Ever found yourself standing in an aisle between walls of wine and asking yourself: “Which are the really good ones?” At a Marks & Spencer Autumn Wine Tasting in Dublin recently, we did the research and tasted 104 wines for you. Here are eight stand-out favourites from Marks & Spencer right now:
Central Valley, Chile – 13% ABV – €8
The Chardonnay provides the platform of apple flavours with a subtle, less-is-more hint of French oak’s nutmeg and white pepper spice from brief aging in barrels. The aromatic Viognier adds a highlight of apricot.
Tastes like a wine at least double the price. Winemaker, Nicolas Bizzarri should get a medal for creating a wine with understated elegance and excellent balance at such a bargain price.
Food friend: sweet and sour pork on a nest of noodles.
Burgundy region, France – 13% ABV – €16.50
Made with grapes from the vineyards around the commune/parish of Uchizy, near the village of Chardonnay – which gave its name to this local varietal that went on to world domination.
Medium-bodied with a delicious depth of melon and Golden Delicious apples. The lemony acidity is muted and a cream and butter richness gifted by a later malolactic fermentation.
Food friend: roast chicken with root vegetables tossed in butter and a little squeeze of an orange’s juice.
Central Otago, New Zealand – 12% ABV – €20.50
Aromas of freshly bruised mint leaves and classically off-dry with lime fruity tongue tingling acidity.
This stand-out Riesling comes from a region more famous for some of New Zealand’s iconic Pinot Noirs. Perhaps it is the gravelly schist that gives the wine its’ minerally tang.
Food friend: the more modest alcohol and faintest hint of sweetness makes a perfect match for chili-hot and spicy chickpea samosas.
Frankschhoek region, South Africa – 13.5% ABV – €15
Seductively complex aromas and palate by fermenting grapes from 80 year old vines in a mixture of ultra-trendy 650 litre concrete “eggs” (egg-shaped vessels) and seasoned oak barrels. The waxy citrus peel from the Semillon is complemented and enlivened by the addition of a little Sauvignon Blanc, inspired by the historical practice in Bordeaux. The Semillon’s moderate acidity is preserved by preventing a malolactic fermentation by aging the wine for over a year at low temperatures and on its lees.
Food friend: Rich enough to wrestle with a wild mushroom risotto, shavings of Parmesan and a drizzle of truffle oil.
Tuscany/Toscano region, Italy – 12.5% ABV – €13.30
From hillside vineyards embraced by the Renaissance cities of Florence and Sienna, this aristocratic Italian delivers classic and classy red cherry stone fruit and a sappy mouth-watering finish. An elegant alternative to powerful and potent reds. Clues to the additional badges of honour are “Classico” on the label, meaning the region’s best vineyards and the Consorzio seal on the bottle’s neck, a black cockerel representing a consortium of Chianti winemakers committed to exceeding standards and expectations.
Food friend: gently pan-fry slivers of liver and caramelised onions adding a little mustard and cream.
Tejo region, Portugal – 13% ABV – €12.50
Touriga Nacional, arguably Portugal’s national treasure among its 280 grape varietals. Rich black berry flavours underpinned by the earthy accent of the vineyard and a little black pepper and vanilla from aging in French and American oak barrels. Significantly from coastal vineyards near the mouth of the River Tejo. The cooling effect of the Atlantic helps slow down and lengthen the ripening period, giving the vine time to create deeper layers of flavour and develop character.
Food friend: Match the wine’s high acidity with a tomato based rustic stew of chorizo and white beans.
Bekaa Valley, Lebanon – 13.5% ABV – €15.50
Tasty black berry flavours infused with a terracotta earthy spice.
This eclectic blend of Syrah and Cabernets Franc and Sauvignon owe their depth of flavour and concentration to the high altitude vineyards where the peaks of the daytime temperatures plummet by 20C in the chilly nights, successfully slowing down the ripening period.
Food friend: Enjoy with a sirloin steak and a creamy black peppercorn sauce.
Riverina region, Australia – 10.5% ABV – €12.80 (37.5 cl)
A floral and feminine bouquet of honeysuckle with the calling card of botrytis, beeswax. Lemon curd richness and unctuous yet low in alcohol with intense pure pleasure on the taste buds which prompts the question: “Why don’t I drink sweet wines more often?”. A delicious liquid nectar alternative to pudding and potentially with fewer calories, where all the honeyed sweetness is entirely natural.
Food friend: if the golden rule when complementing chilled sweet wines with dessert, is that the wine should always be sweeter than its partner on the plate, play safe and go for stark contrast with a salty blue cheese.
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 judge in international wine competitions and as a wine consultant.