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German Riesling, one of the great summer wines

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 10th August, 2019

Riesling nerds such as myself tend to get very excited about high-quality Riesling. It is one of the world’s great white wines, every bit as good and arguably more reliable than Chardonnay.

This year, I have been drinking my way through a ‘forgotten’ mixed collection of mature German dry Rieslings (as well as some amazing Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2005 from Australia). Virtually all of them have been great, some sublime.

However, I suspect the price tag of top German Riesling (€40-€60) will put most wine drinkers off. Also, for some, the developed flavours of aged Riesling is a step too far. Instead this week I will concentrate on younger, less expensive fruit-filled dry German Riesling, one of the great summer wines.

Officially, German wines are put into precise categories based on the ripeness (or sugar levels) of the grapes when picked. But here is the confusing bit – Kabinett, Spätlese and Auslese wines, made from riper grapes in ascending order, can be dry, medium-dry, or in the case of Auslese, sweet, depending on whether the sugar has been fermented fully or not. If the word ‘Kabinett’ is followed by the word ’trocken’, it is dry, or dryish, or ‘halbtrocken’ and it is off-dry.

Confused? Join the rest of the world, including much of the wine trade. Kabinett, Spätlese and Auslese wines can all be glorious wines. During the warm weather there are few things nicer than a chilled glass of fragrant Mosel Kabinett or Spätlese, usually around 8 per cent alcohol, filled with delicate ripe fruits.

A generation ago, these medium-dry and sweet German wines were very fashionable. Since then, many growers have changed course radically and now simply produce trocken or dry wines, ignoring the official designations.

Most of the time, I drink Riesling Trocken. It has the body and richness of any dry wine, a wonderful purity of fruit, backed up by a cleansing vibrant acidity. As outlined earlier this year, it is a great match for all kinds of shellfish, raw seafood such as oysters, ceviche and sashimi, as well as pickled, smoked or cured fish. You could also try it with pork dishes. Or you can drink it as an aperitif.

If you feel German Riesling might be a step too far, you could start off with a fruitier, richer Riesling such as the Austrian Brandl below or an Aussie Riesling – the Alkoomi (€15.15, Wines Direct), the Penfolds Koonunga Hills Autumn (€20.95, O’Briens) or the Aldi Exquisite Clare Valley Riesling (€9.99). Alternatively pop into your local independent, and ask for a Riesling Trocken; you might be pleasantly surprised.

Geil Riesling Trocken 2018, Rheinhessen
12%, €17.50-€18

Vibrant, light, luscious pineapples and pears; made for summer drinking either solo or with fish dishes – Asian prawn recipes sound perfect.

From Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3, clontarfwines.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Co Dublin, jusdevine.ie; Morton’s, Dublin 6, mortons.ie; 1601 Off-licence, Kinsale, Co Cork; Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin, ely64.com; Drinkstore, Dublin 7, drinkstore.ie; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin, blackrockcellar.com; Red Island Wine Co, Skerries, Co Dublin; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3, lilacwines.ie; Martin’s Off-Licence, Dublin 3, martinsofflicence.ie; Redmonds, Dublin 6, redmonds.ie; D-Six Wines, Dublin 6; peggykellys.ie; Higgins, Dublin 14, higginsofflicence.ie; McHughs, Dublin 5, mchughs.ie; Mortons of Galway, mortonsofgalway.ie; La Touche, Greystones, Co Wicklow; latouchewines4u.ie; Listons, Dublin 2,listonsfoodstore.ie; Nectar Wines, Dublin 18, nectarwines.com.

Maximin Riesling 2017, Maximin Grünhaus, Mosel
11%, €21.99

Ethereal wine with crisp green apples and white peach, with a lovely floral note. Drink it by itself, with oysters or maybe salmon tartare.

From Ely Wine Store, Maynooth, Co Kildare, elywinebar.ie; Red Island Wine Co, Skerries, Co Dublin; Red Nose Wines, Clonmel, Co Tipperary, rednosewine.com; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Co Dublin,jusdevine.ie; Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin, blackrockcellar.com;wineonline.ie

Brandl Zöbing Riesling Terrassen 2018, Kamptal, Austria
12.5%, €19.25

Very seductive clean concentrated stewed apples with a hint of spice. Try it with pork chops with caramelised apples.

From Wines Direct, Mullingar, Co Westmeath, and Arnotts, Dublin 1, winesdirect.ie

Win Win Riesling Trocken 2017, von Winning
12%, €21.95

Packed with succulent ripe white fruits – all peaches and nectarines – with a mouth-watering citrus acidity. Drink it with a herby crab salad.

From Avoca, Rathcoole, Co Dublin; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3, clontarfwines.ie; Grapevine, Dalkey, Co Dublin,onthegrapevine.ie; Morton’s, Dublin 6, mortons.ie; Redmonds, Dublin 6, redmonds.ie; Worldwide Wines,

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Floral, fruity and pink: Three Irish gins to try

Loch Measc Gin, Listoke 1777 cacao and raspberry gin and Grace O’Malley heather-infused gin

 

Three very nice bottles of gin arrived on my doorstep recently. Grace O’Malley recently launched several whiskies, including a range of three very good 18-year-old single malts finished in a variety of casks. The Mayo-based company is owned by Stephen Cope, lately managing director of Lir Chocolates and two German investors, Stefan Hansen and Hendrick Melle. They brought in French maturation expert Paul Caris to handle the ageing and finishing of their whiskies. The refreshing floral lightly fruity Heather Infused Grace O’Malley Gin (€44) has no less than 14 different botanicals, most from the west of Ireland.

Also from Co Mayo is Loch Measc Gin (€47), made from wild juniper berries and botanicals that grow on the shores of Lough Mask. Made in a true micro-distillery by Eoin Holmes, this also has some lovely floral notes alongside the true juniper forward style of a London Dry Gin. Holmes also produces a vodka, or Vodca (as Gaeilge).The first whiskey will be ready in 2021. The distillery is in a renovated building in Kilateeaun, near Tourmakeady, with views of Maamtrasna, the Dirk Mountains and of course, Lough Mask. Tours are available see Loughmaskdistillery.com for details.

Pink gin is hugely popular; the original drink consisted of gin with a few drops of angostura bitters, but now it can mean a whole range of flavourings from rosehips, rose petals, rhubarb, strawberries, raspberries to pink grapefruit. Some are very sweet and mawkish, others floral, dry and elegant. The 1777 Cacao & Raspberry Gin from Listoke Distillery and Gin School in  Co Louth (€35) is definitely in the latter school, perfumed and smooth with subtle notes of raspberry and juniper. If you fancy making your own gin, why not visit the Listoke Gin School – see listokedistillery.ie for details.

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Licence to chill: Why Cabernet Franc is best served cool

Cabernet Francs from Langlois-Château, Domaine Guion, Y Amirault and Château Fouquet

 

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 3rd August, 2019

It was a Loire Cabernet that started it all. Years ago in Paris, sitting in a wine bar, I was served a glass of a lightly chilled red for the first time. It was an inexpensive, lightly fruity, fairly acidic Cabernet Franc, and it went down a treat with a lunch of Poilâne bread and, if I remember correctly, a bowl of rillettes, some pâté en croute, a few slices of salami, and cornichons. There may have been cheese involved too. There usually is.

Cool for me means about 14 degrees. (Ely wine bar tell me they serve their “cool” wines at 13-14 degrees). As well as Cabernet Franc, young and fruity wines such as Beaujolais, Bardolino, Valpolicella, the Mencía-based red wines of northwest Spain and even unoaked Rioja all taste even better given this treatment.

Cabernet Franc has always been one of my favourite grapes. Generally, it is lighter and less muscular than its cousin Cabernet Sauvignon. Less expensive versions, such as the one I drank in Paris, should be fragrant, light and fruity; these are the wines to chill a little. The very best Cabernet Franc, given time, can morph into magnificent wines that are all soft red fruits, forest floor and pencil shavings. In between you will find all sorts of delicious, elegant wines with wonderful pure red and black fruits – the essence of summer. Most also have a refreshing acidity that makes them great with food – fatty foods in particular.

In the Loire Valley, production is centred within Touraine – Chinon, Bourgeuil, St Nicolas de Bourgeuil and Saumur-Champigny are the names to look out for, although you will also find some very good AOC Touraine and vin de pays too. Each appellation is said to have its own style, Chinon being considered the most elegant, St Nicolas de Bourgueil the most structured. But much depends on the local soils and individual grower.

Elsewhere in France, almost half of all Cabernet Franc is found in Bordeaux, and St Émilion in particular. Some of the greatest wines of all, including Châteaux Cheval-Blanc, Angelus and Ausone, are about 50 per cent Cabernet Franc. A number of producers in Argentina believe that Cabernet Franc has a great future in their country – try Kaiken or the Zorzal Eggo Franco – but made in a very different style.

Sadly, there seems to be a shortage of inexpensive Loire Cabernet Franc in our supermarkets. I suspect that acidity does not always appeal to the Irish palate. Talking to the supermarket buyers, several had tried it, but it hadn’t sold. Independent wine shops are a better place to look: Terroirs, in Donnybrook in Dublin, Le Caveau, in Kilkenny, and Quintessential, in Drogheda, in Co Louth, all have an excellent range.

 

Langlois-Château St Nicolas de Bourgueil 2017
12.5%, €17.95
Classic Loire Cabenet Franc, with delicious light, fresh, crunchy, tangy, ripe blackcurrant fruits, backed up with good acidity. Try it with rillettes.
From O’Briens, obrienswine.ie

Bourgueil 2017 Cuvée Prestige Domaine Guion (Organic)
12.5%, €25
Lovely red cherry aromas, flowing smooth, ripe red fruits, a mouthwatering acidity and a pretty good finish. Very nice wine; try it with a seared breast of duck.
From syips.com; Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin, ely64.com; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Martin’s Off Licence, Dublin 3, martinsofflicence.ie

Bourgueil 2017 La Coudraye, Y Amirault (Organic)
13%, €25
Abundant blackcurrants and other dark ripe fruits, with light tannins on the impressive finish. A lovely glass of wine. With pork chops or sheep’s cheese.
From Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, Dublin 2, Kells, Co Meath, and Galway, sheridanscheesemongers.com; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Red Nose Wine, Clonmel, Co Tipperary, rednosewine.com; Fallon & Byrne, Dublin 6, fallonandbyrne.com

Saumur-Champigny Le Clos 2015, Château Fouquet (Organic, biodynamic)
13%, €30
Very closed at first, then opens out nicely. Very concentrated rich red fruits, a good tannic structure and excellent length. Decant or keep a few years.
From Whelehan’s Wines, Dublin 18, whelehanswines.ie

 

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Irish craft cider

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 27th July, 2019

We hear a lot about local spirit and beer producers, but possibly the most Irish drink of all is cider (and we are talking about craft cider here) which in most cases is 100 per cent Irish, made from fruit grown in orchards around the country. All four ciders below were made from estate-grown apples, using wild yeasts, and without the addition of sulphites or preservatives. They are also both coeliac-friendly and vegan.

Cider-making has similarities with wine, with an array of varieties, including many specific to cider-making, and goes through a similar fermentation process. Alongside mead, it can claim to be one of the most ancient Irish drinks of all.

In this country, cider has always faced two problems: a reputation as a summer drink, or as a tipple of choice for underage drinkers. Neither is necessarily true, although there are few things nicer than a good cider on a sunny day. The problem is one of perception and price; consumers are familiar with cheap medium-dry cider and don’t see why they should pay more.

Tipping point

Is cider now at the same tipping point as craft beer and gin 10 years ago? At a tasting at an event organised by Cider Ireland, I tasted some wonderful refreshing ciders, although many were medium-dry rather than dry.

The Mór from Longueville House was fermented and aged for a year in casks that had previously been used to mature the (excellent) Longueville apple brandy. The estate has a 30-acre orchard, much of it planted 35 years ago, making them one of the very first craft producers, along with Highbank in Kilkenny.

Cousins Barry Walsh and Dave Watson, with his wife Kate, own and run the 30 hectare Killahora estate in east Cork. As well as making a wonderful apple ice wine, a delicious perry and various other fascinating experimental apple drinks, they have two Johnny Fall Down ciders. The Bittersweet below is made from 47 different varieties of apple from their orchard, including many rarities.

An orchard

The McNeece family bought a farm in the Boyne Valley in 1962. It included an orchard. They always made cider for home consumption, but in 2013, Olan McNeece decided to go professional and make a range of ciders, named after his great grandfather, who used to drive the Dublin-Belfast train that runs through the orchard.

Cockagee is one of a series of ciders made by Mark Jenkinson from his and a few neighbours’ orchards in Co Meath. Jenkinson has more than 100 varieties of apple, many rare, in his organic orchard. Cockagee is keeved or given a very long slow natural fermentation; it is bottled without filtration, pasteurisation, sweetening or carbonation.

Dan Kelly’s Original Cider
4.5%, €3.90
Lightly sparkling with clean refreshing crisp green apple fruits. A great sunny day cider.
From See dankellyscider.com for stockists, plus SuperValu in Meath and Louth.

Johnny Fall Down Bittersweet Cider
5.8%, €4.80
Delicious, refreshing, complex cider with pears and green apples; tannic with some good acidity and a light sweetness but definitely one for grown-ups. And preferably with food – pork chops with caramelised apple perhaps.
From killahoraorchards.ie

Cockagee Irish Keeved Cider
5%, €4.95-€5.25
A wonderful complex cider with slightly funky apple fruits, good intensity and a lightly pithy dry finish. Drink with ham and cheese crepes.
From O’Briens; Blackrock Cellar, 23 Rock Hill, Blackrock, Co Dublin; Bradley’s Off-licence, 81 North Main Street, Cork; Carry Out, O’Moore Street, Tullamore, Co Offaly; Fresh Outlets; McCambridges, 38-39 Shop Street, Galway; Number 21, 6 Greenhill Road, Ballinacurra, Co Limerick; Redmonds, 25 Ranelagh Road, Dublin 6; Drinkstore, Manor Street, Stoneybatter, Dublin 7; McHughs, St Assam’s Park, Donaghmede, Dublin 5; Whelehan’s Wines, The Bray Road, Loughlinstown, Co Dublin.

Mór Longueville House Cider
8%, €6.50
A delicious rich and powerful cider, smooth, with red apples, a touch of spice and great length. With barbecued ribs or a roast of pork.
From See longuevillebeverages.ie

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A Pinot Dinner

 

We had my parents-in-law around for dinner on Saturday and as they are fond of Burgundy, I opened up two bottles, plus a Pinot from the Loire Valley.

Pernand-Vergelesses, Les Belles Filles, 2015 J.C. Ramonet

A delicious medium-bodied pure Chardonnay with subtle spice, and very good acidity. Lightly aromatic, with mouth-filling peaches but not over-ripe nor in the least bit clumsy.

 

Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2015, Sylvain Pataille

This was a lovely glass of wine: perfumed and elegant, with pure ripe dark cherries, just enough acidity and very good concentration. I suspect this will continue to improve, but a joy to drink right now. Around €30 from independents. Imported by Vinostito.com.

 

Sancerre Rouge Maulin Bèle 2017, Domaine André Vatan

A very different structure to the Bourgogne (both are Pinot Noir) with softer fruits; ripe dark cherries, a lovely juiciness and very good concentration. Lovely wine, perfect with roast pork. Available for €24.50 from Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown, whelehanswines.ie

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Looking for light red wine? Try these four from Loire

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 2th July, 2019

The Loire river is 1,000km long, surfacing in southeast France, crossing half the country before reaching the Atlantic in Brittany. Holidaymakers know the final 500km stretch best for its beautiful countryside, spectacular châteaux, excellent food and of course, the wines. While we have taken the white wines of the Loire to our hearts – this is the home of Sauvignon Blanc Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and Muscadet – we sometimes seem a little reluctant to try out the reds.

This started out as an article on the joys of Cabernet Franc, the main red grape of the Loire Valley, and somehow got hijacked by two other varieties, Pinot Noir and Gamay. I feature one Cabernet Franc, but will return to the subject. The other two grapes have improved hugely over the last decade; at one time, the Pinot Noirs were frequently thin and acidic, more like rosé wines than red, and dismissed as poor imitations of red Burgundy. Our tastes have changed, and so have the wines. Nowadays the best wines have a wonderful fragrance, and delicate just-ripe cherry fruits.

The best (and most expensive) Pinot Noirs of the Loire come from Sancerre, but many shops also stock a cheaper Vin de Pays. The catch-all Vin de France classification allows producers to blend Pinots from various parts of France, often with good results. Try the La Perrière Pinot Noir (€11.99) or Kiwi Cuvée (€9.99) from SuperValu

Pinot Noir is also used to make some very good rosé wine, both in Sancerre and elsewhere. O’Briens has the very attractive fragrant Henri Bourgeois Pinot Noir Rosé (€15.95, second bottle ½ price).

Gamay is best known as the grape responsible for Beaujolais. In the past, Loire Gamay too could be tart and acidic, often with an unattractive earthiness. Frequently it was used to make inexpensive rosé wines. However, it too has changed.

Just about all of the Loire reds make for perfect summer drinking; Pinot Noir and Gamay are generally light in alcohol and low in tannins; they should be served at a cool temperature, 10-14 degrees Celsius. They go well with green spring vegetables and salads, soft goat’s cheese, and some fish, salmon and tuna, as well as white meats.

Other Gamays include the delicious biodynamic Domaine des Pothiers, Côte Roannaise (€19.50 from Terroirs in Donnybrook) and the organic Henri Marionnet Touraine Gamay (€16.65) from Le Caveau in Kilkenny and independents. For something completely different, try the ancient Pineau d’Aunis variety (try the stunning Rouge-Gorge Domaine de Bellivière, €39 SIYPS.com).

Terroirs in Donnybrook has an excellent selection of Loire wines, red and white, as does Searsons in Monkstown, Whelehans in Loughlinstown and  SIYPS.com.

Gamay 2018, Touraine, Domaine a Deux

13%, €14.95

Easy rounded juicy rounded red fruits. Lovely summer wine. Serve cool with charcuterie and mild cheeses.

Stockists: Searsons, Monkstown, searsons.com

La Roncière Pinot Noir 2017, DB, IGP Val de Loire, André Vatan

12.5%, €17

Very seductive soft sweet ripe strawberry and red cherry fruits; delicious by itself or The Sancerre Rouge (€24.50) from the same producer is even better. With cold salmon mayonnaise.

Stockists: Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown, whelehanswines.ie

Sancerre Rouge La Croix du Roy 2014, Lucien Crochet

13%, €34

Delicious soft fragrant mature delicate fruits – soft cherries a light herbal note and good acidity. Perfect with warm poached salmon.

Stockists: SIYPS.com; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Ely 64, Glasthule, Ely64.com; Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, Galway, sheridanscheesemongers.com.

La Porte Saint Jean, Saumur 2015 , Sylvain Dittière

12.5%, €39.50

A superb, refined Cabernet Franc with intense ripe blackcurrants and red cherries, a touch of lead pencil, and a precise long elegant finish. With your finest organic roast chicken.

Stockists: Terroirs, Dublin 4, Terroirs.ie

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Fonte do Ouro 2017, Dâo Tinto

Fonte do Ouro 2017, Dâo Tinto

Delicious medium-bodied red with savoury dark fruits, well-integrated acidity and a smooth dry finish with a touch of spice. Great value too.

A very adaptable red, perfect with all manner of pork dishes, but big enough to accompany lamb or beef.

 

€13.95, down from €16.95 from O’Briens, obrienswine.ie

I have a grá for Dâo, both the red and white versions. The whites, usually with a high proportion of Encruzado, can be exceptional. The best reds have a lovely piquant edge, good acidity and an elegance that I really enjoy.

 

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Arinto 2018, Vinho Verde, Quinta Picouto de Cima

Arinto 2018, Vinho Verde, Quinta Picouto de Cima

Made from 100% Arinto, this Vinho Verde has stimulating racy green apple fruits, and a light sparkle; slakes the thirst and gets the mouth watering. 12.5% alcohol.

 

As an aperitif with nibbles, raw seafood, sushi or oily fish such as mackerel.

Vinho Verde has come on in leaps and bounds; these days fewer semi-sweet green herbaceous wines and more light succulent and concentrated versions that are perfect with shellfish.

€11.95 down from €14.95 from O’Briens, obrienswine.ie

 

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Silice 2017, Ribeira Sacra

Silice 2017, Ribeira Sacra

Seductive, perfectly ripe soft sweet/sour dark cherry fruits; light, svelte and soothing. This is a lovely bottle of wine. I defy anyone to dislike it.

 

Try this with pork dishes – pork chops with mushrooms?

 

I have featured many wines from Ribeira Sacra over the last few years; here the Mencía grape, sometimes blended with other local varieties, produces wines with a thrilling purity of fruit and delicate balance. In fact there are probably less than half a dozen really good producers, but we can expect this to expand in the next few years. This one was new to me, but I will investigate further.

 

 

€23.95 from Searsons, Monkstown, searsons.com; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; Deveney’s, Dundrum; Eleven Deli, Greystones; Drinkstore, D7, drinkstore.ie.

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Sandhi Sanford & Benedict Chardonnay 2016, Sta. Rita Hills, California

Sandhi Sanford & Benedict Chardonnay 2016, Sta. Rita Hills, California

White flower aromas, subtle fresh lemon and peach fruits, interwoven with light oak; this is a brilliant subtle Chardonnay with great complexity and character. I loved it.

Treat yourself and drink it alongside grilled black sole with maître d’ butter.

This formed part of a brilliant trade tasting put on by importers Wine Lab and Findlaters; more to follow. Following trips to San Francisco, I was always frustrated that the excellent wines I tasted there were not available back home in Ireland. It was partly down to cost, but more a lack of volume; California is a large state and can mop up most of their own boutique wines. Now we have a string of fine small producers including Sandhi, one of the most sought-after producers of all, and a source of some of the finest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir you will find – anywhere. Expensive but a match for fine white Burgundy.

 

€50 from www.stationtostation.ie – see their website for a great offer of wines from California and Oregon.

 

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