The world of wine falls into two very distinct categories — the big brands making easy drinking accessible wines to please as many as possible, and the smaller producers that make wines in their own way and as best they can but with little or no thought to what the market wants — if they like it, why shouldn’t others?
Lisa, my knowledgeable friend that runs the excellent Dublin dining website www.allthefood.ie regularly tells me that she is utterly mystified that I can like both styles of wine.
For her it has to be ‘small and special, winemakers following their own vision, crafting unique flavours in a sustainable way: “I have no interest in industrial wine, I want wines made by people, not machines, wine made in the correct way has a magical quality, industrial wine is just another commodity.”
Lisa is perfectly correct of course, I love this kind of wine too but very few of those wines cost under €15, and I’m also aware that the average Irish consumer spends less than €9, so I have to keep my mind open. I must also admit that I’m often quite happy to glug a ripe fruity Malbec with my steak and chips on occasion.
One of the big importers represents this dichotomy better than anyone, and that is Findlaters. Findlaters are the agents for big brands such as Penfolds, Wolf Blass, Torres, Chapoutier and Bollinger but they also have a good range of wines from tiny producers in Austria, the Czech Republic, Wales and the excellent Lyrarakis Estate from Crete.
Lyrarakis was founded in 1966 but they are part of a centuries old tradition. Dotted among their vines are 14th century stone wine presses and we know that Crete is one of the oldest wine regions in continuous use in Europe — at least 4,000 years old. The Lyrarakis estate has been instrumental in saving indigenous Cretan grape varieties such as Dafni and Vilana and they were a bit of a find for Findlaters. I feature three of their wines below along with some inexpensive Malbec that I like but that Lisa would simply hate.
If you are curious about Greece at a lower price then selected Lidl also have their crisp fresh Assyrtiko (€12) back in stock along with a dessert Muscat from the island of Samos (€10) — both of these featured here last autumn and punch above their price.
Best Value Under €15
This is part of the wines in the O’Briens ‘buy 1 get 2nd half price’ sale that is on for the month of March. Norton are a really solid producer and this is a fine expression of Malbec with no oak, just dark juicy fruits — perfect for a roast or even the barbecue if you are feeling brave. Norton’s Barrel Select Malbec is also on offer should you prefer some oak.
Another wine from O’Briens ‘buy 1 get 2nd half price’ sale — one of a few from Gérard Bertrand on offer this month. I like Bertrand’s wines a lot and although this is entry level it still packs in lots of ripe fruity flavours, red fruits at first with darker fruits on the finish. Bertrand’s Pic St Loup is also recommended for just one euro extra.
JJ O’Driscolls, Ardkeen, Martins, No. 21, Independents
Michel Torino is a solid entry level Malbec producer that I have not featured in a while. Based in the far northerly Salta-Cafayette region their vines are grown at significant altitude. Bright juicy and fruity with some decent structure and complexity. Their Don David range is also recommended.
BEST VALUE OVER €15
Bradleys, JJ O’Driscolls, Mortons Galway, Wicklow Wine Co, Clontarf Wines, Whelehans, Greenman, 64 Wines.
Assyrtiko is one Greece’s best known white grapes thanks to its ubiquity on the beautiful island of Santorini. Lyrarakis’ version is packed with mineral and citrus freshness with touches of fennel, clean, bright fresh and dried lemon zest flavours and not a little complexity.
This ancient variety was saved from extinction by the Lyrarakis family in the early 1990s. The name derives from the word for Laurel and it does indeed have a scent of bay leaves as well as sage. Lively and fresh with a
delightful lemon and lime leaf character and perfect for serving with some grilled fish with perhaps a lively olive oil and garlic sauce.
Bradleys Cork, Greenman, 64 Wines, Clontarf, Whelehans, Wicklow Wine Co.
Kotsifali is the most widely planted red grape on the island of Crete. Often used in blends, Syrah works well with it as it has some of Syrah’s pepper flavours. Light ruby in colour, fresh and lively on the nose with black pepper and bright fruits and a spicy quality. Would work well lightly chilled.