What to give a true anorak

 

A new corkscrew is fine but the best Christmas gift for a wine buff is a bottle of something special

Virtually every country has a few unique specialities, usually ignored by most wine-drinkers. European countries tend to have more, with Italy leading the field, followed closely by France. However, dig a little in the wine cultures of the southern hemisphere, and Australia in particular, and you will find world-class wines unknown to all but a few.

Few other countries can offer such an amazing range of fortified wines, and at the other end of the scale, unique Syrah, Semillon and Chardonnay from the Hunter Valley. South Africa too makes great fortified wines, as well as Pinotage, their own USP. Outside of the well-known European producers, Portugal, Greece, and Slovenia all have a vibrant wine industry that uses local grapes to make wines that you will not find anywhere else. All of these will send a frisson of pleasure down the spine of a wine lover, and not all of them cost the earth.

Don’t be afraid to buy a young wine. Wine buffs enjoy building up their own cellar, and are usually quite happy to wait until they believe it is time to crack open that special bottle. For this reason, it is sometimes better to buy several bottles of the same wine which can be drunk over a period of years, than one solitary bottle. Do remember though that in most cases, less expensive red wines will evolve and often improve for a year or two, they are not there for the long haul. It is also worth considering large format bottles as a present.

Most producers will bottle a small percentage of their wine in larger sizes, from magnum (two-bottles) to double magnum (four), and sometimes larger. These make a very impressive present, and make quite a stir when poured at a dinner party. Experts reckon a magnum is the perfect size for ageing wine (which ages more slowly in larger bottles), an added bonus for the wine buff.

The biggest difficulty with all of these wines is tracking them down. The current economic crisis has not helped, as the range of wines available has shrunk. Specialist wine shops are obviously the most likely source, but a few minutes in the aisle of most of our supermarkets will reveal a few hidden gems that will make the perfect wine gift this Christmas.

Alzinger Grüner Veltliner Mühlpoint Federspiel 2007, Wachau, 12.5%, €16.95

I should really be going for a German Riesling here, but as any true wine buff will already have a pretty decent selection in their cellar, instead I suggest a Grüner Veltliner. This grape variety, almost unique to Austria, comes in a variety of styles, and a multiplicity of prices.

Personally I go for the lighter, crisper style, such as this one. I try not to repeat my wines of the week, but this wine deserves special attention.

I was hugely impressed by all of the Alzinger wines at a tasting in Austria last year, where these wines outscored those from far more expensive and better-known producers. This is a perfectly balanced pure wine with a lovely mineral edge, and crisp green apple and ginger fruit. If you have a little more to spend, buy a bottle of the same producer’s Riesling Dürnsteiner 2007 (€21.35) at the same time. Stockist:Wines Direct.

Malvira Roero Riserva Mombeltramo 2005, 13.5%,€33

Being a bit of an anorak myself, I take pride in knowing, if not having tasted, most of the wines of the world. It was therefore perplexing to come across a red wine that was completely new to me. I had tasted Roero Arneis, a white wine from a town of the same name in Piemonte in Northern Italy, but never a Roero Rosso. I consulted three wine books specialising in Italian wine; two mentioned it in passing, the third not at all. The wine, made from the Nebbiolo grape, is pale in colour, with generous soft slightly earthy dark cherry and redcurrant fruits. Lighter than a Barolo or Barberesco, but a lovely glass of wine. I would serve it with roast or grilled duck. Stockist:O’Briens.

Kanonkop Pinotage 2006, 14%, €26

You could say Pinotage divides opinion. A very small group of (largely South African) fanatics love it; the rest of the world hates it. A South African-engineered cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, it does not taste remotely like either variety. The poor versions, and there are many, have a distinctive smell resembling hospital corridors or elastoplast. Antiseptic is not necessarily something you would want to drink. It should be said that quality has improved dramatically in recent years. However, the most revered name for Pinotage has always been Beyers Truter. He is a modest, retiring man, who as well as making his own wine under the Beyerskloof label, has been involved in Kanonkop, who make one of the finest examples of the grape. The Kanonkop Pinotage is a firm, concentrated wine with a mass of dark, ripe fruits and an impressive tannic structure. Decant before drinking with something red, or stash away in the cellar for three to five years. Stockists:O’Brien’s; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street, Dublin 2; Donnybrook Fair, Dublin 4; The Wine Well, Dunboyne; Nectar Wines, Sandyford, Dublin 18; Martin’s, Fairview, Dublin 3; Keller’s, Roscrea; Fawl’s, Ennis.

Gonzalez Byass Palo Cortado Apostolés, 22%, €17.99 per half-bottle

It is an immutable fact that all true wine anoraks adore sherry. If they don’t, they are not true believers. I have tasted a number of excellent examples this year, from dry to sweet. However, this was one of the very best, and one that should be tried by every aficionado. Made from 30 year-old wines, it is an intense, powerful wine with flavours of grilled nuts, coffee, and orange peel, leading on to a sweetish finish. Small in size, it would make an excellent stocking-filler. Stockists:O’Brien’s; Bradley’s Cork.

ON THE GRAPEVINE

Festival for Focus

Deveney’s of Dundrum, Dublin, is organising a beer festival for February 2nd, 2010 in aid of Focus Ireland, to be held in The Bull and Castle, Christchurch, Dublin. Tickets, which cost €20, include 10 free tastes and will be sold through the shop during December. There will be around 80 premium bottled beers available to taste, and speakers from some of the breweries and best beer specialists in Ireland. See Deveneysbeer.blogspot.com for further details.

Tastes Italian

Red Nose Wine, a wine warehouse and online shop in Clonmel, is holding an Italian tasting with Gerry Gunnigan of Liberty Wines on December 9th. Contact: Red Nose Wine, Clonmel, 052-6182939, www.rednosewine.com.

Party like it’s 1999

One of my favourite places, Ely Wine Bar in Ely Place, Dublin 2, which celebrates its 10th anniversary, will have 10 wines from the 1999 vintage at 1999-ish prices in Ely Place for the first 10 days of December.

TWO UNDER €12

Tesco’s Finest Beyer’s Truter Pinotage 2008 Stellenbosch, 14.5%, €11.15From the master himself, a ripe powerful Pinotage, the big dark forest fruits being offset by some notes of spicy new oak. Perfect for the wine buff, or try it with game dishes this Christmas. Stockist:Tesco

Carignan 2006 Domaine La Tour Boisée Vin de Pays Coteaux de Peyriac, 13.5%, €10.99-€11.99Once widely grown in the Languedoc, but always hidden in blends, Carignan has been making a comeback in recent years. This is a pretty good example of the grape, relatively big and rounded with a nice meaty spiciness. Of definite interest to the wine buff, but a wine we can all enjoy. Stockists:The Grape Vine, Dublin 9; Kelly’s, Dublin 3; Martin’s, Fairview, Dublin 3; Morton’s, Dublin 6; The Vintry, Rathmines, Dublin 6; Red Island, Skerries; O’Neill’s, Carrickmacross.

jwilson@irishtimes.com


HUGH JOHNSON’S POCKET WINE BOOK 2010

Hugh Johnson

(Mitchell Beazley, £10.99)

Hugh Johnson’s annual Pocket Wine Book is one of the most useful wine books ever published.The 2010 edition is now out, and as usual manages to cram an amazing amount of authoritative information into a small pocket- or handbag-sized tome. There is brief information on regions, the best producers, vintage charts, grape varieties, and advice on matching wine with food and cheese. Slip it into your pocket before visiting your local off-licence or supermarket, or bring it with you if you are planning a visit to a wine region.

THE CONCISE WORLD ATLAS OF WINE

Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson

(Mitchell Beazley, £18.99)

Smaller in size, and slightly smaller in content, this is a budget version of The World Atlas of Wine, one of the great wine books, now in its sixth edition. As far as I could see, this paperback version contains just about everything that is in the full edition, with a shorter introduction, and a few minor cutbacks. The maps are smaller, and possibly harder to read, but against that, it is more portable, and worth buying if you plan on visiting any wine region in a car. It is about one third of the price of the original.

AU REVOIR TO ALL THAT: THE RISE AND FALL OF FRENCH CUISINE

Michael Steinberger

(Bloomsbury, £18.99)

Wine columnist and passionate Francophile Michael Steinberger has written a fascinating and opinionated account of the post-war decline of French cuisine. All is not well with what is arguably the world’s richest food culture.

Steinberger takes the reader on a tour of France, interviewing everyone from wine producers, Camembert makers, the managing director of McDonald’s, anti-globalisation campaigner José Bové, and the celebrity Michelin- starred chefs, on the state of the culinary arts in the nation. He argues that far wider influences, mainly the politics of the past 50 years, have left French cuisine floundering in the wake of Spain and other countries.

He takes a long-overdue look at the cynical business of fine dining, the gentle extraction of large amounts of money for conveyer-belt food, and the recent branding and global expansion of the celebrity chef. It is a pity that he largely ignores the real cornerstone of French food, the small local restaurant and the quality producers that supply it. However, this remains one of the best books I have read all year, and essential reading for anyone with an interest in food and wine.