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DUNGARVAN COMERAGH CHALLENGER IRISH BITTER -bringing back warm memories of last year’s Electric Picnic

The Dungarvan Brewing Company has just released their summer brew, an Irish bitter. With 3.8% abv, subtle floral aromas and a delicious light fresh thirst-quenching palate, the Comeragh Challenger has that perfect combination of low alcohol and lots of flavour. For drinking on those warm summer evenings. It brings back warm memories of last years Electric Picnic for some reason.

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We don’t see many good South African wines in this country these days. Has the bottom fallen out of the market or am I looking in the wrong place? I know that many visitors to South Africa import their own wine directly. However, Dr. Eilis Cryan of Kinnegar Wines keeps the flag flying with a list that includes some of the best names in the Cape.  She was kind enough to drop around a few samples from producers she represents for a Chenin Blanc tasting. As these include Ken Forrester (Mr. Chenin in SA) de Trafford and Mullineux, three of the most highly regarded ‘new’ producers, I was really looking forward to the tasting. I had tasted a range of less expensive South African Chenins a few months back. Most were disappointing, possibly because they were from older vintages and tiring a little.

However, these were in a very different class, completely unlike Loire Chenin, and all sharing a textured richness bordering on opulence in some cases, some were blended with other varieties, others fermented in new oak. I preferred the fresher crisper versions, although I can see how the bigger wines would go well with certain foods and tried them out with barbequed chicken – they worked well but even then I still preferred the lighter versions. My two favourites were produced by Mullineux. The Kloof Street Chenin Blanc had plump tropical fruits, peaches and good acidity, possibly with a few grams of residual sugar. But overall a lovely combination of acidity and rich fruit. The other white was a really interesting wine, a blend of 65% Chenin Blanc, 26% Clairette Blanc and 9% Viognier. It was mouth-filling and rounded but with lovely clean acidity and a touch of peach kernels from the Viognier. Nice wine. Both are available from Kinnegar Wines ( at €16 and €22 a bottle respectively. As well as these, I have a half-bottle of Mullineux Straw Wine that I can’t wait to try.  Keep you posted.


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A week later, I still have a warm glow inside following the wonderful Ballymaloe Litfest. Darina Allen and her crew managed, in a short time, to pull together the most amazing collection of food and wine writers. I am not sure how they did it, but I don’t think any other food festival could boast a list of speakers that included Madhur Jaffrey, Claudia Roden, Stephanie Alexander, Skye Gyngell, Thomasina Miers, Stevie Parle (both past pupils of Ballymaloe), Claus Myer of Noma fame, Sandor Katz, Camilla Plum, David Thompson, Nick Lander, Jancis Robinson, and many, many more. As it all took place in either Ballymaloe House or the cookery school, there was a fantastic concentrated group of food and wine lovers. The sun shone, the atmosphere was brilliant, and the events in the Big Shed were as much Electric Picnic as food festival. Sadly, as I was roped into a number of events, I did not manage to attend many talks. Two highlights of the weekend; Sandor Katz showing how easy it is to make fermented vegetables (I will never fret over the safety of my kimchi and sauerkraut again), and dinner seated beside my all-time food hero Claudia Roden, who was illuminating, entertaining, modest and a veritable mine of information.  However, the most enjoyable part of all was being able to share a few glasses of good wine and craft beer with an eclectic mix of writers, volunteers, producers and punters, all united by a love of food. A weekend to remember.


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One of the best trade tastings each year is held by three of Ireland’s best small importers, although strangely none of them is Irish! Each specializes in a particular part of Europe, and each shows around twenty wines from their part of the world. It makes for a very manageable, fascinating and varied tasting.

Tyrrell & Co.

I am not sure if it was the vintages or my mood, but the entire range of Tyrrell wines were showing really well yesterday, red and white wines. It helps if you are showing the 2010 and 2011 vintages from the Rhône Valley I suppose, but almost every wine seemed star quality. There were some stunning white wines, and I loved the fresh elegance of the 2011 red wines from the Northern Rhône.

Ventoux ‘Persia’ 2011 Domaine de Fondrèche

€25 from

The nose is wonderfully complex with a mix of peaches, pears and wet stone; the palate is both fresh and full with rich peach fruits and a strong mineral streak.

Crozes-Hermitage Blanc 2011 Domaine Yann Chave

€25-30 from

An exercise in elegance with light fresh limpid pure yellow fruits that glide across the palette seamlessly. Wonderful wine.

St. Joseph Grand Duc 2011, Domaine du Monteillet

€29.95 from

Superb, haunting fragrant nose, silky soft pure savoury dark fruits and liquorice on the palate. Not showing much tannic structure, but a joy to drink right now.


Grapecircus Wines

Enrico Fantasia, who hails from Venice, has an uncanny ability to select wines that are always interesting, often excellent and usually well-priced. It was the red wines that showed best for me yesterday, although I loved the San Lorenzo Verdicchio.  I also had a second opportunity to try the wines made on the estate belonging to rock star Sting (I don’t expect he gets too involved in the winemaking himself).  All of his wines can be bought in Sheridan’s cheese mongers.

Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi 2011 Fattoria San Lorenzo


A very rich intense textured Verdicchio with a panoply of exotic fruits, tangerine acidity and very good length. Yummy.

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Le Salare 2010, Barba


I featured this as a wine of the week (and year) in 2012. It is lovely as ever with super fresh light crunchy red fruits, all elegance and style.

Marche Rosso ‘Il Casolare’ 2011 Fattoria San Lorenzo


The brother to the Verdicchio above, this is another characterful wine with lovely fresh red and black fruits, an attractive herbiness and easy finish.


Nomad Wine Importers

Former sommelier at Patrick Guilbaud, Charles Derain has built up a formidable list of fine Burgundies and a few other French wines too.

St Bris Exogyra Virgula 2010 Domaine Goisot

€12.33 exc VAT wholsale

The Goisots make a range of thrilling white and red wines in the communes of St. Bris and Irancy. The Chardonnay, Aligoté and Pinot Noir are all delicious, but this was the first time I had tried their Sauvignon. It is a stunning light mineral-laden crisp dry wine with precise green fruits and an invigorating freshness.

Rully 2011 Domaine J.B. Ponsot

€14.92 exc VAT wholesale

This is a lovely medium-bodied wine with toasted hazelnuts on nose and palate, lightly textured with lanolin on the lengthy finish. A class above most other Rully.

Lombeline Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2011

€10 exc VAT wholesale

Lovely light delicate fragrant Pinot with fresh young cherry fruits – the sort of wine you could drink all day.

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Two wines at €7

For the most part, Marks & Spencer avoid the heavy discounting and spurious special offers favoured by some of the other chains. However, even here discounted wines seem to be on the increase. I have no objection to real offers, but in many cases the wines are simply over-priced to allow later discounting. In most instances, the real price lies somewhere between the original and offer price. I also have reservations about really cheap wines; very few are worth the money. However, if you buy direct from the producer, €7 does allow a retailer pay a reasonable €1.50 and still make a 25% margin. Included in this €7 is €4.10 on government taxes and duties, leaving €2.91 for retailer and producer margin, as well as the wine, bottle, cork, label and transport. The M&S wines I tasted are not bad (this is part of a range they have introduced at €7), and considerably better than some currently being sold at €5-7 elsewhere.  The Reserve de la Saurine has nice peach fruit and good acidity although it does fall away a bit on the finish. The red Marques de Alarcorn, a Tempranillo/Syrah blend is ok too; a little bit light and scrawny but just enough fruit to cover the cracks.  Both wines were reasonable value for €7,and thankfully didn’t have the syrupy confected flavors I find in so many wines at this price.


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Domaine du Bois Perron 2011, Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine


On offer for €10 until 9th April, down from €11.50

I am very fond of Muscadet and look forward to the day when it returns to some sort of popularity in this country. A few years ago, I tasted some thrilling wines at a fair in Angers, but it is not easy to fid good example sin this country. Dunnes Stores are to be commended for brining in this decent well-made Muscadet. It is light and fresh with a good intensity of green fruits, a slight prickle on the tongue, and a dry finish. Very good everyday drinking on its own or with shellfish.

Stockists: Dunnes Stores



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Birthday Wines

Yesterday was my birthday, so I opened up a couple of bottles from the cellar. Two delicious wines and one disappointment.

Trimbach Cuvée Frédéric Emile Riesling 2001 (half-bottle)


€19.99 for a ½ bottle

This is one of my favourite white wines, so I couldn’t resist buying a ½ bottle when I came across it in Greenacres in Wexford a year or two ago. Sadly the wine was completely oxidized, and undrinkable.


Gevrey-Chambertin 2006 Domaine Arlaud


This came from the Wicklow Wine Company a few years back. Arlaud do not appear in the list of superstars of Burgundy, but I have always found the wines to be very good. The Gevrey was no exception; a lovely mature wine with soft dark cherry fruits, just the right amount of acidity and a pretty decent finish too. 15/20

Bought from, who list the current vintage for around

Crozes-Hermitage ‘Le Rouvre’ 2005 Domaine Yann Chave


I bought a half dozen bottles of this about five years ago, as part of my plan to buy more medium-priced wines that will improve for a few years. This was excellent, one of those wines that grows in stature throughout the evening. It had wonderful soft savoury dark fruits and very good length, with some dry tannins on the finish. I suspect it will improve further for another year or two. 16.5/20

Bought from a source of all things great from the Rhône. They are currently offering the Chave basic Hermitage 2011 for €25.


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Sara Biffoli of leading Chianti producer Castellare paid a flying visit today to show her wines. In addition to their Chiantis, we tasted wines from Rocca di Frassinello, their estate in Maremma, and Feudi del Pisciotto in Sicily. I really enjoyed the Castellare range; classic Chianti Classico, without too much oak or extraction, and an underlying minerality. The labels are quite distinctive too; apparently they chose one bird for each vintage, which then appears on every label. They were very reasonably priced too. Below, my picks from the ten wines we tasted. All of the wines are available from the Celtic Whiskey Shop, and possibly elsewhere too.

Chianti Classico 2009, Castellare



Lovely light fresh wine with perfectly ripe (but not over-ripe) dark cherry fruits, balanced by a nice acidity and good clean length. 14/20


Chianti Classico Riserva 2008, Castellare



A bigger wine, with lovely pure damson and black cherry fruits; smooth, medium-bodied with a lovely kick of ripe fruit on the dry finish. 15/20


Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna il Poggiolo 2008, Castellare



Moving up a level again, this single vineyard wine shows a little more oak, but still not excessive, alongside plenty of cool perfumed dark fruits and excellent length. 16/20


I.G.T Toscana I Sodi di S. Niccolo 2006



Powerful yet balanced wine with rich dark fruits, some mahogany polish spice, and a very stylish long finish. Refined, pleasantly austere and very Tuscan. Excellent wine. 16.5/20


Nero d’Avola 2009, Baglio del Sole, Feudi del Pisciotto

I.G.T. Sicilia



Lovely fresh perfumed wine with plump pure juicy dark fruits. A great value gluuger that would go with most red and white meats. 11/20


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Lunch with Enrico

Enrico Fantasia is one of the more interesting and engaging characters in the wine trade. Born on the island of Venice, he played French horn in the Gran Teatro La Fenice opera house in the city. Tiring of this, he ran a wine bar, and by a series of chance encounters ended up working for Sheridan’s cheesemongers in Galway, importing wine from Italy. He still supplies Sheridan’s with wine, but now runs his own wine company, Grapecircus, mainly supplying restaurants around Dublin. He is very knowledgeable about both food and wine, and even spent a few months working for Dario Cecchini, the world-famous butcher in Panzano in Chianti.

Italy is full of interesting wines that we rarely if ever see in this country. The current economic situation has made things even worse. Enrico laments the fact that the only white Italian wines that seem to sell here are Pinot Grigio and Gavi. I see most Gavi as little more than rich man’s (or woman’s) Pinot Grigio, so that says it all. Even Soave is seen as a little bit too esoteric. Why is it that we Irish don’t respect good Italian wine? It is often said that we don’t understand the food either – what Dublin really needs is one genuine high-quality Italian restaurant (London is full of them) and maybe everything would change. Enrico, however, is persevering, and with the help of Séan Gargano, one of the best sommeliers in Dublin, imports a range of really interesting, well-chosen wines. Most of them are available in Sheridan’s cheese shop in Dublin, possibly elsewhere too.

We had lunch in Dax Café on Pembroke Street, my first visit there. The place was buzzing. Over a strangely sweet salad of ham hock and other bits, followed by a plate of good cheese, we drank a bottle of Rosso di Montalcino.(Canalicchio di Sopra, €22.00 from Sheridan’s). It epitomised everything that is good about Italian and Tuscan wine; nicely concentrated with savoury dark almost bitter cherries, good acidity and a lightly tannic finish. A subtle rather than showy wine, but very enjoyable with food, one of those wines that opens out and improves as you work your way down the bottle.

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A pair of inexpensive wines from Wines Direct – usually I enjoy the white wines of the Côtes de Gascogne, and find the reds hard going. On this occasion the white was fine, but I preferred the delicious red. Wines Direct have a retail outlet in Mullingar, but most of their business is online. Their website, is well worth looking at; they have some great wines.

 Domaine Horgelus Columbard-Sauvignon 2011, Côtes de Gascogne



Good fresh easy-drinking dry wine, with plenty of Sauvignon Blanc character, and clean green fruits. Great value summer drinking.

Wines Direct, 1890 579 579


Domaine Horgelus 2010, Merlot-Tannat, Côtes de Gascogne



A tame Tannat – this grape is usually fairly severe and tannic, but this was an excellent light juicy tannin-free (just a little dryness on the finish) wine with amazingly supple ripe fruit. One to sip on its own or with lighter food.

Wines Direct, 1890 579 579


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