Weekend wine with Blake Creedon

THE market for wine is like a pyramid: tiny quantities of rare and expensive stuff on top; rather a lot of widely available inexpensive wines in the middle, and cheapies competing on price at the bottom.

The selection of wines that California exports to Ireland is the same, only more so: a tiny trickle of luxury-priced wines, and a vast ocean of mass-market household names accounted for by two or three brands. (The latter aren’t really cheapies, by which I mean €6 and under.)

I had a look at some of the latest vintages at a tasting organised by Wines of California in Jacob’s On The Mall in Cork earlier this week. Essentially, it was a trade fair, an opportunity for wholesale importers to showcase their wines to retailers and, especially, to restaurants.

Because of that focus, it’s natural that importer/retailers who only sell directly to consumer (such as M&S, Dunnes and SuperValu) don’t participate in such tastings.

But from the point of view of consumer advocate trying to promote choice and value, I think that’s a great pity. A tasting of every retailer’s range open to the public for a fee might be an eye-opener to all concerned.

* Open only a few months, L’Atitude 51 on Union Quay in Cork (a storied venue whose previous occupants range from The Lobby Bar to An Crúibín) has been making quite a name for itself already. As well as serving an extensive list of interesting wines in varying sizes (so you can try a little) they’ve also introduced a dedicated wine tasting room upstairs. Having already hosted events focused on New Zealand and the Rhône valley, they’re continuing with two further regions well worth exploring. On Thursday May 10 they are hosting a Beaujolais tasting in association with Karwig’s Wines (7pm to 8.30pm; €10 per person). And on Wednesday, May 23, it’ll be the upmarket Frankland River region of Western Australia (6.30pm to 8pm €15). Phone 021-2390219, and see my blog at blakecreedon.wordpress.com for more fun and flavourful drinks events nationwide.

Gallo Family Vineyards Moscato, Widely available at around €8.50

The moscato family of grapes is responsible for mainly sweet styles, and this is no exception. It’s not for everyone, but the sweetness, fresh tropical fruit flavours, and moderate 8.5% alcohol of this little beauty could make it an excellent match for spicy food — or as a spritzer with ice and sparkling water on those long warm summer evenings. When they come.

Gallo Family White Zinfandel €8.49, Widely available at around €8.50

The white zin style is widely derided by wine fans as simplistic dumbed-down wine — but most often by people who’ve never tried it. Really. Suck it and see. This off-dry rosé was, in my view, the best white zin on offer at the Californian tasting, beating its competitors from the likes of Barefoot and Sutter Home into a cocked hat.

Sutter Home Pinot Grigio, Widely available, around €10

Despite the bad press it gets, the pinot grigio grape (aka pinot gris) can be a handsome fresh food-friendly wine when done well. This one’s a perfectly pleasing, fresh and slightly waxy fruity white wine. And while you’re at it, do also check out Bubble Brothers’ Gladiator Cycles take on the grape at €15.

Cycles Gladiator Merlot 2007, Bubble Brothers, €15

Ever seen the romantic comedy Sideways? Set in California’s wine lands, one of the characters clearly thinks ‘merlot’ is a dirty word. Well, more fool him. When done properly, as it is here, it’s a gorgeous firm fresh red. Also check out Cycles other reds — the pinot noir and, for only a few quid more, their Lodi Zinfandel. (www. bubblebrothers.com)

Beringer Stone Cellars Merlot 2009, Selected off-licences at around €11

Whatever about individual bottles, I reckon the Beringer range was the most consistent performer at the California tasting. So much so that it was a hard task to choose between this well-weighted, rich and smoky merlot, garlanded with a delicious lick of sweetness — and their classy zin and cabernet.

Beringer Founder’s Old Vine Zinfandel 2009, Off-licences, €13

While I certainly wouldn’t dismiss the zin grape in its rosé form (like the Gallo one on the left) the grape comes into its own vinified like this, as a powerful, spicy red. All things considered, this is the best wine I tasted this week: Crisp and spicy with good firm tannin, the sort of foil you’d want for rich sizzling beef dishes or any smoky barbecued red meat. Yum!


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