I was asked recently about wine from the Canary Islands and the person was shocked that I had never visited them. In fact, I have never had a beach/sun holiday in my life and thankfully her good self has no interest either — both of us are happier in cities or in wine regions.
In June this year I plan to finally take the holiday that was originally planned for 2020: Brittany Ferries were kind enough to allow us postpone our booking for two years. The trip begins with a ferry ride from Cork to Roscoff to visit some friends in Brittany for a day or two before heading for Bordeaux and the Pyrenees, and then on into Northern Spain with a drive to Santiago de Compostela. We will then base ourselves in Valladolid right next to the wine regions of Toro, Ribera del Duero and Rueda. Valladolid is just two hours drive from Madrid should we need some bright lights and a bit of fancy shopping. We return via ferry from Bilbao to Rosslare, and I suspect the boot will contain a few bottles of wine and olive oil plus some chorizo, morcilla, manchego and tetilla cheese and packs of Padrón peppers.
I plan on having picnics, and lunches and dinners in wine towns where possible, safe in the knowledge that local food is often best suited to local wines. I am squeezing all this into two weeks so I might not get to Rias Baixas for Albariño but I do hope to get to Valdeorras for some Godello and Bierzo for some Mencía, as these are I think the only Spanish wine regions I’ve yet to visit.
Wines featured here are all from accessible European wine regions that have regular flights from Ireland or can be accessed via ferry should you wish to bring home some wine home. I particularly recommend the Loire Valley as its wines remain underpriced for the quality and you can find excellent white, pink, red, sparkling and dessert wines — almost no other wine region can offer this mix. The Loire also has lots of organic and natural wine producers if you are looking for something different.
The same diversity claim can be said about the Languedoc but it is vast so plan your trip well. If you are only planning city breaks don’t forget that Lisbon and Porto have excellent wine regions on their doorstep and finally don’t forget Valencia and Alicante — two of my favourite cities in Spain.
Wines Under €15
Moulin Gassac Rouge, Languedoc, France — €14.50
Stockists: Red Nose Wines, Mitchells, Sheridans Cheesemongers Dublin and Galway sheridanscheesemongers.ie
The Languedoc is probably best reached via a cheap flight to Carcassonne and there is a vineyard around every bend in the road and up every hill. This is from the region’s most lauded producer Mas de Daumas Gassac and is a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Cinsault — fruity and supple with dark cherry, black wine gum fruits, and nice concentration.
Botas de Baro 2019 Verdejo, Rueda, Spain — €13
Stockist: Dunnes Stores
Rueda is between beautiful Segovia with its 2000-year-old Aqueduct and historic Valladolid where Ferdinand and Isabella once lived — one of Spain’s best Tapas cities. Brittany Ferries Rosslare-Bilbao ferry leaves you a mere three-hour drive — Ribera del Duero is also nearby. This has light floral aromas mixed with citrus and green apple: zingy lemon and lime flavours with a little stony hit of bitter lemon on the finish.
Casa de la Ermita Crianza, Jumilla, Spain — €12
Jumilla is very accessible from either Alicante or Valencia — two lovely Spanish cities in the heart of Paella country. This is on offer until the 19th along with its sister wine Lunático (€13.39) — both taste more like €15-16 wines. Lunatico has sweet red plum (Monastrell) flavours while this is blend of Cabernet and Monastrell with good blackcurrant concentration and a touch of spice perfect for a cold January evening.
Wines Over €15
Bibi Graetz Casamatta Rosso, Tuscany, Italy — €17.99
Stockists: Neighbourfood.ie (Mallow & Cuskinny Markets), Deveneys Dundrum, Station to Station stationtostationwine.ie, Neighbourhood Wine, Blackrock Cellar, Jus de Vine, Clontarf Wines
Organic (mostly) Sangiovese red wine from one of Tuscany’s most famed cult winemakers. Surely everyone needs to visit Tuscany at least once, just where to start? This is lively and fruity with red berry fruits and balancing acidity perfect for pizza, pasta or perhaps for sipping with some salami in Siena, Florence or Pisa.
Pegos Claros Reserva 2017, Palmela-Setúbal, Portugal — €16.99
Stockists: Matsons, WineOnline.ie, Fresh, LaTouche, Whelehans, Baggot St. Wines, D6 Wines, Jus de Vine, Mitchell & Son.
The Irish love Portugal and while we mainly visit the Algarve, Lisbon and Porto are hugely popular for city breaks. Palmela is just south of Lisbon and famed for dessert as well as red wines. This is from 70-year-old vine Castelão and pours a dark red despite its age — luscious, ripe, juicy red fruits with warmth and concentration.
Dom. Fournier ‘Les Deux Cailloux’ Pouilly Fumé 2020, Loire — €29.99
Stockists: Saltwater Grocery, Deveneys Dundrum deveneys.ie
The Loire Valley is the closest wine region to Ireland and the one I have visited most. From Muscadet to Chinon to Vouvray to Pouilly Fumé, every wine village has its charms (never mind the Château). This is new to the Irish market with classic salty, mineral aromas with a hint of smoke, layered lime and gooseberry fruits with a creamy edge, and a l