Mairead Robinson picks her favourite seasonal drinks
There was a time when champagne was the only drink to toast a celebration, but that has all changed in recent years. Spain’s cava, Italy’s prosecco and an abundance of good sparkling wines from the New World have meant that there is plenty of choice when it comes to choosing your bubbles.
But I must admit that while I love vintage champagne, my firm favourite continues to be cava. This may have something to do with spending the summers of my student days discovering cava in Catalonia, but for me the Macabeu, Parellada and Xarello grapes used in the traditional method – the same production method as champagne – are perfect for any occasion.
On one of my many winery visits over the years, I was very impressed with Catalunya’s Vallformosa a few years ago as they were celebrating one hundred and fifty years of great wine and cava making. During this time five generations of the same family have owned and been closely involved in all aspects of the business. They now export 85 per cent of their production to over 50 countries worldwide.
At the heart of every wine is the variety of grape used in it’s production, and Vallformosa grow thirteen different varieties for their wines, including of course the aforementioned Xarel-lo (pronounced charello), an aromatic variety traditional to the Penedes region which gives body and structure along with the other two cava grapes are Macabeo and Parellada. Of all their current production at Vallformosa, cava makes up 90 per cent while table wines make up the remaining 10 per cent.
Vallformosa work closely with their local growers and more than 450 local families produce grapes for them in Penedes, and most growers have worked with them for over twenty years. Many of these vineyards are located more than 500 metres above sea level and the day-night temperature difference in the summer is such that the grapes can ripen slower giving the fruit more flavour, aroma and colour. As well as their relationship with the growers, Vallformosa have a very keen environmental policy where sustainability is key and the land is cultivated to obtain high quality harvests using the latest systems to foster sustainable agriculture.
Vallformosa Brut Reserva is a gold award winning cava which is both elegant and fruity and wonderful with food, as an aperitif, and on any occasion. It is one of the top cavas available here in Ireland. Interestingly Cava also is produced as a Brut rose, which is far superior to the sweet rose wines on the market. Vallformosa also make one of my favourite sparkling wines, Brut Pinot Noir, a gorgeous fruity sparkling that also pairs well with food. Vallformosa produce another brand of wines which are available here in Ireland also. Mistinguett Brut is another award winning Cava which also comes as a Rose. The Mistinguett wines are very well priced for the quality they offer. You can find these sparklers in independent off licences including Redmonds, Jus De Vine, The Wine Centre, La Touche, Blackrock Cellar and Parting Glass.
Meanwhile, celebrity Graham Norton has added another sparkler to his wine portfolio. This time it is a pink frizzante, made in response to the growing numbers of people in Ireland seeking lighter styles of quality sparkling wine. It is the fifth addition to his award-winning range of still and sparkling wines and is made with the Glera grape (otherwise known as the prosecco grape) and is grown and produced in the same way as prosecco. Launched just in time for Christmas, this is a fun celebratory bottle to enjoy with lovely notes of tropical flowers and strawberries, thanks to the addition of Pinot Noir in the making.
And talking of celebrities and wine, there is a new range to the Irish market this year from Kylie Minogue. Very stylish bottles, cool labels and excellent wines, the only surprise is that they are French rather than Aussie wines, she being Australian herself. However, the wines are of exceptional quality and I especially love the merlot, made with grapes grown in the Languedoc region. It is full of berry flavors – cherries, plums and spice, with soft tannins. A perfect food wine. Another wine I tasted from this range was a light and fruity Sauvignon Blanc from Cotes De Gascogne. It is a crisp fresh wine in a clean fruity contemporary style. And at just 11.5 per cent alcohol, it is perfect for an aperitif. And finally from this collection of Kylie Minogue wines, a beautiful French Rose which is perfectly crafted from sun ripened fruits. This is summer in a bottle, and if you want to escape the cold dark days of winter, this is the wine to transport you back to the sunshine. Enjoy it with seafood, and you will feel you are on your summer holidays!
So whatever you choice of wines this season, bubbles or celebrity specials, enjoy and celebrate as we look forward to a wonderful 2010.