Wine editor Mary Dowey earmarks ten glamorous bottles that are sure to please all budgets, from €12 to €120
The first rule about choosing the right bottle for a wine lover? Be adventurous. The more somebody knows about this tantalisingly unfathomable subject, the more curious they’ll be to find out more – about new trends, improving regions, hot producers. Most of my recommendations aim to satisfy that craving, but to suit more conservative drinkers (and gift-givers) I’ve thrown in one or two classy classics too. Every single bottle is a star performer.
Once damned for young reds like diluted fruit juice, Beaujolais is viewed with mounting respect as producers become more ambitious. Few are more quality-oriented than organic grower Jean Foillard of Morgon, a cru whose wines age better than most. Foillard Morgon Le Classique 2017 is a silky beauty tasting of ripe berries with a hint of smoke. Splendid with cold turkey or ham. Alcohol: 13%. From Fallon & Byrne, Dublin 2; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4; Redmonds, Dublin 6; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock; www.64wine.ie; www.lecaveau.ie; Bradleys, Cork, about €28.
While purists will no doubt cling doggedly to red Burgundy, many fans of Pinot Noir – still at the pinnacle of red grape fashion – know darned well that the best New Zealand versions are often easier to enjoy. Although you’ll hear a lot about Central Otago, my favourite NZ Pinot region is longer established Martinborough near Wellington. Velvety and richly satisfying without tasting over-lavish, Kupé by Escarpment Martinborough Pinot Noir 2015 is a glorious treat. Alcohol: 13.5%. From Corkscrew, Dublin 2; Searsons, Monkstown; La Touche, Greystones; Gibneys, Malahide, €42-45.
Fourth-generation Champagne Agrapart is a revered benchmark for emerging small grower houses which are deflecting attention away from big-name champagne brands. Champagne Agrapart Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Minéral Extra Brut 2010, made from the Chardonnay grapes of two special plots, is quite simply sublime. Intensely flavoured and precisely focused with tangy minerality, it seems to vibrate with inner energy. Anybody lucky enough to drink it should do the same. Alcohol: 12%. From Terroirs, Dublin 4 & www.terroirs.ie, €89.50.
Sherry is edging back into vogue among sophisticated drinkers, helped along by a ravenous international appetite for tapas. While the main focus is on fino and manzanilla (both brilliantly reviving), richer and rarer palo cortado is a more adventurous choice – bone dry but with a generous touch of wintry warmth. Very Rare Palo Cortado, produced by the historic and highly acclaimed Lustau bodega, makes the tastiest little gift – especially when presented with winning accompaniments: manchego or peerless pata negra. Alcohol: 19%. From Marks & Spencer, half bottle €12.
Chablis with Class
Ireland’s favourite white Burgundy is a Christmas classic with good reason, sitting comfortably on the dinner table with oysters, seafood or salmon. As Chablis comes in hundreds of variations from thin and tart to grand cru rich and fearsomely expensive, a reliable producer is crucial. Working biodynamically on a relatively small scale, Julien Brocard achieves striking purity of flavour with textbook crispness and a smooth texture in his Boissonneuse Chablis 2018. (Still young, it will open up in the glass.) Alcohol: 12.5%. From O’Briens, usually €29.95; down to €25.95 in the fine wine sale; December 9-15.
Amber or orange wines are more than a passing fad. As the natural movement gathers steam, these savoury whites made like reds using traditional methods (with contact between grape skins and juice) are in virtually every shop; on every worthwhile wine list. Joko Gravner in north-east Italy makes some of the most iconic. Any orange aficionado will swoon at the mere sight of Gravner Ribolla Anfora, Friuli Venezia Giulia 2010 – heady, spicy, herbal, salty and memorable in the most distinctive way. Alcohol: 13%. From www.siyps.com; www.64wine.ie; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6W; Sheridans, Galway, about €80.
For oh, so long, California’s luxurious Cabernets were like over-confident cousins: you might admire them but you wouldn’t want to live with them. Too ripe, oaky, alcoholic and expensive for a less than thrilling drink. But today’s mood favours more elegant, refreshing wines like those made quietly by Cathy Corison for the past 30 years. Corison Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 is a complex masterpiece of succulent understatement. Alcohol: 13.6%. From Green Man Wines, Dublin 6W; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, about €120.
Surely your pals aren’t still drinking prosecco? It’s lost its street cred because so much is spectacularly shoddy. Style-conscious fizz fans are switching to pet nat, short for pétillant naturel – sparkling wine made in the old-fashioned, “natural” way. Bottled before the end of fermentation, it’s often slightly cloudy in appearance. Uivo Pt Nat Blanc de Noir, Folias de Baco 2018, made from Pinot Noir in Portugal’s Douro Valley, is especially delicious, offering freshness with depth. Alcohol 11.5%. From Lilac Wines, Dublin 3; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4; Mortons & D-Six Wines, Dublin 6; Listons, Dublin 8, about €23.50.
Alsace For All
It seems paradoxical that, although serious wine buffs rave about Alsace, the output of this gorgeous region in north-east France is apparently difficult to sell. Could it be the tall bottles, linked in many people’s minds with Riesling which, after years of proselytising, I now see is not to everybody’s taste? Biodynamic producer Olivier Humbrecht uses Chardonnay and Auxerrois grapes instead in his stylish Zind Humbrecht Zind 2017. Exotic fruits, orange peel, spice and a firm, dry finish … it’s a winner with wide appeal. Alcohol 12.5%. From www.jnwine.com; Ely-64 Glasthule and www.64wine.ie, €29.95-€32.95.
Why focus on the obvious, France, when you can detour into Italy whose best reds are a smart choice in every sense? Since a visit there 15 years ago I’ve considered organic Fontodi among the most consistently impressive Chianti Classico estates. Fontodi Chianti Classico 2016, plummy, peppery, poised and wonderfully vigorous, sustains that verdict with enormous flair. A proportion is aged in terracotta amphorae: absolutely on-trend. Alcohol: 14.5%. From wineoneline.ie; Corkscrew, Dublin 2; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3; Terroirs, Dublin 4; McHughs, Dublin 5; Drink Store, Dublin 7; Ely-64, Glasthule; Ely, Maynooth, about €35.