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What to drink this winter: a wine expert shares her favourite pairings and under-the-radar picks

by Aoife Carrigy
23rd Dec 2019

Photo: Katherine Chase

Wine expert Lynda Coogan shares how she got into wine, varieties to try and her best value picks for the winter months. 

Recently I have been exploring lesser-known native grapes from Spain and Italy, and moving away from the classic grape varieties and well-known regions. My go-to whites at the moment are from the Ribeiro region, usually a blend of Treixadura, Godello and Albarino, with ‘Flower and the Bee’ being a great example.

I travelled to Northern Spain recently and fell in love with the Mencia grape found in Bierzo and the Ribera Sacra regions. It is unique with fresh red fruit and some floral notes and high acidity for a red.

Italy has over a thousand indigenous grapes varieties, Fiano being one of my favourites. ‘Mandrarossa’ Fiano is a delicious aromatic wine with exotic fruits and floral notes ideal with Asian or Thai cuisine. Another treasure is ‘I Muri’ Negroamaro from Puglia in Southern Italy; it is soft and smooth with a hint of mocha, only gorgeous. The bottle somehow manages to empty itself. These wines are always favourites at my ‘Discover Hidden Gems’ wine tastings.

As the temperature drops in winter, I tend to change the style of wine I drink, going for bigger, rounder, richer full-bodied style whites. Something like a southern Rhone blend or a white Rioja is perfect, with its luscious ripe tropical and stone fruits and textured mouthfeel due to subtle use of oak.

For reds, a hearty Rioja Reserva or ‘Finca Vinea’ Tempranillo from Cigales region is a winner. Another fab winter warmer is ‘Il Passo’ Nerello Mascalese from Sicily; it has gorgeous, ripe, dark berry fruit with hints of winter spice. It’s silky and velvety without being too heavy, and delicious on its own or with any roasted meats.

winter wine pairings
Wine expert Lynda Coogan

When it comes to winter pairings, I make a lot of stews and slow-cooked meals during the winter months – comfort food like roast chicken with apricot and almond rice – and my perfect pairing is with Herdade do Esporâo Reserva Branco from Alentejo for the perfect balance of tropical fruit, a kiss of oak and a gorgeous creamy mouthfeel.

With slow-cooked beef, I love wines from DOC Bolgheri, a region known for Super Tuscan-style wines. ‘Tenuta Argentiera’ is my new favourite with 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc.

As an indulgent treat I occasionally drop into Olesya’s wine Bar on Exchequer Street for their risotto and a glass of Dog Point Chardonnay. The relaxed ambience and atmosphere make you feel like you’re transported to a different world.

My favourite thing about working in the wine industry is that I get the opportunity to meet and support so many people at the beginning of their journey into wine. I love nothing more than encouraging them to experiment and explore alternatives to the classic grapes and brands that they might be used to; trying an Albarino or Picpoul instead of a Pinot Grigio or a Verdejo instead of Sauvignon Blanc. Thankfully many of these alternative options are now available by the glass in good wine bars, so it is easier for people to learn about wine.

It took me a long time to realise that I should be working in the wine trade. I sat some WSET professional wine exams as a hobby and found I was particularly good at the blind tasting aspect and eventually decided to give it a go. After 12 years working in an independent wine store, I decided to set up Wine Tasting Ireland.

I want to contribute to the wine industry, my aim is to take the snobbery out of wine, it is a complex subject with a lot of intimidation. A little knowledge goes a long way and I want to support people to learn about wine in a fun, social and engaging way.

winter wine pairings
Photo: Katherine Chase

I remember the first food pairing that engaged my curiosity in wine, almost 20 years ago. I was only 19, and until then most red wine tasted like vinegar to me. I enjoyed a medium-rare fillet of beef paired with a Californian Pinot Noir ‘Saintsbury Carneros’. It was perfection, if not the typical pairing, but I remember how I felt excited by the wine with a succulent tender fillet of beef and I can still taste it today.

Some of best value wines today include Primitivo from Puglia, which is generally reasonable and has an approachable style. Also, Verdejo from Spain; as it isn’t that well-known yet, you can pick up a bottle usually for under €15.

I think it is a cracking grape that with rival Sauvignon Blanc and is an alternative to the very popular Albarino that we love so much in Ireland. It has zesty citrus notes with some white flowers, and no oak. It is very versatile to drink on its own or with light fish or chicken. Merinas organic Verdejo is a great starting point.

My dream cellar would contain lots of Champagne and sparkling wine. I would also love some New World Rieslings to see how they age over time and I adore Californian Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara in particular.

Lynda Coogan runs fun and friendly wine-tasting masterclasses in Dublin, with themes like ‘Discover Hidden Gems’ or ‘Sip, Swirl & Socialise – An Introduction to Wine Appreciation’. See Wine Tasting Ireland for all upcoming dates.

Read more: A wine expert shares her picks for your Christmas day table

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Read more: Ideal Christmas gifts for the wine lover in your life

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