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Four Elderly White Wines

Like many wine lovers, I squirrel bottles of wine away to see how they will age and then somehow forget about them. As part of my continuing attempts to clear out my cellar I opened up these four white wines over the weekend. Some had aged better than others.

Crozes Hermitage Blanc 2013, Yann Chave.

This wasn’t really forgotten wine; I am a fan of the Chave white wanted to see how it aged. The answer is very well. This had attractive plump peachy fruits, subtle toasted almonds held together by good acidity. Delicious.  13% abv. Imported by Tindal Wines.

Riesling Grand Cru Kitterlé 2005, Domaines Schlumberger

I has high hopes for this as I am a fan of both Schlumberger and mature Riesling. As it turned out, this bottle was good rather than great. Mature toasted nuts, a touch of pineapple, some orange peel, dominated by high acidity. Nice, but looking at tasting notes online, I suspect it would have been better five years ago. 12% abv. Imported by Tindal Wines.

Donnafugata Chiarandà 2007, DOC Contessa Entellina Bianco, Sicily

A Chardonnay with an (unspecified) proportion of Ansonica (aka Inzolia). I have always enjoyed this wine, and been impressed with its ability to age. This was no exception, although possibly it might have been even better a few years ago. The 2007 at twelve years old was ripe and rounded with toasted nuts, honeyed, soft, round peach fruits and good length. I really enjoyed this. 13.5% abv. Imported by Liberty Wines.

Bourgogne Aligoté 2008, Domaine G. & J.H. Goisot

I bought of this wine, and this was the last remaining bottle. At the time it was very good, but I should have finished this off a few years ago. Light brown in colour and oxidised. This went down the sink. 12.5% abv Imported by Nomad Wines.

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It is often said that wine is all about time and place; it tastes better (or worse) depending on the food, the company and where you find yourself eating. I had tried the two wines below before in professional tastings. Both were very good but had been outshone by rival wines. Both tasted immeasurably better one Friday night, after a long, hard week, over dinner at home with my wife.

Chablis 1er Cru Fourchaume 2017, Domaine Séguinot-Bordet



Floral and fresh, very forward with excellent racy acidity to keep balance; verdant lip-smacking green apple fruits, and a cleansing dry finish. Still youthful but irresistible right now.

We had ours with seared scallops with lemon zest and butter.

Fourchaumes is one of the best-known of the premiers crus of Chablis, partly due to its size. It also has a very favourable position just north of the Grands Crus, south facing with clay-limestone Kimmeridgean soils. It is held to be one of the finest of the premiers crus along with Mont de Milieu and Montée de Tonnerre, all of which are located on the north banks of the river Serein.

Available from Wines Direct, Mullingar, and Arnott’s, Dublin 1,



Pavillon de Léoville Poyferré 2015, St. Julien



Classic modern Saint Julien, forward and fragrant, with rich opulent blackcurrant fruits, cedar and subtle new oak, fine tannins and impressive rounded length.

A roast leg of lamb would be perfect.

This is not the second wine of Ch. Léoville-Poyferré (that is Ch. Moulin Riche) but made from younger vines on the estate. Tasted and then Coravined a few weeks earlier. On the first occasion it was fine, but another less expensive wine showed better.

Available from Whelehan’s, Loughlinstown,


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I Love Mosel Riesling

I Love Mosel Riesling

I Love Mosel Riesling 2017

Mosel Riesling Kabinett, Andreas Bender

€18.95 from Wines Direct, Mullingar & Arnott’s Dublin, or online from


Delicious fresh light Riesling;  peaches and tropical fruits with a touch of honey, this is a lively, zingy crisp wine was the perfect aperitif last night. And at 8% you can have a decent glass (or two) without keeling over before dinner.

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Five Farms Irish Cream Liqueur

This very smart-looking bottle was delivered to my home yesterday afternoon. Five Farms Cream Liqueur is obviously hoping to garner a small segment of the massive cream liqueur market, created originally by Bailey’s Irish Cream. At €35 a bottle it is clearly alimed at the luxury end of the market.

Five Farms is made from a single batch of full cream milk from five family-owned farms in County Cork. It is blended with Irish Whiskey, distilled in Cork too. The back label says it was created for Holloway Distillery in Missouri, but it is apparently made in Ireland.

I am not genrally a fan of cream liqueuers, but the Five Farms was not sickly sweet, and combined a lovely creamy richness with some subtle toffee/butterscotch notes, and a warming kick (it is 17% abv) from the whiskey. It went down well. I could see myself adding it to a cup of hot chocolate, although the producer also suggests an Irish coffee or an Espresso Martini.

Five Farms is available exclusively in SuperValu stores nationwide and online now for €34.95.

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Thomas Schmittel of Domaine des Lises (pictured above with Olivier Meisonnave of Dax restaurant) was being shown around town today with his importer Charles Derain of Nomad Wines. The two were armed with four bottles of wine, all of them enchanting. Domaine des Lises is owned by Maxime Graillot, who also owns the famous eponymous estate in Crozes Hermitage. Lises has been run organically for fifteen years, and is now in conversion for full certification.

The wines here are generally bottled with 50 gl total sulphur, 25gl free SO2. Thomas has been experimenting with sulphur-free wine – which tastes very different he says. He also has a small parcel of ungrafted vines which he has made into a separate cuvée.


Cuvée Equinox 2017, Crozes-Hermitage

“Our picnic wine”, says Thomas, of this wine, made from bought-in grapes from a single vineyard. A light refreshing supple wine with exuberant savoury dark cherry fruits and a tannin-free finish.

I would serve this cool, with all sorts of charcuterie and salads.

100% de-stemmed, a six day maceration followed by pressing and fermentation in concrete and then months in four thousand litre oak casks.

€24 from, Ely 64wine, Glasthule and Green Man Wines, Terenure.





Domaine des Lises 2015, Crozes-Hermitage

From a warm vintage, this is a structured rich wine, with meaty dark fruits, and plenty of tannic grip. It still has a certain elegance, but ideally you would keep this a few years.


Thomas said this wine is always made the same way, allowing the vintage to shine through. 30% whole-bunch, a twenty day maceration in concrete with punching down during fermentation. Aged for ten months in barrel and demi-muid, including malolactic fermentation.


€34 from, Ely 64wine, Glasthule and Green Man Wines, Terenure.



Domaine des Lises 2016, Crozes-Hermitage


From a more classic vintage, this is a superb wine, classic Syrah, with pure violet aromas and elegant silky fresh dark fruits and liquorice on the palate. There is a touch of new oak, but it is very subtle.


€34 from, Ely 64wine, Glasthule and Green Man Wines, Terenure.





Domaine des Lises 2017 Crozes-Hermitage Blanc

From some unique clay soils in Crozes, this is a delicious rich textured wine with mouth-watering peaches and nectarines and the slightest hint of spice. A very impressive moreish wine. 70% Marsanne 30% Roussanne.

Available in restaurants.


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I tasted a four really interesting sparkling wines over the last week, none of them Champagne. Instead, Italy (and not a Prosecco), the Czech Republic, Tasmania and Wales.


Medici Ermete Lambrusco Reggiano Secco ‘Quercioli’ N.V.


I love this wine – lightly fizzy, with mouth-watering sour plum and dark cherry fruits, finishing dry. The perfect aperitif to quaff alongside some salami, and other fatty cold meats and cheese.


€14 from Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, South Anne Street, Kells, Co. Meath, Galway,










Krásná Hora Blanc de Noir Brut Nature 2016, Czech Republic


Krásná Hora , meaning “Beautiful Mountain”, is a biodynamic family-owned winery based in Moravia. I love the Blanc de Noirs Nature, a refined and elegant wine with a very seductive creamy texture, subtle and charming with a bone dry finish.


€43 from Green Man Wines, Terenure,










Ancre Hill Blanc de Noir N.V., Monmouth, Wales

Yes, Wales. A biodynamic estate making some really interesting grown-up fizz. This is 100% Pinot Noir, a blend of 2013 and 2014, aged on the lees for two years. Lean and angular with precise ripe red fruits – strawberries; austere and bone dry (0% gl.) showing a lovely maturity – biscuits and brioche. Great finesse and a fine finish.


€67 from Alex Findlater, Limerick;












Jansz Tasmania Vintage Cuvée 2012

At a dinner hosted by Robert Hill-Smith, owner of Yalumba and Jansz, I had a glass of this delicious sparkling wine. A blend of 55% Chardonnay and 45% Pinot, it has moreish ripe fruits that make it seem sweeter than the actual 8 g/l, subtle brioche and toasted hazelnuts finishing well. Very stylish wine that will arrive in Ireland soon.

Not available in Ireland yet. The Premium NV Cuvée should be available from a few independents.

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Heartwarming wines for a cold winter’s evening

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 19th January, 2019

The idea for this week’s article came about by chance; on a cold wet miserable January evening, I found myself yearning for something rich and warming to accompany a spicy stew I had cooked. I have been quietly suffering from a serious (aren’t they all?) bout of man-flu, and with my sinuses blocked, I couldn’t taste very much. This was not the time to sip at delicate light wines. I came across four wines, each from a different part of Catalonia in Spain. All shared two common traits. They were rich, full-bodied and powerful, perfect for cold weather drinking. All were 15 per cent or 14.5 cent (which could mean 15 per cent). It was a case of fighting fire with fire. I tried them out with various robust dishes, and not only did they actually taste of something, they also improved the food (and my mood) immeasurably. Back to lighter wines when the weather improves.

 All of these Spanish wines come from different mountainous sub-regions of Catalonia, back from the coast. They seem remote when you visit, yet most are only an hour or so from bustling, busy Barcelona. The second common trait in all four wines was a streak of refreshing acidity, not often found in full-bodied red wines. This is down to the varied soils and climate of these mountainous regions. The acidity provides a unique balance to the power and richness of the wines.

If you do intend heading to Barcelona this year, avoid the crowds for a few hours and head up into some of the most spectacular vineyards of all. Whether it is the soaring, rugged mountains of Priorat, with their steep slate slopes, or the wild coastal hills of Empordà, these are areas well worth visiting. A trip last year with Catalan producer Torres to their new winery in Costers del Segre (with the wonderful name of Purgatorí) reminded me of the unique beauty of this part of the world – and how good the food can be.

If you are visiting, Torres has estates in many of the sub-regions of Catalonia, including Priorat, Conca de Barberà, Penedès, and Costers del Segre, most of which offer tours and tastings.

Pirorat (or Priorato in Castilian) is the best-known region, and certainly produces the most expensive wines, some of which sell for hundreds of euro, although the Mosaic below is an exception at an offer price of €15. The regions surrounding Priorat mentioned above produce wines that are usually far less expensive and can offer far greater value for money.

As you will have gathered, these are not wines for sipping before dinner. But with substantial dishes such as curries, barbecued meats and winter braises, they deserve a place at your table.

Oriol dels Aspres Negre 2014, Empordà, Catalonia
14.5% €14
Powerful and earthy with maturing ripe red cherry fruits, and a rounded soft finish. With a rich hearty beef stew. Stockists: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock,; JJ O’Driscoll, Ballinlough,; Deveneys, Dundrum; The Hole in the Wall, Dublin 7.

 Mosaic 2016, Priorat, Catalonia
14.5% €23.99 (€15, February 14th-March 4th)
Powerful, muscular with savoury licorice and spicy dark fruits. It went well with my spicy Mexican beef and bean casserole. Stockists: SuperValu,; Centra,

 Petit Saó 2015, Mas Blanch i Jové, Costers del Segre, Organic
14.5% €15.95
Inviting and fragrant with blackcurrant fruits, a seam of refreshing acidity and a good dry tannic finish. Swarthy, full-bodied and warming. Great with lasagne. Stockists: O’Briens,

Braó 2015, Montsant, Acústic Celler, Catalonia
15% €30
Full-bodied but deliciously smooth and opulent, with rich dark fruits, plenty of spice, and well-integrated tannins on the finish. The Acústic red (€22) is also well worth trying. With barbecued beef. Stockists: Bubbles Brothers, the English Market, Ballintemple, Cork,; Urru, Bandon,;  J.J. O’Driscoll, Ballinlough,

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White wines: my top ten picks for Christmas from independent merchants

First published online in the Irish Times, Tuesday 18th December, 2018

Below are ten of my favourite white wines of 2018 (actually I’ve cheated; there are twelve), and all are available from your independent wine retailer. I have indulged myself and included a few more expensive wines. This is the time of year to splash out a little; believe me you will notice the difference when you pay a few euro more.

Domaine du Tariquet Classic, Côtes de Gascogne, France, 2017
10.5% €13.99
This is an old favourite of mine, a clean, bright, breezy wine, all crunchy green apples and lemon zest, finishing bone dry. With a mere 10.5% alcohol, this would make a great aperitif or party wine; alternatively with light salads and shellfish.
From Vanilla Grape, Kenmare; Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown, Co Dublin; Nolan’s Supermarket, 49 Vernon Avenue, Clontarf, Dublin 3.

Château de Valcombe Blanc, Costières de Nimes, France, 2017
13.5% €16.99
Wonderful, subtle, elegant dry white with succulent peaches and pears, balanced perfectly by a mineral acidity. Great value for money.
From Red Nose Wines, The Regal Centre, Davis Road, Clonmel Co Tipperary.

Soave Colli Scaligeri Castelcerino Filippi (Organic), Italy, 2015
12.5% €19.95
I enjoyed this wine on several occasions in 2018. Delicious light Soave with a waxy touch, some peach and yellow apple fruits mixing in with marzipan and a lively streak of mineral acidity. Made from biodynamically grown grapes with minimal sulphur, it has a pleasant leesy touch too.
From Le Caveau, Market Yard, Kilkenny; Bradley’s Off-licence, 81 Main Street, Centre, Cork; Green Man Wines, 3 Terenure North, Terenure, Dublin 6W;64 Wine, 64 Glasthule Road, Glasthule, Co Dublin; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street, Dublin 2.

Aphros Loureiro, Vinho Verde, Portugal, 2016
11.5% €21.95
A delicious vibrant, crisp dry white with a beautifully textured palate of orange peel and juicy pears. This would go down a treat with shellfish starters or as an aperitif.
From 64 Wine, 64 Glasthule Road, Glasthule, Co Dublin; Baggot Street Wines, Baggot Street, Dublin 2; Bradley’s Off-licence, 81 Main Street, Centre, Cork; Deveney’s, 31 Main Street, Dundrum, Dublin 16; Green Man Wines, 3 Terenure North, Terenure, Dublin 6W; Lilac Wines, 117 Philipsburgh Avenue, Fairview, Dublin 3; Redmonds, 25 Ranelagh Village, Dublin 6.

10/10/2017 - Whites & Co - . Photograph Nick Bradshaw

Bodegas Cota 45 ‘Ube’ Miraflores, Andalucia, Spain, 2017
12% €23.00
From one of the best tastings of 2018, a wonderful light subtle unfortified wine from Sherry country. This is fermented in old Manzanilla casks with two months under flor. Lightly floral with subtle toasted nuts, very seductive peach and apple fruits, finishing long and dry. Fascinating wine.
From 64 Wine, 64 Glasthule Road, Glasthule, Co Dublin; Jus de Vine, 10 Strand Road, Portmarnock, Co Dublin; Green Man Wines, 3 Terenure North, Terenure, Dublin 6W; Martin’s Off Licence, 11 Marino Mart, Clontarf, Dublin 3; Loose Canon, 29 Drury St, Dublin 2.

Xisto iLimitado Branco, Luis Seabra Vinhos, Douro, Portugal, 2017
12.5% €22
Utterly delicious, delicate wine with a fine saline vein running through the mouth-watering pear and green apple fruits. Light but full of flavour, this lingers beautifully. Made by Luis Seabra, formerly winemaker at Niepoort, this is one of my favourite wines of 2018. A must-try wine.
From 64 Wine, 64 Glasthule Road, Glasthule, Co Dublin; Green Man Wines, 3 Terenure North, Terenure, Dublin 6W; Baggot Street Wines, Baggot Street, Dublin 2; Clontarf Wines, 48 Clontarf Road, Clontarf, Dublin 3; Redmonds, 25 Ranelagh village, Dublin 6.

Louro Godello, Rafael Palacios, Valdeorras, Spain, 2017
13.5% €27
One of my all-time favourite wines. Textured and creamy, with plump pears and peaches, a subtle nuttiness, shot through with a lively acidity. If you want to splurge, their As Sortes (€50) is even better with your Christmas starter and turkey. Some shops have it in magnums. This is the wine I will be drinking this Christmas, and not for the first time.

From Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; La Touche Wines, La Touch Place, Greystones, Co Wicklow; Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown, Co Dublin; Martin’s Off Licence, 11 Marino Mart, Clontarf, Dublin 3; 64 Wine, 64 Glasthule Road, Glasthule, Co Dublin; Baggot Street Wines, Baggot Street, Dublin 2; Blackrock Cellar, 23 Rockhill, Blackrock, Co Dublin; Clontarf Wines, 48 Clontarf Road, Clontarf, Dublin 3; Green Man Wines, 3 Terenure North, Terenure, Dublin 6W; Sweeney’s Wines, 6 Finglas Road, Hart’s Corner, Glasnevin, Dublin 11; Lilac Wines, 117 Philipsburgh Avenue, Fairview, Dublin 3; Grapevine, 26 Castle Street, Dalkey, Co Dublin;

Wieninger Wiener Gemischter Satz 1er Ulm Nussberg Organic, Austria
13.5% €29.99
A lovely rich dry white, with spicy textured oranges with a subtle note of honey, and very good racy citrus acidity. This would go down a treat wih salmon, smoked or grilled.

Mâcon-Milly-Lamartine, Les Héritiers du Comte Lafon, Biodynamic, France 2015
13.5% €32.95
A delicious, sensual, sophisticated wine with layers of orange peel, peaches and grapefruit; textured and rich with layers of unctuous fruit kept in check by a mineral acidity. Richer seafood dishes or white meats.
From Searsons Wine Merchants, 10 Monkstown Crescent, Monkstown, Co Dublin.

Zárate Tras da Viña Rías Baixas, Spain, 2015
13%, €32.75
“As good a Rías Baixas as I have tasted”, read my notes from earlier this year. Gorgeous fresh lively wine with concentrated rich creamy peach fruits, and a strong mineral backbone. Lingers very nicely too.
From 64 Wine, 64 Glasthule Road, Glasthule, Co Dublin; The Hole in the Wall, Blackhorse Avenue, Dublin 7; Jus de Vine, Strand Road, Portmarnock, Co Dublin; Green Man Wines, 3 Terenure North, Terenure, Dublin 6W.

Chablis premier cru Vauloront, Domaine du Colombier, France, 2015
13%, €35
A deliciously refreshing crisp Chablis with plenty of ripe fruits to balance out the acidity. Long and concentrated, this would go down perfectly with a fishy starter on Christmas day.
From Whelehans, Loughlinstown, Co Dublin.

Matés Vineyard Chardonnay, Kumeu River, New Zealand, 2016
13.5%, €55-€60
Why would you pay €60 for a New Zealand Chardonnay? Well, because it is a dead ringer for top-notch white Burgundy that will set you back €30 more. Superb, refined, sophisticated Chardonnay that sings class. Fresh and crisp, with a lovely, rich, concentrated centre-palate of precise apple fruits and subtle toasted nuts.
From Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown, Co Dublin;64 Wine, 64 Glasthule Road, Glasthule, Co Dublin.

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A visit to Josko Gravner

Josko Gravner lives in a modest house in Oslavia, in the north-eastern corner of Italy, just a few metres from the border with Slovenia. His mother tongue is Slovene and the family speak it all the time, as do many in the area. A casual visitor would struggle to understand that this modest unassuming man (proudly sporting a flat cap presented to him by his Irish importer) has been to the forefront of no less than two revolutions in modern winemaking over the last three decades.

The Gravner house & winery

In the 1980s and early 1990s, Gravner was a winemaking superstar, one of the leading modernists in Italy, particularly in the Collio region. Taking over the winery at the age of 25, following his father’s death, he pioneered the fermentation of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay in barriques, sometimes 100% new. The wines were given very high scores by American critics and the influential Italian magazine, Gambero Rosso. Then two separate events forced his life and his wines to change course radically. These changes lead to a rapid fall from grace, followed by a rise in fame for a completely different kind of wine. Gravner now has almost god-like status with the natural wine movement and fans of orange wine.

Gravner comes with a reputation for being difficult with the press, possibly the result of fallout back in the 1990s, when the Gambero Rosso famously said he had ‘gone mad’. But on my visit, Josko Gravner was pleasant, open and very good company, despite a language barrier. I spent the weekend in his house, with his daughter Mateja (a qualified winemaker) and grandson Gregor both of whom work alongside Gravner, as do Pepe and Bruno, his two inseparable dogs. Jana, another daughter, also works in the family business. It was a fascinating few days, an in-depth immersion in how natural, skin-contact wines are made, from the man who invented (or reinvented) it all. As a bonus, the region is very attractive, with an absorbing mix of cultures and history.

Josko Gravner


Gravner’s grandparents had an osteria where the winery now stands. It was a way of selling their wine, along with snacks such as salami, prosciutto, cheese and, apparently, hardboiled eggs. They closed it down in 1932, Mateja tells me, when the fascists made it law that everyone speak Italian; they wanted to be able to speak Slovene in their own home. The grandparents were known for having a ‘clean winery’, something that the fastidious Josko Gravner has obviously inherited. Later the family had an osteria in the nearby town of Gorizia until the 1970s. His wife was born over the border in in Slovenia. Mateja told me many stories about life beside the Iron Curtain. Although there was no barbed wire, the area had many border guards, usually from other parts of Yugoslavia, to avoid fraternisation. Many of the winemakers had vineyards on both sides of the border, and had to be careful where and when they crossed. At one stage Josko had to transfer ownership of his grandmother’s house to his wife, as he stood to lose it as the Yugoslav government labeled all Italians as fascists; she held a Yugoslav passport and was therefore obviously a good communist!

The first change in Gravner’s winemaking came about as result of a trip to California in the late 1980s. He was disgusted by some of the chemically enhanced wines he tasted, and returned home determined to make his winemaking and wines healthier, cleaner and more local. Suffering from ill-health, he and his wife began eating a diet of raw food, which gradually softened to semi-vegetarian. Now they eat meat twice a week at most. As Gravner rears a few woolly Mangalica pigs, from which he makes excellent salami and sausages, this must prove difficult. He does believe that you should buy locally as much as possible. “You pay for what you eat and drink”, he says, “with your health”.

Mangalica pigs

The Amphorae (guarded by Bruno)

At the same time, Gravner wanted to improve the quality of his Ribolla Ghialla. Ribolla grows on both side of the border, more in Brda in Slovenia than Collio. It is, he argues, the only indigenous white grape of Friulli. Other local indigenous varietals, such as Pignolo, Schioppetino, and Tatsalenga, are red. “The problem with Ribolla is if you press gently you get a very neutral wine; if you press more, it becomes hard and very bitter.” He decided that the true taste of Ribolla came only with fermentation on the skins. In 1994, he made his first skin-contact wine. His research led him to Georgia, the home of skin-contact wines but also winemaking in amphorae. Gravner was smitten. “I tried to find the oldest way to work with wine; the only thing you need is great grapes. Everything a wine needs you will find in an amphora,” he says.

Used for making and storing wine for thousands of years, amphorae are clay vessels of differing sizes, from 250 to several thousand litres. Most are around 400 litres and are often lined with beeswax. Most winemakers use them buried or half-buried in the ground. You can find them in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Chile and other countries, but they have been widely used in Armenia and Georgia for thousands of years, up to the present day. Thanks to Gravner, they are ultra-fashionable today with natural winemakers, who believe they make for a steady slow fermentation, give the wines freshness, and help reflect the terroir. Gravner uses amphorae from 1,200 – 2,500 litres in size.


Fermenting Ribolla 2018

In 1997, he made his first amphora wine – in his grandmother’s old house just over the border in Slovenia, as he was afraid the Italian wine authorities would not allow it. The grapes, however, came from Italy. In 2000, he travelled to Georgia for the first time and bought some qvevri (amphorae). He uses only these and says they must be buried to be effective. All of the amphorae he uses are brought in from Georgia. He currently has 45 in the cellar and is in the process of burying a further 21 outside. All are lined with beeswax. By 2001 he had enough amphorae to make 50% of his wine in them, the other half in barrel.

The original amphorae, in the Gravner farmhouse in Slovenia.

His first skin-contact wines (he prefers the term Amber to Orange: “Amber is more bright, alive, concentrated”) were met with derision by some. “It was very difficult at the start; people didn’t understand what I was trying to do,” says Gravner. Other producers thought the wines were faulty. He lost many customers in the period 2009-2012, and was partly saved by Italian sommeliers who liked the wines. Over the last five years, he says, nearly all his customers have returned to the fold.

Gravner wines are fermented on the skins in amphorae; the whites spend one year on skins, the red wines a few months. This is followed by six to seven years in large Slavonian oak casks and then a few months in bottle before release. Gravner has an almost biblical belief in the number seven; he keeps his wine seven years before release, and he believes good and bad vintages come in sevens. As 2011 was the last great vintage he was hopeful that 2018 would follow suit. However, it was a difficult vintage, he says, requiring a lot of attention. 2019 however, will be very good.

Amphorae awaiting burial.

Intervention is kept to an absolute minimum; the only addition is a small amount of sulphur. ‘The most difficult thing in winemaking is to use the least amount of sulphur”, he says. A small amount is added at the start sometimes, and a little before bottling. They aim for 15-18ppm at bottling. There is no chilling, no stainless steel. “I never analyse anything”, he says, “sugar, acidity or anything else. Once you realise that you cannot add or change the wine, you know there is no point! No wine is without defects. You have to make them as good as is possible and each year you try to do better.”

The Gravner estate is just over thirty hectares, straddling Italy and Slovenia, with seventeen of those under vine. Both figures change constantly as he buys new vineyards and sells plots he doesn’t consider good enough. Originally planted with Merlot, Cabernet, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon, they are slowly being replanted with Ribolla and Pignolo. He has planted trees and installed small ponds amongst the vines to encourage biodiversity.

Most people assume Gravner has been biodynamic for years, but this is not the case. His son, who tragically died in a motorbike accident, was the driving force behind the conversion to biodynamic viticulture. At the time of the accident Josko was practising organic but not biodynamic viticulture. Now he has been fully biodynamic for three years, (although he says he ‘followed the moon for the last twenty’), but will never use the certification. “Biodynamics is not like homeopathic medicine”, says Mateja, who took me around the vineyards, “it is more holistic, like a doctor keeping you healthy, so you don’t need treatment unless you are really sick. You don’t always improve the quality of the wine; it is all about improving the soil. Copper has less impact on the soil; here we have problems with peronospora and oidium. But as we have 8-10 people working in the vineyards all spring and summer, we can spot any problems very early and spray very selectively. It made a huge difference to go back to biodynamic. In less than a year there was an incredible increase in the life of the soil. It can now overcome extremes, droughts and floods much better.”

Mateja Gravner

Talking to Josko Gravner later, he argues that “It is the only way to be sure the land is safe. I didn’t understand this when I first started out. Now I understand that the key to everything is to look after the land. It is difficult to say it makes the wine better, but it certainly the soil is better in difficult vintages and that makes things easier. There is no use in improving vines; you improve the soil and the vines will be more resistant. If you fertilise, you will have to use more fertiliser every year. Biodynamics is the most evolved style of agriculture, but it is like a religion, You have to believe in it. When you work with nature, you have to accept the good and the bad that nature gives you”. A friend of his argues that you have to accept that you will lose an entire harvest every seven years.

Gravner plants ungrafted American rootstocks directly into the soil, and field grafts on his own massale selection a year later. Mateja tells me that he noticed that a number of his 12 year-old plants suddenly withered and died, within a week, at 10-15 years of age. He believes this was caused by the nursery grafting. His method means the vines need five years before you can harvest, but he argues it is worth the wait.

American rootstocks awaiting grafting

Today, Gravner is revered many natural wine lovers. As the first person outside of Georgia to discover (he would say rediscover) skin fermentation and amphorae, he has obviously had a massive influence on winemaking over the last decade. Winemakers the world over now routinely use a little or a lot of skin fermentation or maceration, and amphorae have become a highly fashionable vessel to use in winemaking. Yet he dislikes travel and finds addressing large crowds a very stressful process. He produces very little wine, although they are now exported to forty five markets, the two biggest being Japan and the U.S. He is very modest man, if quietly persistent, and something of a perfectionist in everything that he does. I ask grandson Gregor, who recently started working with him in the cellar if that makes life difficult. “Not really,’ he says, “I enjoy the work very much, and when he says you have done a good job, you know that you really have”. He obviously questions everything; for instance he argues that bottles of wine should be stored standing up, as opposed to laid down. The cork has to be kept humid, not wet, he argues, so you just need the correct cellar.

I am intrigued by the Gravner wines; they have a unique personality, and flavours that you will rarely find in conventional wines. They have none of the V.A., Brett, or mousiness found in some natural wines, and after seven years in the cask, they are unlikely to start refermenting. Some are marked by noble rot, some may have small levels of residual sugar, but most are very dry. They are complex, with layers of flavours – orchard fruits, lots of orange peel, lemon zest, minerals, grilled nuts, mushrooms, earthy, and sometimes with a waxy quality. Some simply explode with a rainbow of flavours. I found it difficult to write tasting notes or to judge the wines; they taste so different that the usual descriptors – lemon zest, peaches and balance etc., are irrelevant. He would argue that his wines reflect the terroir; several critics I have talked to say they all taste the same – of Gravner.

I enjoyed every minute of my visit, and really enjoyed the wines. I am not entirely convinced I would drink them with food though. I would prefer to sit down with a glass (Gravner has designed his own glasses, made by Massimo Lunardon) and slowly sip it over the evening. He argues that his white (or amber) wines should served at room temperature. Much is made of his white wines, but his red wines are equally enjoyable. An oak cask 2003 Merlot with a touch of Cabernet, fermented on the skins still had plenty of pure smooth plum fruits, as well as a great tannic finish. Because he has now ripped up all of his Cabernet and Merlot replacing them with Pignolo, it has not been made again. Gravner wines do not come cheap, but they are quite unique, and the result of a long complex process. One retailer said to me that every wine-lover should try a Gravner wine at least once in their life. I would agree.


Bianco Breg 2010

Made from a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. Floral, herbal aromas; rich tangy and full of soft complex fruits. Vibrant, mineral with a lovely taut freshness.


Bianco Breg 2009

Some noble rot; riper, richer and spicy, with orange peel, dried apricots and figs. Long and quite luscious, although there is still plenty of acidity.


Ribolla Gialla 2010

Cleaner and fresh with a strong mineral streak; smooth with subtle grilled nuts and a citrus element.


Ribolla 2009

Lifted aromas of dried fruit and orange peel; an explosion of fruit and flavour; marzipan, caramel, nectarines, underpinned by a fine refreshing acidity.


Ribolla 2008

A win with great power and complexity; rich with intense flavours of toasted nuts; waxy with layers of dried stone fruits, and a very long finish.


Ribolla 2007

Abundant dried apricots, candid fruit and spice – ginger and fennel, with subtle nuts and a lovely mineral streak.


Rosso Ruijno 2003

Mainly Merlot, a little Cabernet Sauvignon. Still a very youthful colour, broad slightly earthy nose with dark forest fruits; smooth, ripe mature damson fruits with a nice tannic kick on the finish.


Pignolo 2005

Not made in amphorae. Wild pithy damsons and dark cherries; smooth, concentrated with some dry tannins and a lovely kick on the finish. Excellent wine


Ribolla 2003

Legally, this cannot be called Riserva, but it is a Gravner Riserva, having spent seven years in cask and seven in bottle. This was bottled only in magnums, left standing up (Gravner insists this is the way to age wine, provided you have the correct humidity) A very delicate nose of rose petals and lemon peel; it has good acidity, subtle grilled nuts, and an amazing freshness for a fifteen year-old wine.

Chardonnay 1992

We finished one of our tastings with a taste of one of his barrel-fermented ‘old style’ wines that showed remarkably well; it still had aromas and flavours of new French oak, but was very much alive with good apple fruits and a long dry finish. How many Burgundies would taste as good at 25 years?

Bianco Breg 2001

Pinot Grigio; Mild earthy – damp earth, with light fruits. Not my favourite but an interesting piece of history.


Pinot Grigio 2007

15.5% alcohol, five months on skins. Deep in colour, rich in red fruits, with a pithy texture and quite tannic on the finish. As near as white wine gets to red? Fascinating wine.


Gravner wines are imported into Ireland by Grape Circus –





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My Top Twenty Wines from Marks & Spencer


Of all the supermarkets, Marks & Spencer try the hardest; they certainly have the best and most adventurous range of wines. I think I have noticed a slight thinning out in Ireland at least, but it is still superior to all of their rivals, with an amazingly eclectic list of wines from all over the globe, with a heavy emphasis on the Mediterranean. At entry level they have a range of House Wines and other wines priced at €7.50-8.00. Some of these are very good. Below a small selection of my favourites, from €9 to €52.50 from recent tastings.

This article was first published in The Irish Times online edition.







Alcohol Free Sparkling Muscat NV



The alcohol is removed by a process known as reverse osmosis, leaving a fresh, juicy, fruit-filled glass of alcohol-free wine. You miss the alcohol a bit, but this would go down a treat at parties and any other get-together.






Rocca di Lago Spumante NV, Garda DOC




Made in the same way as Prosecco, this is a fresh, fruity, lightly sparkling wine with clean apple fruits. Not too sweet; I would prefer it to most Prosecco. Great value for money, and worth keeping in mind with the festive season ahead.




Champagne Delacourt NV – MAGNUM



If you are having a gang around, a magnum creates a real sense of occasion, and this one is very good. Champagne from a magnum generally tastes better too. Real depth and length, with rich creamy complex apples and brioche.









La Fortezza Vermentino 2017 Sicily



Perfumed and delicate with very attractive soft floral stone fruits and citrus. Great value for money.

Vermentino, usually found on the island of Sardinia, has been planted in Tuscany, and now Sicily in recent years. It has the great advantage of retaining acidity in warm climates.







Ken Forrester Workhouse Chenin Blanc 2017




An old favourite of mine. The current vintage is fresh and crisp, with lovely rich ripe peaches and subtle nuts and a dry finish. Try it with creamy pasta dishes or chicken. Excellent value for money.








Palataia Pinot Blanc 2017, Pfalz, Germany



The Palataia Pinot Noir is pretty good and well-priced, but his was my first taste of the Pinot Blanc. It is very good, crisp and dry with very attractive pear fruits and a dry finish. A good all-purpose white to serve as an aperitif, with fish and seafood or white meats.












Fresquito PX Vino Nuevo de Tinaja 2017




This is one of my all-time favourite M&S wines, and I was delighted to see a new vintage appear recently. Made in clay amphorae in Montilla-Moriles, it is an utterly delicious, vaguely sherry like (but unfortified) wine with delicate toasted nuts, green olives and plump apricot fruits, finishing dry. Amazing value for money.






Rabl Grüner Veltliner 2017, Kamptal, Austria




Attractive brisk gingery green apple fruits and a crisp dry finish. Well-made, easy-drinking and good value for money.

It is rare to find any Austrian wine at his sort of price, and this is a pretty good example.








Craft 3 Chardonnay 2017, Adelaide Hills, Australia




From the cooler Adelaide Hills, a very nicely crafted crisp dry Chardonnay, with no obvious oak; just ample apple and pear fruits, with a solid backbone of acidity. Light enough to partner seafood, and enough body to accompany chicken. Very good value for money.







Val de Souto 2017, Ribeiro




Galicia produces some fantastic white wines, including Albarinho from Rîas Baixas and Godello from Valdeorras. This wine, made mainly from the unpronounceable Treixadura grape, is well worth trying; very lovely plump apricots, a subtle saline touch, finishing dry. Nice wine. With scallops or prawns.







Denbies Bacchus 2017, Surrey, England




Very floral and aromatic, with racy acidity and attractive refreshing fruit. Nice wine. Is this how an Irish wine might taste in the future?











Madiran Terres de Moraines 2014




Madiran can be tannic and chewy, but this version is very accessible with good smooth ripe blackcurrant fruits, and light savoury tannins on the finish. Perfect with a steak or grilled duck breast.







Craft 3 Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Maipo Vally, Chile



Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile covers all bases, from great structured wines to soft and sweet. This hits the mid range with decen structure and very good fruits.

A very fine Cabernet, with clean blackcurrants and cassis, a refreshing seam of acidity and a good dry finish. Roast lamb or beef.






Pisan Cisplatino Tannat 2017, Uruguay




Marks & Spencer has a track record for listing wines from lesser-known countries; this time it is Uruguay, producer of some very good wines, with the South-west French variety Tannat being their specialty. This version is ripe with soft dark fruits, sprinkled with spice and wood smoke. One to try with barbecued beef.






Dominio del Plata Terroir Series Malbec 2016, Uco Valley, Argentina




Intensely aromatic, all violets and dark fruits, with delicious fresh, lightly spicy plums, dark cherries and mint on the palate. Belly of pork or lamb chops.







Ebenezer & Seppeltsfield Shiraz 2016, Barossa Valley, Australia




An Australian classic, of a style that is not easy to come across these days. Big, powerful hedonistic sweet ripe dark fruits, lots of spicy vanilla oak, and a very good finish. Not for the faint-hearted, but perfect with all sorts of red meats dishes on a cold winter evening.








Levantine by Ch. Musar 2017, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon



A cuvée of80% Cinsault and 20% Grenache from the legendary Lebanese producer.

Juicy dark cherries and raspberries with a lovely spicy touch. Very tasty wine. With a lightly spicy lamb tagine.







Contino Rioja Reserva 2014




Contino was the first single-vineyard Rioja, created in 1973. The wines are always impeccably made. An excellent young Rioja with very concentrated blackcurrant fruits, firm structured tannins and great length. Ideally you would stash it away for a few years. If serving now, decant before serving. Perfect with roast lamb.







Volnay 1er cru Le Blondeau 2015 Hospices de Beaune 2015


This was bought by Marks & Spencer at the annual auction at the Hopsices de Beaune. Expensive but good Burgundy is not cheap. A relatively young wine that will improve further with a little age. Youthful piquant ripe dark cherry, with a touch of smoky new oak, underpinned by good acidity. If you are having it for Xmas, decant ½ hour before dinner. Perfect with the Christmas turkey.














Very Rare Palo Cortado Premium Sherry ½ bottle




Made by Lustau, this is the perfect Christmas treat for the Sherry lover in your life. Intense, bone dry and wonderful, this has masses of toasted nuts, dried fruits, orange peel and much more besides. Drink with a plate of hard cheese, crackers and walnuts.



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