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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 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.

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

Posted in: Beer & Whiskey, Irish Times

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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


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,

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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

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

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,

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,

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:; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6,; Ely 64, Glasthule,; Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, Galway,

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,

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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,

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,


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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,; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock,; Deveney’s, Dundrum; Eleven Deli, Greystones; Drinkstore, D7,

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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 – see their website for a great offer of wines from California and Oregon.


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The Young and the Old

I opened up these for dinner last night; two Loire Cab Francs twenty one years apart. The Amirault St.-Nicolas de Bourgueil Les Malganges 2017 (Coravined from a tasting a few weeks back) has an amazing concentration of pure blackcurrant fruits, with the structure to last and evolve for years to come. Very drinkable now though. It is imported by Grape Circus, and available in Sheridans Cheesemongers and – €42 a bottle. I know it is being served by the glass in Ely at present.

I am a big fan of the Baudry wines; some of the best Chinon around.  This bottle was, I think, a thank-you present from Gabriel Cooney of Grapevine in Dalkey for a tasting I did many years ago. It was holding together very well, with very good acidity and developing delicate red cherry and redcurrant fruits. Nice grip and plenty of fruit. Possibly a little too austere for my tastes but still very good over dinner. A mere 12% alcohol.

Grapevine in Dalkey and Cabot & Co in Westport import the Baudry wines together. They can also be found out in Red Island wines in Skerries. I don’t see this wine listed, but the 2017 Les Grezeaux is €25.




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Rouge-Gorge 2016, Coteaux du Loir Domaine de Bellivière

This is an, engaging and utterly charming, lightly aromatic wine, with elegant redcurrant fruits and light tannins on the finish. It has good acidity, giving it a lovely freshness and an attractive subtle earthiness. There is a wonderful purity of fruit that draws you back to the glass time after time. Well, it did me anyway.

We drank it with our weekly roast organic chicken, often the perfect match for any wine, red or white. Serve it very cool; I chilled ours in the fridge for an hour. It then warmed up as we drank it.

The vineyards are farmed biodynamically. Eric Nicolas uses natural yeasts and minimal intervention in his winemaking, fermenting in large barrels in his tufa caves. That probably makes this a natural wine, although it bears little resemblance to many that I have tasted. Over the last decade, Nicolas has built a reputation as one of the finest white winemakers in the Loire valley, crafting some sublime dry, medium and sweet wines from the lesser-known appellations of Jasnières and Coteaux du Loir. Try his sublime Vieilles Vignes Eparses (€48) if you get the chance. All of the white wines are made from Chenin Blanc. Pineau d’Aunis is, as the labels tells us, an unusual local red grape variety, a close relative of the Chenin Blanc.

€39 from; Ely 64, Glasthule,


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Clima 2016, Vale da Capucha IG Lisboa

Clima 2016, Vale da Capucha IG Lisboa

Delightful fresh medium-bodied white with textured ripe nectarines, and a crisp saline dry finish. Dangerously moreish.

Grilled mackerel or sardines.

Made from a blend of three Portuguese varieties, Gouveio, Fernão Pires and Arinto, this is one of many excellent white wines now coming out of Portugal. Vale de Capucha, run by the youthful Pedro Marques, is one of my favourite producers in Portugal for both red and white wines.


€20 from Lilac Wines, Dublin 3,; The Wine House, Trim; First Draft Coffee & Wine, Dublin 8,;


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