Julie Dupouy represented Ireland at the World's Best Sommelier Competition in Argentina recently. More than 1,000 entrants from restaurants and wine-bars have taken part in the qualifying events. Held every three years, it has never been won by a woman. Tantalisingly, this year, Julie finished in third position and was awarded the bronze medal, the highest position of all the women contestants.
Rioja is Spain's calling card when it comes to quality. Just south of the Pyrenees Mountains bordering France, the aged Reserva and Gran Reserva reds from Rioja exemplify all that is good about Spain's attitude to cherishing the customer. Enshrined in her wine laws is the requirement to mature these wines in a combination of barrels for added vanilla and spice, and then bottle for the flavours to marry and meld in the bodega's (winery) cool and dark cellars. Reserva reds must be aged for a minimum of three years while Gran Reservas, made only in exceptional years, are aged for at least five years.
Food match with equally mellow and savoury dishes - slow cooked beef, roast chicken or lamb and even baked white fish will match with the most mature reds. Below are the highest scoring wines of the 24 we blind taste tested. They're expensive, but considering their age spans the last five-to-10 years, the prices average €3-€4 per year spent slowly maturing at the winery's cellars.
1) Reserva 2010, Marqués de Murrieta, Finca Ygay, 14pc
Subdued aromas in complete contrast to a full-bodied and deeply layered palate of subtle oak and dried black fruits. Sheer class and still evolving.
€19.95 reduced from €23.95 until end of May at O'Brien's off-licences nationwide
2) Reserva 2011, Viña Pomal 13.5pc
Smooth and silky texture with a caramel richness spiced by aniseed. Firm tannins and excellent balance with alcohol and acidity.
€18.99 at Donnybrook Fair, On the Grapevine, Next Door nationwide
3) Gran Reserva 2008, Viña Mara 13.5pc
Classic mature vanilla pod bouquet. Very mellow palate with baked fruits, dried cranberries, vanilla and liquorice.
€17 at Tesco nationwide
4) Reserva 2011, Marqués de Riscal, 14pc
Vanilla and licorice aromas echo on the palate of delicious velvety black fruits with a long liquorice after-taste.
€23.95 widely available nationwide
5) Reserva 2010, Luis Cañas 14.5pc
Earthy and a hint of farmyard mature bouquet. Full-bodied with woody tannins, liquorice and dried Christmas cake fruits.
€24.95 at Searson's Wine Shop, Monkstown and searsons.com
6) Gran Reserva 2005, La Rioja Alta 904 13.5pc
An iconic Rioja with a bouquet of a library of leather-bound books. Very mellow with a satin smooth texture unfurling rich prune and cinnamon spice.
€45.99 at Wines on the Green, Dawson Street; The Vintry, Rathgar; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Redmond's, Ranelagh; Mitchell's, CHQ-IFSC; McCabe's; Blackrock; Kelly's Wine Vault, Clontarf; Gibney's, Malahide; 64 Wines, Glasthule and La Touche Wines, Greystones.
7) Reserva 2008, Viñasperi 14pc
Lovely bouquet of cedar wood, dried fruits and cinnamon. Very tasty with a stewed fruity core supported by liquorice and vanilla spices.
€24.55 at Wines Direct, Mullingar and winesdirect.ie