Better breathing, European Australians, chocolate drops … MARY DOWEY reports from wine’s inside track
Why is so much tosh talked about letting wine breathe? Yes, it’s important – far more important than is generally realised. Exposing a young wine to air can vastly enhance its appeal, opening up flavours and softening harsh edges – but merely uncorking the bottle an hour or two in advance won’t make the slightest difference. Think about it logically. Inside an unopened bottle a small surface area of wine is in contact with air. After removal of the closure, the area in contact with air remains no bigger than a coin. It’s only by decanting the bottle – pouring the wine slowly so that air passes all around it – that a miraculous improvement in flavour can be achieved. No need for a fancy decanter: simply trickle the wine into a jug, then back into the bottle through a funnel. This double-decanting process works wonders not only with angular or complex reds but also with tart young whites. Chablis, for instance, can be transformed.
Browsing around Sydney bottle shops, I was struck by the number of Australian wineries experimenting with Italian grape varieties. Fiano, Sangiovese, Barbera, Negroamaro, Nero d’Avola … these are just some. It’s partly a response to climate change: the sun-loving grapes grown in central and southern Italy in particular suit Australia’s warmer regions too. “The idea is also to widen our European-style offering,” explained Jonathon Hesketh on a recent Dublin visit; his family company makes the delicious Negroamaro recommended below. “Sometimes we make these wines with more imagination than may be typical in their home territory.” Not that any grape varieties could withstand the devastating fires that have destroyed thousands of hectares of vineyard. Australian wine will need extra support from drinkers everywhere for years to come.
For an eternity, Sauvignon Blanc has been so overdone that I hardly ever drink it, let alone enthuse about it. New Zealand and Chilean versions without an ounce of subtlety are so successful that Loire producers now ape their fruity overload. But Greywacke is different. Created in 2009 by Kevin Judd, the winemaker originally responsible for wildly celebrated Cloudy Bay, this Marlborough Sauvignon is more understated and textured than most, a portion being fermented with wild yeasts in old French oak barrels and left for a period on the yeast lees. The tight young 2019 vintage, just landed, should open up nicely over this year. (See recommendations)
As guests at our GLOSS wine dinners in The Merrion will know, I love dark chocolate with red wine – not necessarily a dessert wine. The touch of sweetness in big, ripe reds like Zinfandel, Grenache or Shiraz balances the tannic austerity of the darkest chocs – a point to file away in your Valentine soirée planner. As rosé champagne also wraps itself irresistibly around a high cocoa content, note that the queen of pinks, Champagne Bollinger Rosé, is down from €83 to €68 at O’Briens.
GREYWACKE SAUVIGNON BLANC, MARLBOROUGH 2019.
Forget the usual NZ SB blast of grapefruit and passion fruit. Kevin Judd’s Greywacke is infinitely more elegant and food-friendly. Alcohol 13.5% From www.64wine.ie; www.wineonline.ie; O’Briens nationwide; Mitchell & Son, IFSC & Glasthule; Corkscrew, Dublin 2; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3; O’Donovans, Cork, about €26.
HESKETH SMALL PARCELS NEGROAMARO, BAROSSA VALLEY 2016.
With notes of cherry compote and damp earth, this juicy and versatile Australian is far more attractive than most of the turbo-charged versions of Negroamaro I’ve tasted from Puglia, this grape’s home ground. Alcohol 14%. From www.jnwine.com, €19.50.
TIBALDI BARBERA D’ALBA 2018.
A smooth, smokily satisfying Barbera from a winery oozing the youthful energy of sisters Monica and Daniela Tibaldi. Enjoy with pork, duck, mushroom risotto, tomato-based dishes or smoked meats. Alcohol: 14.5%. From
www.thenudewineco.ie; First Draft, Dublin 8; Quintessential Wines, Drogheda, about €23.
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