use of large local amphorae are just part of his experimentation.

Drawn to wine styles of unique character- sherry, aged Rieslings, Tokaji- René makes a lot of wines that wouldn’t have mass market appeal.  Instead he makes the wines he likes to make and drink; a fortunate luxury when your name is René Barbier!  Luckily for us he is incredibly talented at what he does.  A morning (and well in to the afternoon!) spent trying his wines shows his impressive range of winemaking skills.  Each wine unique and crafted with consummate skill; the Barbier family, synonymous with quality, is in very capable hands to continue their impressive legacy of innovation.

 

* Although we now refer to them as the Big 5, René Jnr assured me there were originally 8!

Travelling in Toro DO

This article first appeared in wineplus.ie- Ireland’s biggest online wine magazine. For your FREE monthly magazine: subscribe@wineplus.ie.

 

Toro

Sitting high on the central plateau of Spain, north-west of Madrid, Toro has a viticultural heritage dating back over two millennia when the Greeks spread vines across the Mediterranean. The modern DO is named after the largest town in the region and spreads across the gently undulating boundary of the Zamora and Valladolid provinces, at an altitude of 620m to 750m.

Roman bridge over Rio Duero as seen from Toro

Roman bridge over Rio Duero as seen from Toro

This region is steeped in the history of Spain. Its important strategic location, straddling the banks of the Duero River saw it play a key role in the Christian reconquest of Spain, subsequent wars of succession and later Napoleonic wars. Toro boasted the court of kings, the capital of the province and its strong wines filled the holds of the Spanish ships that conquered the New World. When phylloxera devastated most of the vineyards of Europe, Toro’s dry, sandy soil inhibited the spread of the louse and its wines were in huge demand in France.

Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, however, Toro was overshadowed by its more prestigious near-neighbours, both politically and vinous. Zamora became the political capital of the province while nearby Ribera del Duero became the benchmark for the red wines of Castilla y León. Today Toro peacefully sits atop its promontory quietly surveying the surrounding fertile plains, its skyline dominated by the Romanesque tower-domes of the twelfth century Collegiate church of Santa María la Mayor.

Declared a Conjunto Histórico town, Toro is the biggest in the region and has the best options for eating and accommodation so should be the base for a wine trip. Getting there by public transport is difficult and unreliable, so I suggest flying to Madrid and renting a car from there. Toro is only a two hour drive on very good roads. Once you get to the region, you will certainly need a car to visit the diffuse wineries, as public transport is non-existent.

Wines
For much of the last century Toro produced too many overly extracted, heavily-oaked, rustic wines of little interest. Wine that was once coveted by Kings was brought low by lack of investment and antiquated winery techniques. Toro DO was founded in 1987 with only four members.

However, the potential was obvious for many to see. The region’s extreme continental climate is tempered by high altitude and the presence of the Duero River, creating a diurnal range (temperature difference between day and night) that keeps freshness during the dry, hot growing season. The local clone of Tempranillo, Tinta de Toro, is a thick-skinned, early-ripening variant that offers ageworthy, powerful wines.

This attracted investors from nearby wine regions, including Vega Sicilia and Marcus Eguren. Modern techniques were married to ancient vines to create wines of unique character and complexity that has attracted much attention from wine critics. The influential Robert Parker gave Bodega Numanthia’s wine, Termanthia 2004, a perfect 100 pts.

Where to Visit
The future for Toro wine looks bright, so now is the time to visit this wonderful region and explore its welcoming bodegas. There are over fifty wineries in the region now, but many have not yet fully embraced wine tourism, so make sure you book ahead to avoid disappointment and ensure a guide in English if required.

NUMANTHIA Bodega Numanthia helped put Toro back on the wine map and should be included in any wine tour. Representing the tenacity of the Tinta de Toro grape in this inhospitable region, the winery is named after a Spanish town that refused to submit to Roman occupation for a century. Sold by the Eguren family to the premium LVMH group, it boasts a new state of the art winery and some of the best wines in Toro. Bookings must be made in advance. http://www.numanthia.com

bodegatesoFollowing the sale of Numanthia, Marcus Eguren set up Teso La Monja in the nearby hills. This is a stunning classical winery built around a wide colonnaded patio of local stone that is well worth a visit.  Tours need to be booked in advance. http://www.sierracantabria.com

logo Dominio del Bendito As good as the wines are in these premium wineries, they are not the reason I love wine tourism in more remote areas. To really experience the passion for terroir and the true potential for the wines of Toro, I recommend you organise a visit to Dominio del Bendito. Founded by a young passionate, eccentric Frenchman, Antony Terryn, Dominio del Bendito is a small production garage winery located in the centre of Toro in an old monastery. Having worked in many of the premium wine regions in the world, Antony bought a number of plots of old vines and settled in Toro.

The tour was an impromptu trip up to his ancient vineyards in his old 3-door Peugeot hatchback. Surrounded by rock and soil samples, we were serenaded by the potential of Toro wines. Back in the rustic winery we were treated to wines that were anything but rustic. Powerful and fresh with jammy forest fruits, these wines typify what modern Toro can offer. I highly recommend you get in contact before commencing your trip. http://www.bodegadominiodelbendito.com

Where to Stay
Although only recently opening up to foreign tourism in the last few years, Toro offers good quality accommodation to suit any budget.

Hotel Juan II is good value and offers spectacular views over the valley floor as well as the storks nesting in the nearby towers of the Collegiate church of Santa María la Mayor. Make sure you request a room with a balcony to fully appreciate this little gem. http://www.hotelesentoro.es

For those on a tighter budget Hotel Zaravencia is basic but clean and comfortable and overlooks Plaza Mayor in the centre of the town. http://www.hotelzaravencia.com

Valbusenda Wine and Spa Resort

Valbusenda Wine and Spa Resort

If you are looking for something more luxurious, the five-star Valbusenda Hotel Bodega & Spa is 9 kilometres outside the town. Although quite isolated, Valbusenda offers absolute luxury in its deluxe rooms and spa, as well as unrivalled dining room views over the local valley floor. Enjoy breakfast while watching birds of prey hovering over the golden, sun bathed landscape. http://www.valbusenda.com

Where to Eat
Why not do as the Spanish and go on a tapas and wine trail? Begin in Plaza Mayor and continue towards the clock tower. There are plenty of good quality local bars that open until late. But remember the siesta, as most close during the middle of the day.

For something a bit more substantial, enjoy good quality, local fare on the patio of Hotel Juan II with its views across the plains below.  Or with a terrific wine list and a Gin and Tonic only setting you back €5, come for a perfect sundowner after a busy day on the wine trail.

Patio Hotel Juan II with view of Rio Duero

Patio Hotel Juan II with view of Rio Duero

 

Information
A list of all wineries can be found on Toro DO website:
http://www.dotoro.com
Toro Local Government:
Plaza Mayor 1, Toro
http://www.toroayto.es
TORO DO Quick Facts
GRAPES:
Red (majority)/Rose: Tinta de Toro (Tempranillo), small amount of Garnacha
White: Malvasia and Verdejo
WINERIES: 54
PRODUCTION: 12,147,920 litres/yr
SOIL: Limestone/ Stony Alluvial

 

Wines to Try

 

 

 

 

M&S Bin End

Ireland has the highest rates of wine taxation in Europe.  Any bottle of wine, regardless of quality or final price is subject to excise duty of €3.19.  This tax is also subject to VAT at the standard rate of 23%, effectively making a bottle of wine €3.92, going straight to the government coffers, just for entering the country.  Every facet of wine making must then be added to this price, which is also subject to 23% VAT.

To retail a bottle of wine in Ireland for €5, taxation will account for an eye-watering €4.34!  This is why I have never recommended a bottle under €5.  Until today.

Marks and Spencer Grenache Noir 2013. Was €9.80. Now €4.90.

Marks and Spencer Grenache Noir 2013. Was €9.80. Now €4.90.

Shopping in Marks and Spencer in Liffey Valley yesterday, I spotted their Grenache Noir from the Rhône Valley was reduced from €9.80 to €6.40.  Deciding it was worth a punt at that price I popped one in my basket.  When I got to the till I smugly found it was reduced further- to €4.90.  Surely it was worth that?

I’m glad to say it was.  A blend of Grenache and Syrah, it is a simple, easy-drinking, every day wine with nice red and black fruit and a touch of spice.  The finish is a bit short, but better than many wines twice the price.  And although you won’t mistake this for a top Rhône wine, you won’t find another wine as good for this price.

I presume Marks and Spencer are discontinuing this wine, so at €4.90 it won’t last long.

Rating: DECENT 2.8/5

Value: EXCELLENT 5/5

Coravin Launch

Coravin 1000

Coravin 1000

Last Thursday I was lucky enough to be invited to the eagerly anticipated Irish launch of the Coravin wine preserver.  And yes, that eager anticipation really only applies to gadget-gawping anoraks such as yours truly. I have to admit, new wine toys hold me in a similar thrall that a piece of tin foil will lord over a magpie on a sunny day.  Corkscrews and preservers, aerators and stoppers, gizmos and gadgets; you name them, I have them.  If I spent as much money on wine I’d drink nothing but First Growths!

The launch was hosted by Greg Lambrecht, the brain behind Coravin.  Educated as a nuclear physicist at MIT, Greg’s background is in the medical field- inventing precise instruments to improve surgical techniques.  He brought these same skills to a problem he perceived with wine preservation.  Namely, once a cork is pulled on a bottle of wine, it has to be consumed relatively quickly or oxidate.  This became a particular problem when his wife was pregnant and he simply wanted a glass over dinner.  How can you have one glass of wine without wasting the rest of the bottle?

Other preservers do exist, but they all necessitate the pulling of the cork, so don’t work indefinitely.  Greg believes cork and glass are ultimately the best preservers, so in 1999 decided to work on a wine preserver that leaves the cork in place, allowing the wine to develop naturally.  After much trial and error and over 2,000 bottles of wine later, he released the Coravin 1000.

The Coravin works by inserting a small, teflon-coated non-coring needle through the cork and forcing inert Argon in to the bottle.  The pressure exerted by this gas forces wine back up through the needle and in to your glass.  The natural elasticity of cork means the hole will close quickly once the needle is removed and the Argon, which is heavier than air, will prevent oxygen from coming in contact with the wine.  It’s a wonderful piece of engineering, but I did have one major reservation.

As you are forcing gas in to a closed system, what are the chances of the bottle bursting in your hand?  Apparently there have been a few cases of this happening and caused Coravin production to be suspended.  However, each bottle that did shatter was already damaged and we were told the chances are roughly 1 in 70,000 of this happening.  Not perfect, but considering they are longer odds than being killed in a workplace accident, I suggest you swiftly quit your job and stay home drinking wine!

I have to admit I was hooked by the engineering and relative simplicity, as well as ease of use, of this nifty little gadget.  But before you go running out to buy one, make sure you have €299 in your back pocket.  And that’s just the initial cost. Once the Argon gas canister expires, after about 15 uses, they are €10 each to replace.  As well as the cost, it does not work on screw cap or sparklers and has limited effectiveness with synthetic corks.  So, it does have limitations for home use.

However, in the on-trade it should prove a game changer.  It will allow restaurants and bars to offer a much wider range of wines by the glass.  A decent selection of dessert wines, an area where Ireland is sorely lacking, should become more prevalent on lists also.  Since its launch in Britain in September, over fifty bars and restaurants in London alone have adopted its use.  And here, The Shelbourne Hotel and Chapter One have already embraced the Coravin.  Hopefully the rest of the Irish trade will see the potential and quickly follow suit.

I was kindly offered my own Coravin to try at home, so will test it over the coming months and write up a report on my findings.

The Coravin 1000 is distributed by Findlater Wine and Spirit group and is stocked in select O’Briens off-licences.

 

Two Reasonable Pinot Noirs

Pinot Noir can be a very frustrating, but extremely rewarding grape variety.  I have heard anecdotal stories of grape growers pulling their hair out of their heads and then pulling their Pinot out of the vineyard.  Whether true or not, it does illustrate how difficult this variety is to grow.  This prima donna grape demands conditions to be just right- it’s picky about the location of the vineyard, it demands a cool (but not too cool) climate, the vine needs constant pruning and attention.  And then even if it does grow for you, its thin skin and tight grape clusters make it susceptible to disease and rot!  If you can get it as far as the bottle, it remains a bit of a diva- ageing in an unpredictable and often disastrous fashion!  So, at this point, you are probably asking why someone would bother growing it.  Firstly, it grows in regions too cool for other red grapes to fully ripen- New Zealand, Germany (where it’s called Spätburgunder), Canada, Oregon etc.  But more importantly, when conditions are just right, Pinot Noir can create some of the greatest silky smooth, alluring, feminine wines in the world.  It is the principal red grape variety in both Burgundy and Champagne, propelling these areas amongst the most eagerly sought-after (not to mention expensive) wines in the world.

So, let me get to the point here.  Pinot is hard to grow, doesn’t grow in many regions and is in high demand, making it generally more expensive than wines made from many other grape varieties.  So, as I mentioned in Sunday’s post, I decided to pick up these two Pinots in Tesco’s recent 25% Off Wine Sale.  They were both reduced from €15 to €10, with a further 25% off in the sale.  They would have to be pretty poor wines to not deserve a punt at €7.50!

Wave Series Pinot Noir 2013. Tesco Was €15 reduced to €10.

Wave Series Pinot Noir 2013. Tesco Was €15 reduced to €10.

The first one I tried was the Wave Series 2013 from the Leyda Valley in Chile.  Made by Carmen, this wine has been heavily promoted through the Summer- some of you may have seen their old VW camper at some of this year’s festivals.  Many in the wine industry have been enthusiastic about the potential for Chilean Pinot Noir for quite a while now, with Leyda Valley deemed as one of the areas to watch.  I’m desperately trying to find an affordable example, so this wine, usually priced at €15, had to be good value for €7.50, right?  Wrong.  Very Wrong.

The nose was nice- full of brambly black fruit, cherry, white pepper and meaty notes.  But in the mouth there was nothing other than a wave of burning alcohol.  It felt like I rubbed Vick’s on the back of my throat, hiding any fruit or spiciness that I got on the nose.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I like throwing back a few shots, but if I wanted that burning sensation I would have had some of the Absynthe I bought in Poland last month!

This is a perfect example of how a wine can be terribly out of balance.  The alcohol on the label stated 13.5% alcohol, which is a lot less than many modern New World wines, but because there was not enough fruit, and tannin (the mouth drying effect of a wine), the alcohol was very noticeable.  In good wines, the alcohol will be balanced by the other components of the wine (fruit, tannin and acidity), lessening that unpleasant burning sensation.

Rating: POOR 1.5/5 (and maybe even generous at that!)

Oyster Bay Pinot Noir 2012. Tesco Was €15. Reduced €10.

Oyster Bay Pinot Noir 2012. Tesco Was €15. Reduced €10.

The other Pinot I bought in the wine sale, Oyster Bay’s 2012, was on the exact same promotion- €15 to €10 with the additional 25% reduction making it €7.50.  This wine is produced in Marlborough, a region on the northern tip of New Zealand’s south island.  Better known for its world-renowned Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough seems to turn any grape it grows to gold right now and has excellent conditions for growing Pinot Noir- a cool climate, suitable soil and plenty of sunshine.  Although this is not one of the best examples from New Zealand I have tried, it is infinitely better than the Chilean attempt above, and at €7.50 was a steal.  Even at the €10 promotional price you would struggle to find a better Pinot Noir than this one.

The nose is lovely and fruity with red cherry and plum over a little hint of vanilla coming from the oak in which the wine was aged.  In the mouth, this wine is everything the Chilean above is not- a lovely balance of red fruit with light silky tannin and only the slightest hint of alcohol, despite only having 0.5% abv less.  The let down is the finish, which is disappointingly brief.

This wine would pair beautifully with pork or lamb.  Or why not try it with a nice meaty piece of Swordfish.

Rating: GOOD 3.5/5

In conclusion, although both of these producers are huge conglomerates, Oyster Bay puts absolute emphasis on the quality of their wine to drive the brand.  Wave Series, on the other hand, could do away with the marketing campaign around their VW camper van and pay more attention in the winery.  Hopefully you guys will vote with your pocket.  I know I will- as long as the New Zealand wine stays on promotion it is my new go-to Weekday Pinot.

Happy Drinking, HB.

Great Value Spanish in Aldi

Paniza

Paniza Crianza, Cariñena DOP, Spain, 2009.

Aldi, €6.30.

It’s very hard to find a good bottle of wine in Ireland for under €7 these days.  When you consider the government slap €3.18 duty on every bottle of wine imported into the country, the value of the actual wine in the bottle becomes increasingly  squeezed at the lower end of the market.  On top of this the price of the bottle of wine, including the duty, is subject to 23% VAT.  So, of the €6.30 I paid for the wine above, €4.35 goes straight to the tax man!  As disgraceful as that it is (I’ll deal with this again), it is incredible that this wine can be so good.  The costs of producing this include the land for growing the grapes, wages for a team of pickers, paying for the material and permits of running a winery (including expensive oak barrels), storage for 5 years, glass bottle, label and shipping costs from Spain to Ireland.  On top of this the winery owner and the supermarket have to make a profit.  All out of the remaining €1.95.  So to say this wine is a bargain is an understatement.

It comes from Cariñena, a wine region in the north east of Spain, that was first planted by the Romans.  It is believed Carignan, a grape widely grown in southern France was first cultivated here.  The region is quite high- 400-800m above sea level, and this altitude is crucial to growing good grapes in central Spain.  The Summer heat, which can reach 38 degrees, is tempered by cool nights and a brisk northerly breeze known as the cierzo, allowing the grapes to relax at night after a day of sun baking.  It is this diurnal temperature variation that is responsible for the quality wines of  Rioja and Ribera del Duero further west.

It was my father, always with an astute eye for a good bargain, who picked up this wine yesterday.  I opened it and tested it through the Vin Aire to see what it was like with a little decanting, and perhaps needed it (a decanter would do just as well).  An unusual blend for Cariñena, it is 60% Tempranillo and 20% each Garnacha and Cabernet Sauvignon.  The wine is brick red in the glass, still fresh and fruity on the nose, despite it being five years old.  Lovely aromas of blackberries, cherries, vanilla from the American oak and a little smokey- very inviting.  In the mouth it is full bodied with nice tannins.  The blackberries, cherries, oak are still there on the palate, but there is a lovely spiciness that complements the tobacco and chocolate flavours.  The alcohol is evident on the finish though and I reckon it could well be higher than the 13.5% abv it says on the label.

This really is fabulous value and if you like robust Spanish reds with plenty of fruit and lots of character, you will not do better anywhere near this price.  I’d advise you to pick up a few bottles quickly though, as it seems to be a once off.

Rating: VERY GOOD 4/5

VALUE FOR MONEY: 5/5