Recommended bargain wines for cash-strapped January

Lebanon has rarely been out of the news since the 1970s but through all the years of political turmoil and refugee crises, there has always been one annual event to celebrate: the arrival of the new vintage of Chateau Musar.

Recommended bargain wines for cash-strapped January

The sad news of the death of Musar’s great guiding hand Serge Hochar was announced at the start of 2015. Hochar (75) died in a swimming accident and will be much missed by the international wine world.

Although he passed the running of Musar to his sons and nephew a few years ago he was still very much the face of Musar and visited Ireland many times.

Serge’s father Gaston founded Musar in 1930 in part with advice and assistance from a French army officer — Ronald Barton of the Anglo-Irish family that owns Chateau Léoville-Barton and Langoa-Barton in Bordeaux.

The Cabernet plantings in Musar’s vineyards are from cuttings taken from the Barton estate in St Julien, Serge (and other family members) trained in Bordeaux and Serge’s brother Ronald was named in honour of the friendship.

Serge took over from his father in 1959 and during the Lebanese Civil War he only missed one vintage, the grapes regularly being harvested amid gunfire, shelling, and even incursions of Israeli tanks.

Grapes have been grown in Lebanon from Phoenician times (c1500 BCE) and probably longer.

The Bekaa Valley vineyards were planted by Jesuits in the mid-19th Century when Chateau Ksara was founded (see below).

The Lebanese style often mixes warm climate Rhone grapes with Bordeaux varieties and the wines tend to be warm, rich and slightly spicy.

There are now over 30 wineries and of all the world’s wine countries they could do with our support.

Recommendations this week include wines from the (very) old world and a couple of bargain new world wines for cash-strapped January.

For the diary: New Zealand Wine Fair, Thursday January 22, 6.30pm-8.30pm, Radisson Blu, Golden Lane, Dublin 8. Tickets €15.00 — visit: www.bit.ly/1wY0nb6 . Cork Wine School 2014 Wine Course Details are now online — www.bit.ly/1ArzkMI

BEST VALUE UNDER €15

Chateau Mukhrani Saperavi 2011, Georgia — €14.49

Stockist: Marks & Spencer

Saperavi is a native Georgian grape also found in Eastern Europe and in the Finger Lakes in New York. Deep dark colour, aromas of blueberries, blackberries and a hint of allspice with a soft fruit-driven palate and a lingering juicy quality perfect for winter evenings.

Matua Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc — €13.00-€15.00

Stockist: Tesco, Dunnes Stores

Matua were one of the pioneers of New Zealand wine and are still one of the more reliable producers selling through supermarkets (this is currently on offer in Tesco). Attractive aromas of lemon zest, fresh grass, nettles and washed stones with punchy acidity on first taste and on the finish.

Santa Rita Wine Makers Lot “Three C’s”, Chile — €8.50

Stockist: Tesco

We need a bargain or two in January and ever reliable Santa Rita’s Three Cs is on offer this month in Tesco. A blend of Cabernet Franc, Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon with sweet ripe plum flavours in the classic Chilean fruit-driven style.

BEST VALUE OVER €15

Chateau Ksara Clos St Alphonse 2011, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon — €15.49

Stockist: Marks & Spencer

Ksara is Lebanon’s oldest winery and I believe this cuvée is made exclusively for M&S. A blend of Syrah, Cab. Franc and Cab. Sauvignon with lots of ripe spicy black fruit aromas and flavours and a lingering chewy dried fruit character.

Ksara Reserve du Couvent, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon — €17.99

Stockists: Karwigs Carrigaline, Ardkeen Stores, Desmonds Next Door Raheen and Next Door Ennis

This is another blend of Syrah, Cab. Franc and Cab. Sauvignon and receives some oak ageing. Aromatic, fruity and slightly smoky aromas, clean juicy black fruit flavours on the palate with lingering plums and dark berries. Get out the Yotam Ottolenghi cookbooks and treat yourself.

Chateau Musar 2004, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon — €33.99

Stockists: Bradleys Cork, Fine Wines Limerick, O’Briens, Vintry, www.Corkscrew.ie

A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan and Cinsault this vintage is now mature but can be aged further (up to 30 years according to the winemaker). Light ruby colour, aromas of dried cherries, figs and spice, elegant and smooth on the palate with lingering redcurrants and cranberries.

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