The wine buff: Albariño - the Irish connection
You might think that Albariño comes from Galicia, in the north of Spain, and it is indeed that region which made this deliciously crisp white wine famous. But one of the myths surrounding it is that it was brought to Spain by French monks from Cluny. And now, with a bit of Franco-Hiberno intervention, it is back in its homeland and prospering on the limestone soils above the village of Lagrasse in the Languedoc.
The Irish connection is Neasa Corish, who grew up in Foxrock, Dublin, and met Laurent Miquel, a French wine-maker, outside a nightclub when she spent a summer in France working as an au pair - as you do. After a six-year, long-distance relationship, Neasa moved to France, married Laurent and they now have two children. With vineyards in both Corbières and Saint-Chinian, Neasa manages the sales and exports of their wines to 40 countries.
If you have ever visited the Languedoc, you'll know how beautiful it is and will probably have tasted some of the red wines from the region. Unusually, the Laurent Miquel vineyards in Corbières specialise in white aromatic varieties. When I was in the Languedoc last summer, I had a chance to visit their Les Auzines estate with Lynne Coyle from O'Briens Wine, where they are growing Albariño. It is a precarious drive up the mountains; the estate is nestled between the Alaric Mountains and the Alzou Gorge, and you need to cross a narrow bridge to get there. The snow-covered Pyrenees can be seen in the distance.
"We were the first to plant Albariño in France," says Neasa. "It had been a dream of Laurent's for a long time. The site we have planted it in is quite unusual. It is 400 metres altitude so not Corbières as we know it. It has a very different microclimate. There's a big difference between the daytime and night-time temperatures; we have a lot of mist and moisture coming down from the Pyrenees so it's a really fresh site. Besides us, no one else is doing it. We're now selling loads of Albariño, and French people are getting really excited about it, as it's totally new to them."
As well as Albariño, the Miquels grow a number of white and black grape varieties, and the names of some of the wines may have a familiar ring. "We decided on the name Solas for the white wines. In Irish, it obviously means 'light', and in Old French it means 'happiness', 'joy'. So it means something in both our languages and it kind of reflects our story," she says. "For the appellation wines, which are different terroirs, we decided to find a link between each terroir and the Irish landscape. So the wine from Faugères, which has slate soil, is called Kinsale, where you'll find slate houses; and the Connemara, which is Saint-Chinian, comes from limestone soils. So all of them have a story behind them."
There are a number of wine sales on at the moment. At Dunnes Stores, get 25pc back on your Valueclub card when you buy six or more bottles, and at SuperValu there are plenty of offers as well as a mix and match three for €25. O'Briens also has a bumper line-up, with discounts of up to 50pc on bottles like Monte Real Gran Reserva, which is now a steal at €16.95.
Laurent Miquel Albariño 2016
€10, reduced from €11.50, 13pc, from Dunnes Stores
With a crisp citrusy nose, this fresh Albariño has a beautiful mix of stone fruit underpinned by zingy grapefruit, lemon, lime and a splash of wet stone minerality. Perfect with fish and shellfish.
Solas Viognier 2017
€12.50, 13pc, from Dunnes Stores
Ripe and aromatic on the nose, this Viognier from Laurent Miquel has rich flavours of white peach, apricot and honeysuckle balanced with a tingling acidity, which gives the wine freshness and lift.
Les Auzines Hautes Terres Rouge
€14.95, 13.5pc, from O'Briens and obrienswine.ie
Organic Carignan, Grenache and Syrah grapes are hand harvested by Laurent Miquel in his Saint Chinian estate to make this medium bodied, juicy red wine with flavours of blackberry, cherry, strawberry and a touch of wild herbs.