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.

Wine Tour From Barcelona

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

Newlogolandscape

As the third most visited city in Europe last year, Barcelona needs no introduction; in 2014 over 7 million people enjoyed the modernist architecture of Gaudí set amongst the old world charm of this thriving city. There are sufficient guide books espousing the grandeur of the architecture and dark histories of the gothic Born to satisfy the most ardent culture vulture: but Barcelona also offers a myriad of opportunities for the enthusiastic wine traveller.

If you are planning a wine holiday from the city, start off on the right foot and base yourself in the wine-themed Praktik Vinoteca. This hotel offers tastings and events during the week that will keep any wine lover satisfied. It is located a short walk from the elegant Passeig de Gràcia, where you will find La Vinoteca Torres. This beautiful restaurant and wine bar offers every Torres wine by the glass, as well as some classic, rare vintages.

However, Barcelona’s Ace Card for the dedicated wine traveller is its proximity to some of the best wine regions in the world. Catalunya boasts ten Denominaciones de Origen, as well as being the traditional home of Cava. Take a break from the city to discover some of the best wines in Spain.

Penedès & Cava DO’sDO-PENEDES
Right on Barcelona’s doorstep is the premium wine region of Penedès. The main town is Vilafranca del Penedès, which is served by the local train service. This bustling town is well worth a visit and is the closest to the Torres family’s impressive winery. Book ahead at reserves@torres.es and they will arrange bus transfer out to their immaculate winery where you can enjoy a tour of the vineyards in a solar-powered train. Well worth the trip.

Penedès can also boast the best quality sparkling wine in the country. Cava is produced using the same laborious, slow method that produces Champagne; and the best can compete with their illustrious French counterparts.

DO CAVA

Although Cava can be produced across Spain, its traditional heart beats in the small town of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia. A 45 minute train journey from Barcelona, Cava cellars jostle for space amongst the tapas bars and restaurants of this vibrant town.

Cava Cellars to Visit
Codorníu: Located a short walk from the town centre, this is the oldest winery in Spain, dating back to the sixteenth century. In 1872 Codorníu began making the first Cava and are still the second largest producer. From the cathedral-esque modernist visitor centre, to the endless miles of ageing tunnels dug 30 metres into the rock below the winery, the scale of Codorníu is jaw-dropping. http://www.codorniu .com

P1090318Recaredo: Inspired by the premium Champagne houses, Recaredo is meticulous about quality. Practicing extended lees ageing, biodynamic viticulture, and hand remuage and disgorgement, they produce some of the finest sparkling wine in Spain from local and international grape varieties. This small family business is a wonderfully intimate winery set in the centre of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia. http://www.recaredo.com

Further information can be found at http://www.turismesantsadurni.com

Priotat DOQ
The jewel in Catalunya’s viticultural crown, Priorat is one of only two regions in Spain (the other being Rioja) to achieve the premium DOC/DOQ classification. This arid, remote region is a relative newcomer to the world of fine wines, but has quickly garnered a reputation for its powerful, rich reds, grown on the unique llicorella soils.

Despite the popularity of the wines, Priorat’s mountainous isolation has seen a slow uptake in tourists, offering the intrepid wine traveller a glimpse of unspoilt, rural Catalunya. Although there is a public transport system, it is infrequent and unreliable; instead rent a car and drive the two hours from Barcelona.

The remote, sleepy white villages are the perfect antidote to the bustle of the city, so why not stay a couple of nights in the picturesque village of Gratallops. The wonderful family-run Hotel Cal Llop offers terrific views across some of the finest vineyards in Spain.

Wineries to Visit
Torres Priorat: As Torres looks to expand its family business in to each of the quality wine regions of Spain, it was inevitable they would build a winery in Priorat. Perched above the tiny town of El Loar, Torres’ modern winery offers samples of their complex, powerful wines from the tasting room that boasts unparalleled views across the vineyard-strewn Priorat landscape.

Burgos Porta: On a smaller scale is the boutique winery of Burgos Porta. Only accessible by a narrow, steep dirt goat track through the hills, this isolated winery is a terrific example of biodynamic viticulture. Their winemaking philosophy is simple; work hard to respect the grapes in the vineyard and the wine will need minimal intervention in the winery. I appreciated how difficult that must be as I struggled up the unforgiving, steep terraced vineyards in the June heat to drink from one of the precious natural wells. It’s all worth it when you taste their superb wines in the splendid isolation of the old converted winery. http://www.massinen.com

Further information and a full list of wineries can be found at http://www.prioratdoq.org

These regions only scratch the surface of Catalunya’s wine offering, so on your return to Barcelona try out your new found knowledge with a trip around some of the city’s local wine bars, of which there are plenty. Not to be missed is the tiny, atmospheric Zim bar. With irregular opening hours and room for no more than 10 people, it is a hidden gem in Barcelona. For dessert, head to El Diset in the Born district for one of their local sweet wines and a Catalan cheeseboard.

Four To Try

12WSP016
Planets de Prior Pons Priorat DOQ 2010. O’Briens €21.99
Dominated by Cariñena and Garnatxa (Grenache- see grape of the month) from old vines, this wine comes from a small Priorat producer. A deep violet colour, it has terrific overripe red berries, liquorice and floral notes, held together by the classic llicorella minerality before a long peppery finish.

Morlanda Blanc Viticultors Del Priorat DOQ 2013. Cases Wine Warehouse €19.95
Although the region is better known for its powerful reds, Priorat also produces fantastic, complex white wines. Made from Garnatxa Blanca (White Grenache) and Macabeo this wine is aged in oak to give it a full body and more than a hint of toast and coconut over orange peel and ripe pineapple. This will not be to everyone’s taste, but a fabulously unusual and well made wine.
Rimats Gran Reserva
Rimarts Gran Reserva 40 Brut Natur. Redmond’s of Ranelagh €27.95
Made using the traditional Cava grapes of Xarel.lo, Macabeu and Parellada, as well as a dash of Chardonnay, this wine is aged 40 months on the lees to give rich pastry and almond alongside fresh citrus and floral notes. With its fine bead of bubbles, this is very dry and a terrific food wine; match with a goat cheese and strawberry salad, or fresh oysters.

Single Estate Vintage Blanc de Blanc Cava 2010. Marks & Spencer €23.50
For the Champagne lover looking for something different, this vintage Cava is single estate Chardonnay sourced from top producer Segura Viudas. Elegant, with a creamy mousse, ripe lemon, fresh herbs and a touch of stone fruit.

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!