Valentine’s Day is almost upon us and there is no denying that silky, fragrant wines such as Pinot Noir, Grenache and Viognier can play their part in the noble art of seduction.
These days however wine is facing some stiff competition from the gin boom which is showing no sign slowing down.
The gin and tonic is arguably the most perfectly balanced drink and a decent metaphor for love given that it manages to be both bitter and sweet at the same time.
I was reminded of this once again at an event in Ashford Castle which has recently opened a mini Gin School for guests in conjunction with the Shed Distillery and Gunpowder Gin.
The Ashford Castle Gin Tray Tasting Experience allows guests to learn about how gin is made and the crucial art of balancing a gin with the correct tonic and garnish, and you get the chance to distill your own mini bottle of gin.
Ashford has a good selection of gins from all over the world and it was good to see how Gunpowder stood up so well against them.
Gunpowder uses gunpowder tea as one of its botanicals but also Chinese lemon, kaffir lime and grapefruit botanicals and I have found that you can bring out different subtleties of flavour depending on whether you use herbs (eg, basil, bay, thyme), fruits (eg, redcurrants, raspberry, strawberry) or add lime, a strip of lemon zest, rose petals or jasmine flowers if they are in season.
If you are cooking your loved one dinner this Valentine’s Day I suggest beginning the meal with an experimental gin tasting or failing that present them with a voucher for a night away in Ashford — the only way you will get to taste pastry chef Paula Stakelum’s gin infused desserts and chocolates.
Other gins I am enjoying these days include Chinnery (which also has some Chinese Tea botanicals), Ornabrak, Bertha’s Revenge and Glendalough Wild Botanical and do track down the Irish made tonics from Poachers which are a little less sweet, I particularly like their ‘Wild’ version with elderflower.
Recommendations below include an inexpensive sparkler, a couple of Rosés and mention of Grenache, a grape that produces lovely silky wines when done well in the likes of Priorat and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Willunga 100 from McLaren Vale is one of the best exponents of the grape and I suggest two of their wines.
Doña Paula Malbec Rosé 2018, Argentina — €15
Stockists: Tesco, SuperValu
This is on special offer at the moment and down from its usual price of €17.
Grown in Luján de Cuyo in the Upper Mendoza valley at 1,000m above sea level.
Picked early, this has a pleasing freshness and is properly dry with good acidity.
Aromas of red berries and a touch of violets, lively and fruity with dry red fruit crispness on the finish.
Doña Paula Black Edition 2016, Argentina — €12
On special offer at this price in SuperValu until the 13th of this month with a saving of €3.
This is a blend of 60% malbec with 35% cabernet plus 5% petit verdot and has some noticeable oak ageing.
Toasted vanilla and blackberry aromas, red pepper and minty touches, fruity and supple and perfect for a big lump of steak.
Tenuta Sant’Anna Prosecco, Italy — €12.99
Stockist: JJ O’Driscolls, Curious Wines Cork, Red Nose Wines Clonmel, Vintry Rathgar, Independents
I rarely recommend frizzante prosecco as most of it is barely fizzy and overly sweet.
This is one of the best with a decent mousse and a dry freshness.
White peach and citrus aromas with lemony crisp fruit and that classic soft prosecco silkiness.
Willunga 100 Grenache Rosé 2017, McLaren Vale, Australia — €17.99-18.99
Stockists: O’Donovans, Cinnamon Cottage, Grapevine, Hole in The Wall, Jus de Vine, www.wineonline.ie
Willunga 100 is almost fully focused on Grenache, the primary grape in Châteauneuf du Pape and Côtes du Rhône and one of the most common grapes used for rosé in France.
This is whole bunch pressed and has lively red fruit aromas — strawberries, cherries and floral notes.
Willunga 100 Grenache 2016, McLaren Vale, Australia — €18-19.99
Stockists: O’Donovans, Cinnamon Cottage, Grapevine, Jus de Vine, www.wineonline.ie
From bush vines up to 80 years old and an average age of 60 from small plots.
Fermented a little warmer with lots of pumping over and extraction and mostly tank aged plus old oak barrels.
Bright aromas of red fruits and soft tannins, silky and dare I say it, ‘sexy’ on the palate with good length.
Torres Salmos 2014, Priorat, Spain — €20
This is one of my favourite Torres’ wines and not widely available so it is great to see it in SuperValu as part of their Spanish Wine Sale which begins on February 14.
As well as Grenache this has Carignan and Syrah and is normally around €30 so this is a great price. Cherry and blackberry aromas silky and supple with a gorgeous juicy character.