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Festive Favourites – Terrific Tipples to Enjoy This Festive Season

December is that magical month that gives us licence to celebrate past successes and survivals of the year.  We are encouraged to seek out family and friends to share the joy.  To help make those moments special below is a selection of festive favourites to enjoy, just add company.

Start any celebration with a sparkle and let the Champagne bubbles lift the spirits.

Tasting Time

Eleven Festive Favourites to match mood, palate and pocket:

Rose wines, colour has no impact on flavour.  Paler does not mean drier.  Great with pink foods, prawns, salmon and ham.

1. Veuve Monsigny, Blanc de Blanc, Vintage Champagne 2011, France

12.5% ABV

A rare and vintage Champagne using Chardonnay grapes only as described by “Blanc de Blanc”. Very classy and elegant with the character of rich tea biscuit and green apple flavours.  While bone dry, almost a honeyed ripe finish from long aging in the Champagne’s region’s cellars.  Outstanding value for money.  Delicious as a celebratory aperitif or with shellfish starters.

Food friend: serve with strips of smoked salmon wrapped around cream cheese and chives.

€27.99 limited availability at 134 Aldi stores nationwide

2. Viognier 2017, Le Versant, Les Vignobles Foncalieu, Pays d’Oc, France

13% ABV

A notoriously difficult grape to grow, Viognier (pronounced Vee-Oh-knee-ay) is derived from the Latin meaning “road to hell”.  But its character is more heavenly.  A hint of apricot fruit on the aromas, typical of the grape.  Delicious fruity palate showing well-balanced moderate acidity and alcohol.  Rounded by golden Mediterranean fruits expressing its varietal character.

Food friend: very versatile – from spicy Asian chicken to Emmental cheese melted over your favourite pasta or grated over the fluffy flesh of a baked potato.

€13.99 in Dublin at: McHugh’s Off-Licences, Kilbarrack Road and Artane; Baggot Street Wines; Redmond’s, Ranelagh; Red Island Wines, Skerries and Martin’s, Fairview.  Dicey Reilly’s, Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal.

3. Vin Santo Del Chianti Classico, 2009, San Felice, Toscana, Italy

14.5% ABV

Vin Santo is a less sweet alternative to classic French Sauternes. This Italian from Tuscany’s famous Chianti zone is made from very ripe white grapes (usually, Trebbiano and Malvasia) that are partially dried to increase the concentration of sugar and the wine spends at least three years in small 200 litre casks to age and mellow.  Traditionally, chestnut casks were used because of its very porous structure, allowing the wine to breathe and oxidise in a controlled way.  This imparted an added nutty character.

In this Vin Santo, the deep amber colour highlights the long aging in wooden casks of this naturally sweet nectar.  An almost salty nuttiness from the cask mutes the honey and caramel sweetness, making it seductive to convert to the sweeter side.  Full-bodied, rich and impressive.

Food friend: end a meal on a Tuscan note and go native – dipping almond studded biscotti into the wine.

€19.45 37.5cl, reduced to €16.95 until the end of December at O’Brien’s nationwide.

4. Grenache Rosé 2017, Le Versant, Les Vignobles Foncalieu, Pays d’Oc, France

12.5% ABV

From vineyards in France’s Mediterranean Languedoc-Roussillon region and 650 wine grower members of Les Vignobles Foncalieu.  This 50 years old cooperative was awarded “The World’s Most Admired Wine Brands 2017” by Drinks International. The region produces nearly a third of all France’s rosé wines.

This is a very versatile rosé wine.  Pale pink in colour. Clean fresh aromas.  Deliciously dry and refreshing with a fresh strawberry character.  Colourful fact: whether a rosé wine is pale or deep in colour has no bearing on the wine’s taste or alcohol strength; it’s just pigment.

Food friend: go retro with a starter of avocado filled with prawns and paprika in a marie rose sauce.

€13.99 in Dublin at: McHugh’s Off-Licences, Kilbarrack Road and Artane; Baggot Street Wines; Redmond’s, Ranelagh; Red Island Wines, Skerries and Martin’s, Fairview.  Dicey Reilly’s, Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal.

5. Wildflower Pinot Noir 2017, Romania

12.5% ABV

Pale and interesting Pinot Noir and an example of how well Romania can cultivate reliable Pinot Noir.  True to character, fresh redcurrant fruit flavours with refreshing acidity and gentle tannins, allowing it to be served cool.  Served at the British Embassy’s summer garden party reception in Dublin welcoming royal visitors Harry and Megan to Ireland in July.

Food friend: a versatile red that goes equally well with roast turkey and ham or a grilled tuna steak.

€13.95 reduced to €8.95 for December and also on a 6 for €50 from 3rd December for 10 days at O’Brien’s nationwide

6. Domaine Lou Frejau 2016, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhône, France

14.5% ABV

A noble red with genuine authentic ripe dark Mediterranean fruit flavours.  Deep layers of earthy and spiced fruits with a full-bodied alcohol to conclude with a warming finish.  A winter warmer that satisfies.

Food friend: loves roasted red meat especially an assertive spiced beef.

€14.99 at 134 Aldi stores nationwide

7. Pastora, Manzanilla Pasada, En Rama, Bodegas Barbadillo, Sanlucar de Barrameda, Spain

15% ABV

A rare style of Andalucia’s fortified wines.  This aged Pasada version of Manzanilla displays a tell-tale golden hue and is bottled recently “En Rama”, (unfiltered).  Beautiful focus of yeasty aromas from aging under a protective veil of flor yeast and chamomile flowers.  Bone dry and a superb chalk and salty palate that continues at great length.

Food friend: the most accomplished wine to match with impossible food pairings: top a pizza with anchovies, olives, and artichoke hearts.

€14.00 37.5cl Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Hole in the Wall, Blackhorse Avenue and J.J. O’Driscoll’s, Ballintemple, Cork.

8. Winter Ale, Boyne Brewhouse, Drogheda, Co. Meath

8% ABV
Part of the brewery’s limited “Winter Warmer Series”. This rich malty winter warmer delivers dark chocolate and mild coffee on the smooth textured palate. Very long finish with a caramel note on the aftertaste.

Food friend: delicious with a top Tipperary tangy cheddar-style cheese like Derg Farmhouse Cheddar.

€4.25 330ml in Dublin: Molloy’s citywide; Martin’s, Fairview; Drinkstore, Stoneybatter;  Baggot Street Wines; Redmond’s, Ranelagh; Wines on the Green, Dawson Street and McHugh’s, Kilbarrack and Malahide roads.  O’Donovan’s off-licences, Cork citywide.  Nationwide: O’Brien’s, Next Door and Carry Out off-licences.

9. Deluxe Irish Cream Liqueur

17% ABV

A dream marriage of Ireland’s bounty of dairy cream and Irish Whiskey.  Liquid silk interwoven around a warm heart of Irish spirits finishing with a subtle caramel sweet note.

Food friend: soak sultanas in a wine glass overnight and pour over a dessert of quality vanilla ice-cream.

€9.49 at Lidl nationwide and £7.75 in Northern Ireland

10. Chinnery Dublin Dry Gin with Osmanthus & Oolong, Chinnery Spirits Ltd, Dublin

43% ABV

One of the newest Irish craft gins on the market but several years in the making and perfecting the recipe.  Named after an 18th century acclaimed portrait artist George Chinnery who spent most of his life in Asia and China. This gin that bears his name pays homage to China and its fragrant golden osmanthus flower and smoky oolong tea amongst other exotic botanicals.  A very refined spirit with smooth alcohol.

Recipe for Chinnery Gin Buck: pour 50ml Chinnery Gin into a highball glass, with the juice of half a lime and fill glass with ice. Top up with Poacher’s Ginger Ale and garnish with a lime wedge.

€49.95 in Dublin at Celtic Whiskey Shop, Dawson Street; Mitchell & Son, CHQ Building, IFSC; Molloy’s Liqueur Stores, citywide and James Fox, 119 Grafton Street.  O’Brien’s stores nationwide and Bradley’s, Cork City.  Or for a stocking filler, a miniature, single serve 50ml bottle at €6.95.

11. Second Single Pot Still Release, aged in Bourbon, Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez cask, Non-Chill Filtered, Dingle Whiskey Distillery, Dingle, Co. Kerry

46.5% ABV

One of those Irish Whiskies on small allocation and sells out quickly which speaks for itself.  Rich malty and spicy aromas echo on the palate and joined by dark fruits and a walnut finish from the Oloroso casks and a raisin and caramel note from the Pedro Ximenez casks supporting the long finish.

Meditation moment: add a few drops of water to tame the spirit alcohol.

€90.95 at O’Brien’s wines nationwide; Carry Out limited stores.  In Dublin: Celtic Whiskey Shop; Molloy’s citywide; Fine Wines; Redmond’s; McHugh’s; Martin’s; Mulligan’s Grocer Whiskey Shop; Drink Store; Mitchell & Son; Fox’s Cigar and Whiskey shop; The Templebar Whiskey store; Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellars; Super Valu Limited stores; Callan’s and McCambridge’s, Galway.


Southern Italian Wines

Liam Campbell is one of Ireland’s most experienced wine writers. His work has been featured in the pages of numerous publications, most recently as the Wine & Drinks Editor for The Irish Independent, as well as in Irish Homes, Easy Food and The Dubliner magazines.

Besides writing, his involvement in the world of wine goes deeper: he’s an approved WSET educator and holder of a WSET Diploma, Diploma in Craft Beer & Cider, and he has worked as a judge in international wine competitions and as a wine consultant.

Liam Campbell
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