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.

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!

Priorat- Part I

 

priorat

After returning home from an unforgettable Catalan wine trip last week, the holiday hangover (figurative and literal) has dissipated just enough to thank a few great people who made this trip possible.

We started the trip in the daddy of Catalan wine regions- Priorat DOQ.  One of only two premium-tier wine regions in Spain (alongside Rioja DOCa), this is a rugged, parched landscape, with steep, low-yielding vineyardsGarnacha and Cariñena (Grenache and Carignan to you Francophiles) make up the bulk of the production.  These are powerful wines with deep forest fruits and a minerality that comes from the slate and quartz soil, known locally as llicorella.  Generally high in alcohol, don’t plan on doing much for the rest of the day if you have a couple of glasses during the siesta!

Many thanks must go to Patrick Webb of Coast to Coast wines.  Together with his partner Anna, we spent our first day visiting fantastic wineries across Priorat.

The highlight was a trip out to Celler Burgos Porta– a remote organic winery, set in a steep valley, run by the indefatigable Salvador.  If you want to check your fitness level, try trekking around a Priorat vineyard in 30 degree heat after this guy! Still, the fantastic Mas Sinén 2008 at the end makes the effort that much more worthwhile!

Later in the day we spent an exhilarating, if bum-numbing, hour and a half travelling through Juan José Escoda’s (Jou) Prior Pons vineyards in his trusty, well-travelled ‘office’ (an old 4×4 stacked with files and rock samples!).  Growing on steep hillsides around the town of Vilella Alta, this unforgiving terrain is constantly threatened with drought; when we were there in June, they had not had any rain for over six weeks.  This low rainfall means the fruit gets great concentration of flavours, but the yield per plant can be as low as 300g in older vines, one-fifth that of neighbouring Penedès!  This is a key contributing factor why many Priorat wines can seem expensive compared to other Spanish regions.

Prior Pons’ Planets is available in O’Briens Off-Licences nationwide and offers a good value introduction to Priorat DOQ.  Well worth a try.

Check out the blog next Friday, when I’ll post about a morning spent with two generations of one of the biggest names in Priorat- René Barbier of Clos Mogador.  Until then, sláinte and enjoy the weekend.

HB.