Canti Negroamaro-Zinfandel Puglia IGT

NOW that we are all trying to shop local and support our bakers and butchers spare a thought for your local wine merchant.

Small independent wine shops simply cannot compete with the buying power of the large supermarket chains, but where they can compete is on expertise and quality.

Not every supermarket has a wine expert on hand to advise every customer but this is something you can expect from your local off licence, as well as (usually) a larger selection of wines.

What you also get in your local shop is a more diverse range, mainly because it is just not worth the while of a small merchant to stock the big-brand wines which are often heavily discounted in the supermarkets.

This does not mean you won’t get good value in your local Offy, just that you may not always recognise the brand.

The National Off Licence Association (NoffLA), which represents around 350 off licences around Ireland, has been holding an annual awards scheme for wines that are exclusive to their outlets and this year’s winners include a few old favourites plus some wines that were new to me.

Over 600 wines were submitted and just 15 received gold star awards with ranking based, not just on taste, but on value for money.

Champagne of the year was the Gosset Brut Excellence NV which costs around €45 and beat out a number of more famous Champagnes that cost up to €15 more.

This Champagne is the only pricey wine in the awards list with a very tasty selection costing between €8 and €15 of which I have picked out my favourites below.

So if you normally buy your wine in the supermarket give them a break this week, step out of your comfort zone and visit your neighbourhood merchant to see what they have to offer.

All the wines can be found in NoffLA member off licences such as the Carry-Out and Next Door chains, O’Donovans, Galvins and many others.


Canti Negroamaro-Zinfandel Puglia IGT

Negroamaro is the heel of Italy’s most celebrated grape and Zinfandel is better known as Primitivo around those parts, but I suspect the former name is the easier one to sell. Ripe cherries and possibly even the sweet glacé cherries were what popped into my head when I smelled this wine which is made in a lovely light fruity style and tastes well above its modest price.

GatoNegro Carménère 2012 Chile

Carménère originates in Bordeaux but it has been abandoned there due to its lack of resistance to disease. It was thought to be extinct but was re-discovered in Chile where it thrives. Carménère is a nice mid-point between Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with some of the structure of the first and the fruitiness of the second. This is a lively fruity wine which may lack depth but counterbalances this with considerable charm.

Sangoma Chenin Blanc 2012

Good to see South African producers taking Chenin Blanc seriously again. This is one of two Chenin-based wines to win a gold star (the other being Stony Cape at €7.99). Good fresh aroma with a hint of pine and resin and a pleasing rounded palate offering flavours of pears and limes and a crisp finish. This would benefit from being served with food such as a creamy pasta dish.


Tiki Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough

The NoffLA panel gave this wine their overall trophy for White Wine of the Year. New Zealand Sauv. Blancs don’t do restraint but there is a purity to the fruit on Tiki that is often missing from its competitors. Elder-flowers and lime on the nose with a tangy and very fresh palate that reminded me of nettle soup and a clean dry finish.

Coto de Imaz Reserva Rioja 2005

A wine labelled Reserva in Rioja must have been aged at least one year in oak and two in bottle and I generally prefer Reservas to their more expensive older brothers in the Gran Reserva category which are often aged a little too long for my taste. This is a beautifully balanced wine with fruit and tannins in perfect harmony and cries out for a steak or a nice rib roast on the bone.

Cousino-Macul Antiguas Reservas Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Cousino-Macul were one of the first Chilean wines in Ireland and I remember first drinking this wine back in the early 1990s. This is the NoffLA Red Wine of the Year and contains all the things I love about Cabernet Sauvignon with flavours of black currants mixed with a touch of green peppers and even a hint of chocolate in the finish.

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