Wines we can still afford to drink


WINE:THERE ARE A lot of people in the wine business have been dreading January; not with quite the same terror as those in the restaurant business, but there were certainly a few sleepless nights, writes John Wilson.

 We tend to drink less wine in January anyway (it's all those resolutions), and after any Christmas excess, many feel the need to abstain for a while. It is not a bad idea to cut out alcohol completely every now and again; however, a modest but steady intake is probably better for you than overkill followed by abstinence.

For those of you looking for a few suggestions to help you through these dark, cold winter nights, for the month of January we will have a few columns concentrating on the frugal side of things - wines that won't force you to break open the piggy bank, but won't poison you either.

This week it is the turn of the multiples. I don't know the figures, but the four main supermarkets, the convenience stores combined with the off-licence chains such as Molloys, O'Donovans and O'Briens, must make up for a sizeable part of the country's wine purchase. All have strengths and weaknesses, which I hope to look at later in the year, but all certainly have the buying power to offer plenty of choice at a tenner or less. Most import a range of their own wines directly, and in addition, can twist the arm of the local importers for the rest of their offering.

I have tried to avoid the massive array of constantly changing special offers; most of those listed below are stocked at these prices for the full year.

Andes Peaks Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Central Valley, Chile 13% €8.49Most bottom-rung Chilean Sauvignon tastes confected at best, and of damp cardboard. The Andes Peak version rises above all this; it has lovely ripe fresh pear fruits, and a nicely rounded finish. Perfect party fare, or for sipping with friends. The Syrah is pretty good, too. Stockist: O'Briens.

Pinot Grigio Terraze della Luna, Trentino 2007 12.5% €8At its full price of around €12, this Pinot Grigio is pretty good value; at €8 it is a steal. Classy rounded melon fruits with a hint of ginger, and a crisp dry finish. Drink as an aperitif or with fish and chicken dishes. Stockist: Superquinn.

Domaine Mardon Quincy 2007 12.5% €11.99A little over the €10 mark, but worth that extra expenditure. Sancerre-lovers who are feeling the pinch should head straight to this wine, made in a nearby village using the same Sauvignon grape. Good lively fresh green fruits, and a smart crisp finish. Stockist: Molloy's Liquor Stores.

Urban Malbec 2007, Viñedos Fournier, Mendoza, Argentina 14.5% €8.99This recently-formed producer is the one of the most talked-about in Spain, Chile and Argentina, producing a string of wines in each country. If this is anything to go by, his Argentine operation is certainly worth following. Lovely ripe, jammy, juicy damsons and cassis, with some spicy oak; full-on wine that will keep you warm on a cold winter's night. Even better, the price comes down to €7.19 per bottle if you buy a mixed case. Stockist: Oddbins.

Viña Maipo Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2007, Central Valley, Chile 13% €8.14Good wet Wednesday wine, to open up with virtually any red or white meat, or anything cheesy, too. Light minty/eucalyptus notes alongside some light blackcurrant fruits, and easy tannin on the finish. Stockist: Dunnes Stores

Aldi Médoc 2006 12.5% €8.99You won't mistake it for a first growth, but this is perfect for hard-pressed Bordeaux drinkers who clamour for a glass of claret. Light and easy with some ripe redcurrants, and a whisper of tannin on the finish. Stockist: Aldi.

Balcon 0de la Villa 2006, Toro, Spain 14.5% €9.49Most wines from Toro are big and ripe, but a great many have teeth-staining levels of dry tannins - you wonder will they ever be ready to drink. Not so this one, with its delicious easy ripe juicy fruits and smooth rounded finish. Try it with stews, grills or roast red meats. Stockist: Marks Spencer.

Marks Spencer has a small, but very well-chosen range of wines, chosen by a group of buyers who really know what they are doing. At a recent tasting, I came across this remarkable pair of wines; I was amazed to find something drinkable at €6.39. Remember that our government takes €3.67 of that. However, these next two are light easy friendly wines that will cheer up any party.

MS French Chardonnay Grenache 2007 13% €6.39As with the red, a fault-free wine that covers all the bases; light and crisp with decent apple fruits. If you are throwing a party, this would be perfect. Stockist: Marks Spencer.

MS French Syrah Grenache 2007 13% €6.39A recession-beating red with light rounded red fruits and a smooth finish. All-purpose wine to keep the cold out. Stockist: Marks Spencer.

Rio Alto Classic Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Aconcagua Valley, Chile 13.5% €9.53The Aconcagua Valley in Chile is home to some very interesting Cabernet Sauvignon. The cool nights and warm daytime temperatures are responsible for some rich, but balanced wines. This is a good example; plenty of ripe blackcurrant and cherry fruits, some smoky oak, but there is a pleasant brightness to the fruit that makes the wine so much more drinkable. Try it with a slow roast shoulder of lamb. Stockists: Super-Valu, Centra

New Zealand wine tasting

New Zealand Wine traditionally hold the first wine tasting of the year, an event that gives wine-lovers an opportunity to taste a very comprehensive range of wines. This year it takes place at on January 20th in the Radisson SAS Hotel, Golden Lane, Dublin 8, 6.30pm-8.30pm. Contact Jean Smullen on 01-2745955 or 086-8168468 for tickets, which cost €16.