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A toast to the best France has to offer

The Superquinn annual French Wine Sale is upon us. The list is a mix of old favourites and new "lip-smacking" (its words not mine) bargains. The Etienne Barret Crozes Hermitage Rouge and the Domaine de Brunely Vacqueyras are among the former, representing good value at €11 and €12 respectively, as is the surprisingly sprightly SQ Saint Joseph (€12). Among the whites I like the Collioure Cuvee des Peintres (€10) and the Pouilly Fume Les Pierres Blanche (€12).

Richard Moriarty and the SQ wine-buying staff have put in a shift to find some decent 'under a tenner' quaffers. The Domaine Astruc Vermentino -- a white grape more usually associated with Italy -- and the Shiraz-Viognier, both produced by smart winemaker Jean-Claude Mas are excellent value at €7.

It's curious that the concept of blending a little fragrant Viognier with robust Syrah/Shiraz kicked off in the Northern Rhone before being seized upon by the Aussies as a good idea and re-introduced to France as a marketing opportunity.

Longue Dog (I've previously praised Chat-en-Oeuf from the same stable) is the brainchild of Mancunian Frenchman Paul Boutinot and again, it's well worth the €7 ask. Longue Dog is a modern wine, at least for Languedoc, with vibrant aromatics and showy ripe fruit, a sort of 'mini' (though not 'lite') equivalent of the 'garagiste' boutique wines from Bordeaux's right bank that found favour with American critics such as Robert Parker.

During the sale Superquinn is permitting you to buy any three bottles of the under €8 wines listed for €20 and a further 5pc off if you buy six -- €6.33 a bottle for wine of this quality would have been unthinkable a couple of years ago.



demand

I also tasted a 'low alcohol' Merlot-Cabernet, Abbaye Sainte Radegonde, sourced, according to Superquinn, to fulfill a demand from a customer (female) who wanted a wine that was lower in alcohol but tasted "like a real wine". This, along with a Chardonnay-Sauvignon, a blend that doesn't work for me, came from the Loire, a cool region and the grapes were picked 'early' giving a wine that clocked in at 9pc alcohol by volume. To me, the wine tasted sour and mean and if I wanted to ingest less alcohol I'd probably buy a 13.5ABV wine and save the last glass for chucking in a casserole.

This week's star buy is also French. Judging The Craft Butchers' 'Sausage of the Year' (as I call it) last week at Simmonscourt, I met Simon Tyrell who, in conjunction with cheesemongers Sheridans, was pairing his excellent wines with wonderful Irish cheeses. Domaine de Fondreche 2008 Ventoux (pictured, €13.99, Drinks Store, Stoneybatter; Donnybrook Fair; Jus de Vine) is a generous wine with upfront notes of violets, lavender and cinnamon. The palate marries dark plums to bright red cherries. The finish is long and elegant.