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.

Sunny Saturday Reds

The forecast says today is set to reach 20 degrees across parts of our fair isle (cue thunderstorms and egg on my face!). So if you plan on taking advantage of our 24-hour window of summer with a BBQ, here are a few suggestions to match your grub.

O’Briens have a fantastic summer sale at the moment, so if you’re in the mood for a juicy BBQ steak I recommend these two great reds. The first is from my favourite red wine region in Spain, Ribera del Duero, by one of its top producers, Torres.  Celeste Crianza is a staple on Miguel Torres’ lunch table at his private Mas Rabell restaurant; if it is good enough for him, surely it’s good enough for us mere mortals!

Torres Celeste, Ribera del Duero.  O'Briens: WAS €21.99. NOW €17.99

Torres Celeste, Ribera del Duero.
O’Briens: WAS €21.99. NOW €17.99

Unlike the over-oaked behemoths that we sometimes find in northern Spain, this Tempranillo is full-bodied but fresh, delivering juicy blackberry fruit and a long peppery finish.  This is a great price for a terrific wine; I was in Catalunya last week and it was the same price in the supermarket there.  Considering Ireland’s scandalous wine taxation I would consider this a bargain.

Porta 6, Lisboa. O Briens: WAS: €12.99. NOW €9.99

Porta 6, Lisboa. O Briens: WAS: €12.99. NOW €9.99

For something a little lighter on the pocket and the palate is Porta 6, from Portugal.  A blend of Tempranillo (called Tinta Roriz in Portugal) and local varieties, this offers plenty of warm forest fruits and floral notes.  Like the Celeste above it has lovely freshness and acidity to balance the weighty tannins and spicy finish.  Excellent value and worth grabbing a few bottles at this price.

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.

 

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.