Wine: Tackling 'dry January'

There has been a lot of publicity about the new UK alcohol guidelines and much discussion about the benefits of a “dry January” these past few weeks. I’m not convinced.

Certainly alcohol has calories so reducing intake might lose you a couple of pounds, but the liver is perfectly well adapted to absorb moderate amounts of alcohol (eg, two glasses of wine with a meal) so cutting it out entirely in January is not necessary or even beneficial in the long run.

Drinking moderately is the key to all of this and I firmly believe that wine is the one drink best suited to cutting down our overall alcohol intake. All wine tastes better with food and there is no non-alcoholic drink that interacts with food in the same way.

Given that wine is generally consumed in the safest way possible (ie, with food), why then is it taxed at almost three times the level of other alcoholic drinks? This is unfair and as this is an election year I suggest you should make your views known to the politicians that visit your door (I’ve had three canvassers already this year).

Some value recommendations below from the supermarkets plus a couple of classic winter warmers to brighten up January. As well as an excellent value Haut-Médoc (worth buying a few to lay down if you have spare cash), I have included two fortified wines as they are particularly suited to this time of year.

I haven’t mentioned Madeira much recently, partly because there is such little availability of this classic wine. The Barbeito Madeira below may seem a little steeply priced for January drinking but is actually good value given the age of the wine and the complicated procedure it has gone through to reach its current (delicious) state. Remember that you cannot kill Madeira so even if you took just a tiny sip every day for a year the wine would barely change in character and drinking a wine this good will bring some cheer into your life these dark cold January evenings.

For the diary: New Zealand Wine Fair, 6.30pm-8.30pm, Thursday, January 21, Hilton Hotel, Charlemont Place, Dublin 2. A chance to meet winemakers and taste wines from over 40 producers. Tickets €15 via this link: 


Luis Felipe Gran Reserva Pinot Noir 2013, Leyda Valley, Chile — €10

Stockist: SuperValu, O’Donovans

Sourced from the cool Leyda Valley near the coast, this is a little leaner than many Chilean Pinot Noir which tend to have rather sweet fruit. Aromas of baked cherries and a hint of earth, ripe and fruity on the palate but with a lingering touch of forest-floor earthiness on the finish. Good value Pinot.

Tesco Finest Ribera del Duero Reserva 2010, Spain — €12

Stockist: Tesco

Made from 100% Tempranillo, grown in one of the best regions of Spain (some would say its greatest region). Ribera always has more fruit and density than Rioja and this is typical — rich plum fruit aromas, bright cherry and blackberry on the palate, balanced and nicely structured so best served with a meat based paella or stew.

Tesco Finest Oloroso Sherry, Spain — €11.99

Stockist: Tesco

Sourced from the family owned house of Bodegas Barbadillo, this is excellent value and a good introduction to the joys of dry Oloroso, especially in the winter months. Aromas of almonds and dried fruits, rich and round on the palate and acidity and a lightness of touch on the finish. Serve as an aperitif or digestif or with a winter root vegetable soup or paté.


Sausto Monte Dall’Ora Valpolicella Ripasso, Veneto, Italy — €36.99

Stockists: Le Caveau,; Bradleys, Cork; Green Man, Terenure

I always mention a Ripasso or Amarone now, as it is this month that the previous vintage’s grapes finish their drying and are made into Amarone or re-fermented with last year’s Valpolicella to make Ripasso. This has full, ripe, juicy cherry fruit, gobs of soft mocha tinged chewy and a clean finish.

Chateau Beaumont Cru Bourgeois 2010, Haut Medoc, France — €20

Stockist: SuperValu

One of the larger better value Haut-Medoc Estates and always good value, but this is a bargain and worth buying to lay down. The 2010s are not as approachable as the 2009s but will age better (this Beaumont will probably drink well into the mid 2020s). Aromas of tar, smoke and cedar, ripe structured blackcurrant fruit, lingering cassis and chocolate touches.

Barbeito Malvasia Colheita 2000, Madeira (500ml) — €32.99

Stockist: Celtic Whiskey Shop 

Barbeito is the most interesting of the Madeira Houses due to their single cask releases and focus on quality and value. I tasted bottle No. 210 of 1036 bottles made and loved its light golden colour and aromas of figs and dates. The ripe fresh palate brought lighter flavours — lemon curd and golden sultanas — balanced by pitch-perfect acidity. Wondrous.


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