It may not be as apparent to consumers in Europe but the world of wine has undergone quite a bit of change in the past two decades, writes Leslie Williams. Here he guides you through his picks for the best wines Europe has to off at a range of price points.
Europe’s vineyards are steadily declining with more than half a million hectares of vines grubbed up since 2000. The slack is being taken up by the New World and Asia, specifically China which has huge plantings of cabernet sauvignon (currently the world’s most planted grape followed by merlot).
Spain still has the largest area under vine followed by France and Italy but number four is now China. Chile is looking to diversify. Watch for old vine carignan and cinsault and more syrah but you can still expect to see lots and lots of cabernet, merlot and sauvignon blanc on the shelves.
Portugal thankfully, is still growing more than 90% native varieties especially in regions such as the Douro. Here pride of place is given to Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (tempranillo), Souzao and around 100 others. Field blends still exist but plots are being replanted with suitable specific varieties making them easier to harvest.
I visited the region last September for Port Wine Day and tasted some extraordinary wines including 20-, 50- and 100-year-old tawny ports at Quinta do Mourao (not here yet), aged colheita (single year) tawny (white and red) and a huge range of ports for early drinking. I also had a charming tour of Quinta do Noval which has long been an innovator and was the first to release a site-specific port — the extraordinary Nacional.
Nacional is one of the most exclusive of all wines given that it comes from a tiny two hectare plot just beside the Quinta where ungrafted pre-phylloxera vines have burrowed into the schist and low-nutrient soil over the past dozen and a half decades.
I was lucky enough to taste the 1996 nacional which, though 20 years old, still had a rich purple centre and was a little shy. I found expressive fleshy blackberry and crème de mur fruit tinged with clove and pepper and huge length. The mix of power and delicacy it showed is a rare thing.
Below I recommend more Noval wines plus some fine tasty wines from three good independent shops — Cinnamon Cottage Rochestown, Cork Whelehans Wines Loughlinstown and Terroirs Donnybrook (both Dublin).
Grenache “le Paradou”, Chateau Pesquié, Rhone, France — €14.95
Stockists: Cinnamon Cottage Rochestown, Ardkeen, Bradleys
This is found in a few good shops but for other Christmas gifts try Cinnamon Cottage in Rochestown, Cork, which sells wines as well as cakes and deli food. Its boutique wine comes from good importers such as Tindal, Karwigs and Bubble Brothers. This has lots of pleasing spicy red and black fruits and watch for its Ventoux big brother ‘Les Terrasses’.
Coteaux du Giennois Champ Gibault 2015, Loire, France — €15.50
Stockist: Terroirs Donnybrook www.terroirs.ie
Terroirs is one of the prettiest wine shops in the country (and a great source of gifts from gorgeous decanters to fine food products). This sauvignon blanc is exclusive to it and is a bit of a crowdpleaser. The C Giennois produces wines with less power than its neighbours (Sancerre) but compensates admirably (as here) with lovely floral aromas.
La Grange Muscadet Vielle Vignes, Loire, France — €14.95
Stockist: Whelehans Wines Loughlinstown or whelehanswines.ie
Whelehans Wines and Café is on the N11 and if you are going to Powerscourt Gardens in Co Wicklow, or the excellent Christmas market in Kilruddery this is a great place to stop for lunch as well as to get lost in its massive wine selection (deliverys nationwide). I loved this floral zingy Muscadet Vielle Vignes which just brims over with zesty freshness.
Quinta do Noval Labrador Syrah 2013, Douro, Portugal — €19.99
Stockists: Celtic Whiskey Shop and Bar Killarney (Irish Whiskey Experience) www.celticwhiskeyshop.com
Named after winemaker António Agrellos’s dog this is I think the only wine Noval makes from non-Portuguese varieties and is available in limited quantities. Bursting with peppery ripe fruits this also has an underlying earthy tone and finishes with chewy blackcurrant and plum flavours.
Quinta do Noval Black, Douro, Portugal — €22.99
Stockists: Celtic Whiskey Shop Killarney (New St) & Dublin www.celticwhiskeyshop.com Hardigans Sligo, Vintry Rathgar
A modern fruit driven port that works great chilled (and in cocktails!) or with chocolate. Ripe blackberry and cacao-tinged fruits, full fruity and ripe with a refreshing tang. Try mixing two parts with one part each of lemon, simple syrup and cognac then top off with soda water.
Quinta do Noval Late Bottled Vintage, Douro, Portugal — €28.99
Stockists: Celtic Whiskey Shop Killarney (New St) and Dublin www.celticwhiskeyshop.com Hardigans Sligo, Vintry Rathgar
Noval’s LBV is made much like its fine vintage ports using foot-trodden grapes and made in an expressive but traditional style. This spends longer in oak so is ready to drink early and is best decanted (for the last glass or two at least). Raspberry, cassis and ripe berry fruits. Delicious.
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