January is the month many of us plan our summer holidays so this week I want to suggest two destinations with a wine focus.
To visit vineyards you really need a car so if you go by ferry rather than aeroplane you can bring a few bottles home. Besides the UK our closest wine region is the Loire, much underrated and with real bargains as well as creativity. I recommend basing yourself near Nantes (which has beaches nearby), and within an hour you can visit Muscadet to the south or Anjou to the east. Following the river brings you through famous wine towns such as Savennières, Saumur, Chinon, Vouvray and Bonnezeaux. Do choose the wineries you visit wisely in the Loire however as this is a more marginal climate than most of France.
My second suggestion is Northern Spain especially now that Brittany Ferries have a twice weekly ferry to Santander. Santander is around 75 minutes from Bilbao if you need some culture and another hour or so will get you to the food capital of Spain — San Sebastian — which has the highest concentration of Michelin stars in Europe. Wine is not the Basque region’s strongest asset but make sure you try Txakoli, the salty inexpensive fresh white wine that perfectly matches the local seafood.
Navarra is two hours from Santander as is Rioja and a visit to Rioja’s great wine towns of Haro and Logroño is a must. Haro is smaller and perhaps the more charming of the two but Logroño has better food with a thriving tapas scene in the old part of the city. Vying with Rioja for Spain’s best wine region is Ribera del Duero but the towns in the region are tiny so I would suggest basing yourself in Valladolid which gives easy access to Ribera as well as Rueda, Toro, Cigales and León.
Valladolid was once Spain’s capital and is also famous for tapas thanks to a fiercely contested annual competition. To take in a bit of culture you should drive an hour south to the beautiful city of Segovia with its 2.000-year-old aqueduct and the Royal Palace of Isabelle and Ferdinand and if you need the beach the Galician coast (and Rias Baixas) is just a few hours west.
Renvyle House Loire Valley Wine Weekend, February 15-17, call 095-46100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
BEST VALUE UNDER €15
No 21 Off-Licences, Cappagh Stores Knocknacarra, Independents
This will be one of the wines at the Renvyle House Loire Wine Weekend around Valentines Day and is a perfect match for oysters and shellfish. White flowers and pear and apple fruits, bright and crisp with an almost saline tang. The Reserve ‘LeClos’ version is better again.
JJ O’Driscoll Ballinlough, JC Savage Swords, Jus de Vine, Selected Independents.
From a family owned organic producer in Toro in North West Spain a region that has become super fashionable since Vega Sicila moved in. Made with 100% Tinta de Toro (aka Tempranillo) this has rich dark fruit aromas and soft juicy plum flavour with good structure and tension.
O’Briens Off-Licences Nationwide
I visited Rueda last year and this was one of the very best wineries on the trip. As well as textured intense white wines they still makes an excellent traditional Dorado rancio wine not available in Ireland (not unlike an Amontillado). Their Rueda is bright lemon and herbal with anise touches, crisp taut and fresh with a bitter lemon kick on the finish.
BEST VALUE OVER €15
No. 21 Off-Licences, Cappagh Stores Knocknacarra, Independents
This will be one of the wines at the Renvyle House’s next wine weekend (see above). Their Touraine Sauvignon is solid and their Sancerre has crisp ripe green apple and gooseberry flavours with a stony character but I think their best wine is this Pouilly-Fumé.
JJ O’Driscolls, No. 21, Martins, www.wineonline.ie
From low-yielding vines up to 85 years old in Rioja Alta. All the Cáceres range is worth trying and easy to find but I hadn’t tried their Gran Reserva in a while — it was perfect for a blustery cold evening in early January. Rich toasted oak, vanilla and black fruit aromas, dense and dark with rich chocolate tinged black fruits and a structured finish.
L’Atitude 51, Le Caveau www.lecaveau.ie, Bradleys, Greenacres, Green Man Wines.
This is 100% Cabernet Franc, organic and ‘natural’, from one of the region’s best producers. Bright red fruit aromas with touches of cherry and raspberry, pristine ripe pure fruits on the palate, supple and fresh. If you do get to the Loire Valley on your holidays this is exactly what you want..
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