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Wines to Drink During an Election Count

Copy of the newsletter to subscribers to the movies and booze newsletter for the Moncrieff Show on Newstalk 106-108FM.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences folk have cast their votes for the Oscar nominations and now it’s your turn to consider who will win Ireland’s best politician in a leading role or perhaps in a supporting role if the results mean a coalition. 

But, having decided the vexed question of how to place your preferences, there’s the question of what to drink while watching the endless election specials and recounts. There’s an appropriate wine, as ever for just about every party.

 Unless the polls are all wrong, it’ s pretty clear Fine Gael will come out on top so what should they and their supports be sipping? I’d say as winners, the F in FG should stand for fizz. Ideally, as they are known as the blue shirts the label should reflect that colour. Wealthy supporters could turn to Charles Heidseick Champagne and its dark blue livery, but in these austere times of endless cuts perhaps Tesco Cremant d’Alsace Riesling at €8.99 with its light blue label would be more appropriate.

 When Bertie was running the show for FF he claimed to be a life-long socialist but I’ve always thought of them as centre right so I’d say no full on red is appropriate here. If not downing drafts of hemlock I think an inexpensive European white would be the thing and in large quantities to numb the pain so maybe a magnum of cheap Soave or Pedrotti would do the trick as would Tesco Spanish white in 1 litre tetrapack at only €5.49.

 For the Green Party it has to be something organic of course – saving the planet one bottle at a time. And ideally, since they can probably be classed as soft reds or maybe pinkos, it should be rosé. Step forward Domaine Begude Rosé Pinot Noir from Superquinn at €10.99.

 There are all sorts of independent left-wingers plus the United Left Alliance, Labour and Sinn Fein, all of whom would consider themselves hardcore reds so the natural choice is to go for is a blockbuster red. There are any number out there, such as Barossa Shiraz or Grenache, Chateauneuf-du-pape, Californian Zinfandel or Argentinean Malbec to chose from. SF fans should probably go for a Spanish red from one of the traditionally republican areas such as Catalunya or even something from the Basque region if you can find it, while the Worker’s Party might want a wine made in co-operative. 

However my call is for a classy European classic, Amarone della Valpolicella Villalta, at 15%. It’s from a single vineyard called, appropriately, ‘I Comunale’ and it’s as full on as it gets and has a bitter twist on the finish that may be appropriate as the results come in. It’s expensive mind at €33.50, as it’s made using hand picked and dried grapes but if that’s too much get a slightly lighter Valpolicella Rippaso at about 1/3rd the price from M & S or Superquinn or tesco or by Zenato in the independent off-licences.

If you are having a party and are thinking quantity over quality, Lidl have cut the price of their German Pinot Grigio from €5.99 to €3.99. I won’t pretend it’s a great wine but it has more flavour than most of the anaemic industrial Italian Pinot Grigios from Veneto in the shops at €6-9.

 Sadly the ballot paper does not have a box marked ‘None of the above”. The wine equivalent would, I suppose be to go and open a can of beer. Dutch Gold anybody?

 Wines Tasted on the Show 

Tesco Finest Cremant d’Alsace Riesling 2008, €8.99.
In these financially challenging times should you wish to celebrate the expected election victory of FG then you could try this bargain buy. It’s made by the Champagne method or Methode Traditionelle as it mush be called these days which means the bubble creating fermentation takes place in the bottle not a tankand it’s aged 15 months on lees before release. That should give it a bit of depth and biscuit character while Riesling gives it a citrus note. 

Domaine Begude Pinot Noir 2009, Superquinn €10.99.
One of the best rosés I’ve had in along time. It has, as you’d expect, plenty of berry fruit but also a really creamy texture and good length. Look out for it on promotion in Superquinn’s French sale in 4 weeks time when the price drops to €8. The estate is owned by an English couple who farm organically and the vineyards are at altitude in Limoux and the cooler climate gives a crisp acidity and mineral character that really comes through in the Chablis like Chardonnay that SQ sell too.

 Villalta Amarone della Valpolicella 2006, Single Vineyard. M & S €33.50.
Amarone’s have their sugars concentrated by drying the grapes for up to 120 days prior to ferment and the result is high alcohol, 14.5% with, as you’d expect a raisin or dried fruit character overlaying the usual cherry character of normal Valpolicella. You should find a slight bitter bite on the end. Not exactly a party wine unless it’s a dinner party serving some full flavoured food.

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Australian & NZ Tastings Jan 2011

Copy of newsletter sent to Newstalk’s Moncrieff show on Jan 28th 2011

This week we’ve had Australia day (26th Jan) and to mark it Wine Australia hosted a small but interesting tasting event in Dublin while the week previously they put on a major event in London featuring over 600 wines.

Not to be out done, their neighbours and rivals across the Tasman Sea,New Zealand, also hosted a major tasting in Dublin, even though their national day, Waitangi day, is not until February 6th.

It was a good opportunity to get a snap shot of both industries. The Australians, rightly, would like to challenge the public perception of what they are good at. In this market, and others too, they are best known for their big brand everyday red and whites for under a tenner, but actually there’s a wealth of really fine regional styles that we should be looking at made by smaller producers and yes of course they cost more than a tenner, but so too do classics from France or Italy.

They would like you to look at what they call ‘Regional Heroes’ like Semillon from the Hunter Valley, Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc from the Adelaide Hills, Semillon & Sauvignon blends from Margaret River, Riesling from Clare or for reds Cabernet from Coonawarra, Shiraz from an array of areas like Barossa, McLaren Vale or Hunter Valley and Pinot Noir from cooler climates of Victoria like the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsular, Gippsland or Geelong or even cooler over in Tasmania.

There’s plenty to enjoy and I’d urge you to be adventurous and spend more than a tenner. For more info go to www.wineaustralia.com  

The New Zealanders too tried to challenge popular perceptions. We know them best for their pungent Sauvignon Blancs but they’d like us to think that they’re not just a one trick pony. In recent years their repertoire has expanded as they’ve gained a reputation for fine, if expensive, Pinot Noir, particularly from Central Otago and great strides have been made with aromatic whites like Riesling and Pinot Gris. Interestingly though, there was a feature table at the tasting that had all sorts of interesting things I had no idea that grew there such as Arneis, Montepulciano and Tempranillo.

The grape most likely to succeed though for me and what I expect will be their next big thing is Syrah, a.k.a. Shiraz in Australia. It works in hot climates but also in relatively cool-ish climates too. It won’t suit everywhere but Hawkes Bay on the North Island and Gimlett Gravels in particular has made great strides with it in recent years. Craggy Range has led the way with this grape and they are superb but Man O’War from Waiheke island off of the Auckland coast have produced a cracker with their ‘Dreadnought’ 2008.

 It showed well at the NZ tasting but curiously even better at the Australia tasting a couple of days later. The Australians featured a blind line up of 30 Syrah/Shiraz and included a few ringers. I don’t think they expected that one of them, the Man O’War would arguably be the best one there!

 Wines Tasted on the Show

McWilliams Mount Pleasant ‘Elizabeth’ Semillon 2005, Hunter Valley, Australia. Tesco €10 reduced from €19.99.
I’m very sceptical of supermarket half price offers but for once this is more genuine than most. This is a classic style and age brings extra depth of flavour. Look for lime and lemon flavours and with a toasty character. Hunter Semillon is a unique unoaked style that is fresh and fruity when young but ages well for 20 years.

Man O’War Dreadnought Syrah 2008, Waiheke Island, NZ, O’Briens €29.99.
Not cheap, but this is top class wine with perfumed dark fruits and a sprinkle of white pepper and a dash of oak and good length. Trust me, you should, treat yourself. What would you get at this price in a restaurant? Nothing very special so stay in cook a peppered steak and enjoy this instead.

Tasmanian Pinot Noir 2009, Marks & Spencer €14.99.
Pinot Noir only really works in a cool-ish climate and Tasmania is certainly offers that and the result is the grape’s classic cherry and raspberry fruit flavours with a refreshing acidity. Try it with grilled salmon, duck or chicken. 

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winerepublic.com Wine Supermarket of the Year 2010

copy of newsletter sent to Moncrieff show subscribers following show on 14th jan 2011

And the winner is…………

 It’s awards season with the Golden Globe awards on Sunday and the Oscars due in late February but it’s not just the movies that have awards; the drinks industry in Ireland has a few awards too. This week saw the National Off-Licence Association (NoffLA) hand out their gongs at a black tie ceremony and I’m also announcing my own choice of Wine Supermarket of the year 2010. 

I spend a lot of time cruising the aisles of the nation’s supermarkets and attending their tastings and reviewing samples and (pause while envelope is opened) the winerepublic.com Wine Supermarket of the Year 2010 is Superquinn. My full ranking over the last 12 months is:

  1. Superquinn
  2. Tesco
  3. Marks & Spencer
  4. Dunnes
  5. SuperValu
  6. Aldi
  7. Lidl

 Congratulations to Superquinn who have come a long way in the last couple of years on so many fronts. Five years ago they were, frankly, a mess. They had made experienced shop staff redundant, an experienced buyer had retired and the range had been run down. Today though is a different story as buyer Richard Moriarty has given the range real shape and direction while also in store they have specialist wine staff to look after the drinks section and answer questions and that alone would lift them out of the ordinary.

 What makes the range stand out though? Like any supermarket you’ll find the top selling big brands from Chile and Australia like Santa Rita or Rosemount but Moriarty has introduced a core range of keenly priced basic own white label wines that are pretty consistent and sometimes down right excellent. You’ll struggle, for example, to find a better value red than the €7 Cotes du Rhone sourced at a small but excellent co-op. Then there are a range of well chosen exclusive brand imports not just from obvious places like Bordeaux or Barossa but the kind of left field choices, usually the preserve of a serious specialist wine shop, that makes a wine lover like me stop in my tracks and say ‘wow, I didn’t know they did that’. How many supermarkets stock white Crozes-Hermitage, half bottles of dry Oloroso Sherry or Gewürztraminer from Italy’s Alto-Adige?

 It’s not the biggest range, Tesco has that probably, but every wine is there for a reason and the result is something for everyone without ever dumbing down, whether you just want a cheap party white, a bottle to impress at dinner or to broaden your horizons with something new. Honourable mention also needs to go to previous buyer David Orr and John Wilson of the Irish Times acting as a consultant who started the rebuilding process on which Richard Moriarty has so successfully built.

NoffLa announced on Monday that their National Off-Licence of the year is Sweeneys in Glasnevin. I’m delighted as it’s local to me and I’ve known Finian Sweeney probably 16 or 17 years. It really is a deserved award for an excellent shop. There’s an enormous range of wines and specialist beers and two of the staff, Kevin and Lynda have WSET diplomas, so advice should be good. They run tastings regularly and wine courses and now also have a little food as they stock cheeses, charcuterie and condiments from Sheridans Cheesemongers as well as specialist breads from La Boulangerie des Gourmets. What’s not to like? The wheel has come full circle as Sweeneys started out as a licensed grocer in Dorset St and gave up food and got serious about wine in 1995 and now the food is back, all be it in a small way.

Dublins North Side almost swept the board as Jus de Vine won ‘Wine Specialist of the Year’ while McHughes of Malahide Rd won ‘Beer Specialist of the Year’ and Gibneys of Malahide won ‘Dublin Off-Licence of the Year’. Deveney’s in Dundrum got the ‘Sprit Specialist of the Year’. Full details of all the NoffLA awards here

Martin Moran MW winerepublic.com

 Wines Tasted on The Show

 Dandelion Vineyards Lion’s Tooth of McLaren Vale Shiraz – Riesling 2007, €10.99, Superquinn
A pretty unusual blend to put in mildly. Adding a little of the white grape Viognier to Syrah (Shiraz) is part of the recipe for Cote Rotie, an idea replicated in many other countries but Riesling is a radical take on the idea of the white grape adding a little perfume and suppleness, but as the News Talk sales ad says ‘It works’. I know the winemakers and said it was a bargain and they said ‘yeah, Superquinn are underpricing it. They charge the same for this as the whites and we charge them less for the whites so they’re making f**k all on it. All of which makes this my best value red of 2010.

Chablis Premier Cru 2007, Charles Meras, €12 reduced from €17.99
Dunnes had a Chablis 1er Cru on offer last month for €12.99, which was a keen offer even if the wine wasn’t really up to 1er cru standard; this is though. Maybe it’s up to scratch because it has filled out with age but it has the required depth and richness. Snap it up as it’s the sort of thing that reminds you why the Chardonnay grape got famous in the first place before Pinot Grigio made it less fashionable.

Farnese ‘Don Camillo’ Sangiovese 2009, Terre de Chieti, Italy, €13.99 Sweeneys.
From the Abruzzo region, on the east coast, level with Rome, this is a richer softer version of Sangiovese than you’ll find in wines from its home base of Tuscany. Expect to find flavours of liquorice and dark cherry and it softens further with a little air or enjoyed with a hard cheese.

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Wines To Drink During A Bail Out

Copy of the newsletter that goes out after the Moncrieff show on Novemeber 19th to subscribers:

The Germans are coming has been the cry this week as the EU’s bankers and the IMF role into town to bail out the Irish economy with an enormous loan facility.

We’ll be paying them off for decades via increased taxes so most of have the prospect of less money to spend on wine in the coming holiday season. Thankfully these days you don’t have to spend a lot to find a drinkable wine. Most of the big retailers have had press tastings recently and I’ve picked out a few of my favourite bargains. 

First wine tasted today is from Dunnes’ new Portuguese range. Pena de Pato Vinho Verde at €6.99. If you buy 5, the 6th is free bringing the price down to just €5.83. Also in the range is a red Pena de Pato Dao on the same price offer and that’s a serious bargain too but I like their Gran Vasco Douro red at €6.99 even more especially as it’s currently reduced to €5.99. 

Also on the same 6 for 5 at €6.99 offer at Dunnes and worth buying are the Jacob’s Creek Range and Cono Sur and Ch. Pennautier.

 When thinking ‘cheap’ many will head for German discounters Aldi and Lidl. In several years of tasting both ranges, Aldi is always more reliable. At the moment they have a Spanish pair, a rosé and a red called Toro Loco, which translates as Crazy Bull. Both are remarkably drinkable and cost just €4.99 and the fun label has a bull’s head as a corkscrew. Other good buys in Aldi include the Bushland Reserve Chardonnay and Shiraz from the Hunter Valley. Their red Bordeaux €6.99 is from the excellent 2009 vintage and the best I’ve tried and the new packaging is really smart. 

Lidl has less hits but one that is worth buying is their Rose Creek NZ Sauvignon Blanc, which is down in price from €8.49 to €6.99. Their basic Bordeaux red is also from the excellent 2009 vintage so is worth trying. Pinot Grigio fans should try their German Pinot Grigio Troken (troken means dry) at €6.19. The perfect wine for toasting the visiting bankers, if you welcome their arrival, as it seems many do.

I’ll be giving more tips on good value wines from other retailers on my website winerepublic.com

Wines Tasted on the Show

Pena de Pato Vinho Verde 2009 Portugal, Dunnes €6.99 or 6 for price of 5.
A proper dry Vinho Verde with crisp lemon scented fruit and refreshingly only 11% a.b.v. so you can drink more of it at a party or at lunch time and not keel over. 

Toro Loco Rosé 2009, Utiel-Requena, Spain, Aldi €4.99.
A really modern rose with a youthful bright almost blue pink colour not the orangey brown you sometimes see and it then delivers plenty of red berry and cherry fruit at and all at a remarkable price. 

Giacondi Nero d’Avola 2009, O’Briens €5.49.
Sicily is the source of an increasing number of good quality and great value wines. I’ve recommended the Inycon brand many times over recent years for example. This producer is new to me but they’ve delivered exactly what you’d hope for, which is rich, slightly raisined and liquorice scented fruit and no hard edges

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Languedoc – Moncrieff Show 29th October

Copy of the Moncreiff show newsletter that went out after the show on October 29th

I’m tempted to say here are some monster reds for Halloween but that would be unfair, since I’d like to think that the tasted today are all well made, balanced reds rather than screamingly big and butch. Two of them, at least, should be the kind of wines that could perform as liquid central heating* if you have a party and venture outside into the freezing night air. 

Today’s theme is Languedoc in Southern France. This just may be the most interesting place in France to be making wine at the moment. It’s not one of the classic regions like Bordeaux or Burgundy and has had to struggle to make a name for itself over the last decade or two. And struggle it has. In the 1980s 10% of the planet’s wine was made here and much of it contributed to the infamous wine lake. Since then many vineyards have been ripped out, some co-operatives closed and many have struggled to scratch a living. Those struggles though have perhaps made it more dynamic than the classic regions. There are a variety of appellations like Minervois, Corbières and Coteaux de Languedoc using grapes like grenache, syrah, mourvèdre, carignan and cinsault for the reds and bourboulenc, picpoul, marsanne, vermentino and grenache blanc for the whites. But, it’s also were all the varietal wines labelled as Vin de Pays d’Oc comes from and that can include almost any varietal you can think of. All in all, it gives a smart producer plenty of ammunition to work with.

I’ve just returned from working as a cellar hand for one such smart producer, Gérard Bertrand. Bertrand is a former French rugby player who, whilst still playing, inherited his family’s estate after his father’s untimely death, Domaine de Villemajou in Corbières. After his playing days he set about expanding the business and now has six estates and also works with a number of other growers and co-ops in the region. He’s mastered the trick of gaining size and scale but hanging on to the ability to make high quality, interesting, good value wines when big so often just equals bland. He has wines available in Ireland through Dunnes, O’Briens, Tesco and M & S. I found his range to be very clean modern wines, true to their origins without being over the top and extracted in an attempt to ape the success of Chile and Australia.

Another dynamic and expanding producer in the area is Laurent Miquel, whose wines you will also find in Dunnes, O’Briens and Tesco. They are based at Ch. Cazal Viel in St Chinian and have made something of a specialism of syrah for reds and viognier for whites. Laurent’s wife, Neasa is Irish and visits these shores regularly to promote their wines. 

Another interesting producer to look out for is Jean Paul Mas, producer of the ‘Arrogant Frog’ range available from simplywines.ie.

Wines Tasted on the Show

Gérard Bertrand ‘Art de Vivre’ Corbieres 2008, Dunnes, €8.99, (from 3 Nov €7.99 or €14 for 2)

This is a serious bargain, as it’s produced at his original estate of Dom de Vilamajou (€16.95 in O’Briens) in the Boutenac sub district of Corbieres, which was recently elevated to a new ‘Grand Crus de Languedoc’ classification. It’s a big estate (140 ht) so not all of it can be sold under the main label at premium prices and some of it is bottled as simple Corbières and sold to supermarkets here and in France.

Laurent Miquel Nord Sud Syrah 2006, VdP d’Oc,  Tesco, €9.65.
This has plenty of blackberry fruit and liquorice like spice without being as jammy or fruity as an Australian Shiraz. A good partner to hearty winter stews.

Aigle Noir Pinot Noir 2007, VdP d’Oc, M & S, €8.99.
Made at Bertrand’s estate in Limoux, Domaine d’Aigle which sells at €14.99 in O’Briens. The name means ‘Black Eagle’. This is classy pinot noir for this money with typical cherish fruit. A classic choice for duck or turkey.

*Alcohol of course doesn’t actually warm you, in fact it lowers the body’s temperature but sipping something like strongly alcoholic does give a sensation of warmth.

Martin Moran MW 

Links

http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/a200808203.html – an article about the region by renowned writer Jancis Robinson MW who has a house in the area.

http://love-that-languedoc.com/ – a blog devoted to the region.

http://www.andrewjefford.com/node/681 – leading wine writer Andrew Jefford highlights some of the stunning and expensive wines of the Languedoc

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M & S Autumn Press Tasting

I haven’t been shy in recent years in singing my praises in print and on radio of the M & S wine range and the team(s) that have created them. Indeed, it’s not just me, as only two months ago the International Wine Challenge anointed them Supermarket of the Year in the UK. They would have been second for me in Ireland just behind Tesco and just ahead of Dunnes, so I came to their recent press tasting with high hopes, but sadly they were dashed.

The clothes side of the business may have its issues but for me the wine team has always been cutting edge, with a finger firmly on the pulse of the wine world. They were, for example, quick to list wines in the past from such exciting emerging cool climate New World regions as Central Otago in New Zealand or Leyda in Chile, long before the opposition. Innovation has always been their thing, but I didn’t find it here.

This tasting though had nothing new that caught my eye and plenty of the wines were simply bland. Spain, for example, is a hot bed of creativity and excitement, and I just yawned my way through the wines on show here. Las Falleras red (83) and white (81) are about as dilute as wine gets, even if they are only €5.99 and the €9.99 Terrasota Unwooded White Rioja €(84) might have instead have been called ‘Unflavoured’ and reminds you why so few people buy white Rioja. If my memory is correct, this used to be an oak aged wine and that at least gave it some substance and flavour.

The Italian range faired better. The single estate Orvieto at €8.79 (87) was attractively nutty while the €8.99 Gavi (87) had classic lime and pear fruit but the shock of the day was the drinkability of the €9.99 Pinot Grigio della Venezie (87). Cheap PG from Venezie is normally a synonym for bland but this has lively, tangy citrus fruit. It’s made by the very reliable Bidoli winery that also makes the even better €11.99 Fruili Pinot Grigio (89). Finding two drinkable Italian Pinot Grigios in one supermarket tasting was such a shock I nearly had to go and lie down but well done M & S and their Italian buyer Jo Ahearne MW. The Italian reds at M & S are amongst the best in the supermarkets but the decent enough Brunello di Montacino 2004 (90) at €34 simply made me wonder who in their right mind buys this stuff at this price.

That was a question I wondered out loud too about the €44 Cote Rotie 2007 (90). The best value and interesting of the French reds on show were a Corbières (87) and Minervois (87) by Gerard Bertrand at €9.99 and these are remarkably similar, if not identical to I thought, especially after reading the technical info on them, to the Bertrand wines in Dunnes, currently on offer at €7.99 or 2 for €14.

 At the last M & S tasting I went to the white Burgundies were wonderful but this time the over priced €10.99 Macon (84) and €10.29 Bourgogne Blanc (83) on show flopped and if I tell you that the Chablis 2008 (90) at €14.99 made by the La Chablisienne co-op was good it won’t be a surprise as it has been for the last 25 vintages at least. If Pinot Grigio can be dull then so too can basic Bourgogne Rouge but the 2008 (87) priced at €13.29 was anything but as this delivered just what you hoped for with its light red fruits and tangy acidity and Burgundy so rarely does.

The New World wines on show were fewer in number and they were sadly no more inspiring, maybe even less so with a green edged €11.79 Margaret River Cabernet (84) at €11.79 a particular disappointment although for once though a supermarket is selling a Chilean Carmenère in Paradiso Carmenere (87) at €10.49 that doesn’t have that variety’s all too common unripe green fruit.

I had to rush through the sparkling and fortifieds and had no time to make notes but those I tasted were at least on the money and delivered what you would hope for at about the right price, which is a pretty under whelming endorsement.

Maybe they showed the wrong wines and it was a leaf day not a fruit day but M & S can and must do better.

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Dunnes’ Tasting & Offers

Dunnes recently held a tasting for journalists to highlight a few new wines and some old favourites with new vintages. Overall I thought the standard was a pretty good with a few serious bargains. None of those facts is a surprise, as their buyers Richard Ecock and Jacinta Delahye are both excellent and highly experienced tasters who have studied to Master of Wine level.

Of particular interest to me was the new range from Gerard Bertrand. I had just returned from France the day before the tasting having spent 5 weeks working for Bertrand at one of his properties in Corbières. The Art de Vivre range (although that name only appears on the capsule) is a Corbières, a èand a Languedoc priced at €8.99, although until the New Year they will be €7.99 and €14 for 2. All have a satisfying richness of fruit with a dash of spice, as is the way with Southern wines made from grapes like grenache, syrah, carignan and mourvèdre. These wines are something of a bargain as I know the Corbières is made from fruit from Bertrand’s Domaine de Villemajou, the main lable of which sells for €16.95 in O’Briens, while the Languedoc is from his showpiece estate L’Hospitalier in the unique limestone peninsular of La Clape between Narbonne and the coast.

Other highlights included: 

Laurent Miquel – a new entry level range called Père et Fils – a Chardonnay/Viognier and a Syrah/Grenache, both worth their €8 price tag or less when on offer.

When did you last buy a Portuguese wine? If market share figures mean anything then not recently. You’re missing out and you really have no excuses with this range from Sogrape Vinhos. There’s a proper crisp dry Vinho Verde called Pena de Pato at €6.99 and at only 11% alcohol, it’s refreshingly light. Given out tax system I don’t know how they can supply Dunnes and make a profit on the two reds, Grao Vasco Douro and Pena de Pato Dao selling for just €6.99. That’s their problem, yours should be in tracking them down.

One of Argentina’s best producers, Catena, makes the reliable Alamos Chardonnay or Malbec pair priced at €8, but I didn’t know they also make good value Tilia Chardonnay/Viognier and Cabernet Merlot at €6.99, allegedly on offer at half price. If you ever see them at the nonsense price of €13.99 then ignore them.

The Spanish label, Artiga also tends to have this tiresome yo-yo pricing with an alleged headline price of €12.99 and a promotional price of €6.49. The wine is decent enough but a Campo de Borja Garnacha red at €13, would be a rarity if not an outright nonsense, especially as Tesco sell a better one at €7.99.

Marmesa Vineyards Brook Ranch Chardonnay and Syrah, both €11.99, but on promotion at  €9.99, are that rare thing, Californian wines worth drinking at affordable prices.

The most unlikely drinkable wine at the tasting wasn’t the Americans but a delightfully tasty Muscadet sur Lie, called Domaine de la Grange, at only €6.99. Unlike thin sour Muscadet of old it actually had a bit of peach and citrus flavour. More like this and maybe Pinot Grigio’s crown could be under threat. If you want cheap Chablis or Sancerre and the middle classes fo then P. Desvignes Chablis 09 at €9.99 and Dom. des Grosses Pierres Sancerre 09 at €12.49 will fit the bill and are better than their Lidl or Aldi counterparts. There’s s Riesling and gewürztraminer pair from Alsace by Metz at €9.95 reduced during December to €7.95.They’re fine if a little light.

 Elsewhere there are a raft of dubious half price offers on the likes of Monastier varietals or Heron’s Nest, 35 South, Beau Rivage and Palo Alto. The only two I would buy are the Grand Reserve de Beau Rivage Bordeaux at €6.99 and the Palo Alto Sauvignon Blanc at €6.99. Palo Alto’s red has a green edge to it that I don’t like but if leafy cabernet is your thing then buy it. BTW, If you are ever in the North Sainsbury’s sometimes sells Palo Alto for £3.99 reduced from £7.99, which shows how absurd the Dunnes €13.99 headline price is.

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Moncrieff Show on Newstalk FM 106-108 2nd September 2010

Superquinn Sale – Deal or No Deal?

When is a sale not a sale? Quite often, actually, when it comes to wine. All the supermarkets regularly offer wine at half price and the majority of the time the alleged offer is absolute nonsense. There are, of course, rules about sale prices, in that the wine has to have been offered at the ‘full’ price for a certain period previously, but these are easy to manipulate. The retailer simply has to offer the wine involved for a short period at a ridiculously high price and accept no sales or a few high profit ones and then make the price cut, promote it and rake in the sales. Do the public fall for it? You bet. Seems no one can resist a deal as these offers always result in huge gaps on shelves above the half price shelf offer ticket. It drives me nuts! Trust me when I say that the margins simply don’t exist to make these offers for a priced wine, so an artificial price is created. The half price deal is usually actually 20-30% off what might be termed a genuine price. That’s pretty good, but it’s not 50% off.

Superquinn start their French sale next week, on 8th September, (althought twitter says prices already active so go early) and there’s plenty of good value to be found. There are several deals where the price has been cut from about €10 by about €3 or 4 and those look like real deals while sadly there are also several nominal half price or better cuts, which must be viewed with a sceptical eye. I mean, take Louis d’Or Champagne, reduced from €39.99 to €20. Really, who would dream of paying €40 when name brands like Lanson or Mumm are €36? But what does it taste like? It tastes like green apple flavoured cheap supermarket Champagne and I’d rather buy Jacob’s Creek sparkling for €13 than pay €20 for it. However, their Champagne H. Blin is a good buy when it’s reduced as the quality is way better. 

The French sales have long been a highlight of Superquinn’s annual calendar and buyer Richard Moriarty has certainly put his own stamp on the offering over the last couple of years. In previous seasons the offer has included a mix of cuts on their own exclusives as well as money off well-known brands. This time the brands have been ditched, he says, as there is even better value to be found in offering similar unbranded wines at reduced prices. So, there are no deals to be had on the likes of Louis Latour Burgundies, Jaboulet Rhones or Michel Lynch Bordeaux. What he is offering, instead of say, a Louis Latour Macon Lugny at €10, reduced from €13 is a Macon Lugny Les Coteaux des Anges at €8 (or 3 for €20) reduced from a nominal €11.99.

He’s also listed wines from parts of France in his search for value that, for Irish drinkers at any rate, might be considered a little off the beaten track with wines such as white (yes white) Crozes-Hermitage or red Saumur. In fact, both the Loire and Rhone figure strongly. I hope for his sake that the public ‘gets it’ as there are attractive wines on offer at keen prices, whatever the alleged headline prices. There is a risk though some will look blankly at the shelves and not see many names or labels that they recognise and walk away.

The alternative to ‘inflate the price and then cut it’ sales is to offer what the trade calls EDLP or ‘Every Day Low Prices’. This is of course the style of retailing that Aldi and Lidl go in for. Dunnes or Tesco may trumpet the fact that they have a Vin de pays d’Oc Chardonnay for €6 reduced from €12 but the Germans will simply offer them at €6 all year round. You can of course say the wine quality is not the same and often it isn’t but, frankly, sometimes it is.

Wines Tasted on the Moncrieff Show on Sept 2nd.

Haut Poitou Sauvignon Blanc 2009, €7 or 3 for €20 (reduced from €10.49), Superquinn.
A Sauvignon Blanc that’s as reliable as an atomic clock. I first tasted this co-op’s Sauvignon over 20 years ago and it still always hits the spot. It’s from the south side of the Loire around Poitou and always offers a zesty, flinty gooseberry style at much lower prices than Sancerre.

Saumur Rouge 2009, €7 reduced from €10.49, Superquinn.
Loire reds are as rare as hen’s teeth in Ireland and so if you are familiar with the style I urge you to experiment as this is a bargain. Expect to find a perfumed wine with raspberry the dominant not and a fresh acidity and a slightly green edge. That’s how the Cabernet Franc based wine is meant to be and if we have an Indian summer serve it lightly chilled.

Sancerre ‘Les Terres Blanches’ 2009, €10.99, Aldi.
This has what you expect of a Sancerre, which is to say herbaceous gooseberry and maybe asparagus like flavours. It’s not the finest but it’s not the worst and it has picked up a few medals along the way. Importantly you can buy it at this price all year round not just in a sale. For comparison Superquinn Classic Collection Sancerre is €12 (year round it should be said) and no better than this although their SQ selection at €13 reduced from €17.49 certainly is and Sancerre lovers should snap that up.

A few Superquinn Sale Highlights

Whites

The ever reliable crisp dry Domaine Begude Chardonnay at €8

Collioure Cuveé des Peintures Blanc at €10, yes it’s white. There’s an OK red but I think this is better.

The Viognier is the best of the La Baume whites

The Macon Lugny is very good for €8 but not as good as Mr Latour’s

Ch Cabannieux Graves is worth buying at €9 but the Ch de Sours Bordeaux Blanc at €13 is a vastly superior wine

The Crozes Hermitage Blanc is a good introduction to the soft nutty style of Rhone whites if they are new to you.

The SQ selection Sancerre (not the Classic Collection) is a very smart Sancerre and good at €13 while Pouilly Fuissé Domaine du Roure de Pauli is pretty classic rich soft Southern Burgundy for €14.

The Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc at €9 is a bit of a curate’s egg interesting in places. It’s component parts of searing acidity and nutty oak have not yet melded and my not but many tasters thought it inter.esting

Red & Rosé

Ch. De Sours Rosé isn’t exactly cheap at €13, even if that’s a reduction of €3 but it is as good as ever.

Carignan Vieilles Vignes at €6 is the bargain red of the sale.

The Shiraz is the best of the Le Baume reds.

Ch Le Mayne 2005 Bordeaux €8 has been around a while but is still good.

Remeage Grenache Shiraz at €9 is an attractive rich red

Domaine de Brunely Vacqueyras at €12 is good if you like rich spicy Rhone reds and much cheaper than similar wines like Chateauneuf-du-pape Alan Grangeon at €20.

Sparkling

There was a Beaujolais with bubbles that thankfully was empty by the time I got to it but suggests others liked it while there were a couple of Cremant de Loires that at only €9 each are worth a shot but don’t expect great excitement.

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