As I write this the weather has turned remarkably mild so I’ve abandoned my original topic of winter warming wines in favour of good value wines suitable for parties — parties can happen in good and bad weather after all. Christmas seems to start earlier and get more expensive every year so in the coming weeks I’ll try to keep value as much in mind as much as quality.
In choosing wines for a party — whether dinner party or dance party — I recommend going for flavour. No bland Pinot Grigio, boring Merlots or weedy Sauvignons that people will gulp down not casting a thought for your generosity or food offering. In addition I find that light simple wines often encourage people to drink more than they should which is not good for them or for your bank balance.
Grape growing has become more of a science than an art and while this means you can find lots of inexpensive wines in the supermarkets it seems to be much harder to find individuality – Sauvignon Blancs under a tenner are all starting to taste the same thanks to the use of specific yeasts, Merlots at this price point just seem to get blander and softer.
All the recommendations below are from France but do consider regional wines from Spain and Portugal which offer both flavour and value. The Alentejo and Lisboa regions in particular offer fruity reds and crisp fresh whites – watch for the Portuga brand which is in many small independent off-licences at between €8.99 and €9.99. Whites from Arinto, Antâo Vaz and Roupeira and reds from Trincadeira, Touriga Nacional and Alicante Bouschet.
From Spain meanwhile look to Castilla Y Leon for fruity Garnacha, Carineña and Tempranillo, to Alicante and Valencia for densely fruited Monastrell (Mourvèdre) and to Catalonian regions such as Tarragona, Monsant, and to Aragon’s Carineña and Calatayud. Other value regions I recommend include Romania (e.g. Recas wines), Southern Italy (Primitivo, Nero d’Avola, Fiano, Cattarato).
Fizz of course is a must for any party and I’ve recommended Aldi’s Champagne below which I use to make cocktails. One famous cocktail that I think is due for a revival is the Black Velvet — 1 part Stout to two parts Champagne served in a flute. I like to use Dungarvan’s Black Rock Stout or West Kerry Brewery’s Carraig Dubh but if you are using Guinness make sure you get the bottle-conditioned Guinness pint and not the nitro cans.
Baron de Baussac Carignan, Gascogne, France - €8.50
Stockist: Dunnes Stores
Carignan is definitely having a moment with excellent old vine versions available now from Chile, Spain and the Languedoc. This is however from South West France and is packed with bright red fruit aromas, berry fruits on the front palate with textured darker fruits coming through later. Remarkably juicy and drinkable for the price. A party wine if ever I saw one.
Levalet Marsanne Viognier, Languedoc, France - €9.50
Stockist: Dunnes Stores
This and its sister wine Levalet Malbec both won ‘best wine under €10’ at the supermarket focused ‘Quality Drinks’ awards a few weeks ago. This is the better of the two I think, honeyed peach and melon aromas, soft white fruits with good texture and citrus freshness on the finish – a good mix of ripe fruits and decent concentration for the price.
Domaine Duffour Côtes de Gascogne, France - €9.95
Stockist: O’Briens Wines nationwide www.wine.ie
I’ve always had a grá for the crisp fresh whites of Gascony, wines that were once quite simple and mainly distilled into Armagnac but now have a firm fan following in their own right. A blend of Colombard, Gros Manseng and Ugni Blanc this has lots of floral fruity aromas – lilies and limes and a hint of peach but with sprightly acidity and freshness.
Château de Fleurie, Beaujolais, France - €15.95
Stockist: O’Briens off-licences nationwide
Fleurie is easily the best known Beaujolais Cru and at this stage a brand in its own right so do need to be careful in which one you choose. This is fairly benchmark with exuberant fruits, textured and concentrated on the palate but somehow also with Fleurie’s classic floral notes and beguiling lightness of touch. Normally around €20.
Chateau de Pennautier, Cabardès, France – €16.99
Stockists: JJ O’Driscolls Ballinlough, 1601 Kinsale, World Wide Wines Waterford
This has Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot at 25-30% and smaller quantities of Cab Franc, Grenache and Cot (Malbec). Rich black fruit aromas with blackberries, blackcurrants and spice plus a hint of smoke — perfect for grilled lamb if you can brave the barbecue.
Veuve Monsigny Champagne Brut, France - €19.99
I tasted this again recently and at under €20 it is difficult to beat. On its own It has classic light biscuity citrus flavours and some length, but is cheap enough for you to use it guilt-free in Champagne cocktails — add a dash of Crème de Cassis, Grand Marnier or Crème de Pêche or try a Hemmingway (Death in the Afternoon) — 1 part absinthe to 4 parts champagne.
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