Drink: Rhône's Ice Age bounty
It's hard to imagine the balmy Mediterranean region of France's Southern Rhône Valley ever being buried under a mountain of ice. Yet, millennia ago, the glaciers from the Swiss Alps had advanced through France to reach the Mediterranean Sea.
Over 10,000 years ago, as the glacial walls of ice melted and receded back up the Rhône River Valley, the glaciers released huge deposits of the different soils they'd picked up when ploughing towards the Mediterranean coast. The aftermath saw a landscape with a patchwork of soils, each ideal for a different grape variety. Consequently, most of the region's wines are made from blends.
These are heart-warming wines, accessible and full-flavoured by blending the fleshy strawberry character of Grenache with the backbone of the blackberry and tarry personality of the mighty Syrah (aka Shiraz). The polished leather of Mourvèdre and red berry fruit of Carignan broaden the palette. The wines we tried for our blind taste test were from Villages and District appellations in the Southern Rhône's Cairanne, Rasteau, Ventoux, and Lirac.
1) Lirac 2012, Moulin des Chênes 14pc
Complex savoury and leather bouquet. Tasty and refined with the berry flavours highlighted by the smooth tannins. Well balanced with a drying finish and earthiness. Enjoy with Szechuan sizzling beef.
€18.99 at Red Nose Wine, Clonmel; Egan's, Portlaoise; World Wide Wines, Waterford; Miller & Cook, Mullingar; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3 and 64 Wine, Glasthule.
2) Seraphin Vieilles Vignes Ventoux 2011, Domaine des Anges 15pc
Delicious and powerful wine with a hefty alcohol that is masked by the red fruit and hint of white pepper from old Grenache vines. Long warming finish in the full-bodied style of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Use to finish a meal, with a mature cheddar.
€19.95 at Red Nose Wines, Clonmel; Karwig's, Cork; Cases Wine Warehouse, Galway and online: cases.ie
3) Côtes du Rhône Villages 2012, Mas de Boislauzon 14.5pc (Organic)
Powerful ripe black-skinned fruity flavours with an underlying earthiness. Firm and well-structured tannins can match a meaty oxtail stew.
€19.99 at The Vintry, Rathgar; Savages, Swords; Morton's, Ranelagh; drinkstore.ie, Manor Street; Martin's, Fairview.
4) Côtes du Rhône Villages 2012, Domaine de Saint Siffrein 14pc (Organic)
Meaty salami bouquet. Velvety smooth and powerful concentration with a cocoa powder and earthy palate. Try with vegetarian lentil moussaka.
€19.95 at Red Nose Wines, Clonmel; Karwig's, Cork; Cases Wine Warehouse, Galway and cases.ie
5) Rasteau 2013, Domaine du Trapadis, 13.5pc (Organic)
Juicy red and black berries and firm tannins with a black pastille long finish. Try a glass of this wine with roast duck or goose.
€19.95 at Brown's Vineyard, Portlaoise; O'Leary's, Cootehill; Quintessential Wines, Drogheda and quintessentialwines.ie
Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Lot 05, Luis Felipe Edwards, Valle de Leyda, Chile 13.5pc
Grassy and lemon peel aromas. Green apple and pink grapefruit flavours tingle the taste buds. Drink with an Indian king prawn rogan josh. €12.99 at Aldi's 119 stores nationwide