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Slow Dão with wines from Portugal’s answer to Burgundy

For some Dão is Portugal’s finest wine region, yet few wine drinkers have a clear picture of what the wines are like. It is often mentioned as Portugal’s answer to Burgundy. There are certain similarities; both produce lighter wines with good acidity, low in tannin, and sometimes low in alcohol too. Both wines seduce gently with perfume, finesse and elegance rather than power. But whereas Pinot Noir often tastes sweet (although it is bone dry) to me Dão is more savoury and often spicy with damson fruits – more like a Syrah from the Northern Rhône if you want a comparison.

Either way, Dão certainly deserves much more of our attention. Not only does it offer some great red wines at reasonably prices, it also produces some excellent dry white wines too. Both red and white wines (it is 80 per cent red) are made from Portuguese grape varieties.

Dão is a largish region in central northern Portugal. Circled by mountains, and therefore protected from both the Atlantic rains and the blasting heat of the interior, it has relatively dry, warm summers, perfect for the slow ripening of grapes. The granitic soils give good acidity, and the altitude (200-600m) keeps things cool too.

Winemaking skills

For many years, the region, although well-known, was held back by a bizarre law that obliged growers to sell their grapes to the local co-op, which often lacked the necessary winemaking skills. The result was large quantities of very dull tannic wines. But in recent years, there has been a blossoming of local talent, as well as an influx of other Portuguese winemakers. Not only are the wines far better, they are very reasonably priced too.

Two red grapes are worth special mention. This is the home of touriga macional, one of Portugal’s greatest grape varieties. You will also come across jaen, known as mencía in Galicia, a variety with huge potential. Then there is tinta roriz (Tempranillo) and alfrocheiro. For white wines, there is encruzado, possibly Portugal’s greatest white variety. It all adds up to an area that offers real excitement. At the less expensive end, the wines can be fabulously perfumed and lightly fruity. If you like less heavy wines, there are some real bargains, but the more expensive wines are great value too.

There is a limited range on offer in our shops, but it includes some great wines. I have already featured Touriga Nacional Rui Reguinga 2013 (€24.50, Terroirs,  Donnybrook) and Jardim da Estrela 2014, an amazing €13 from Quintessential Wines. Both are well worth trying, as are the excellent FP wines from Filipa Pato in next-door Bairrada. If you travel to Portugal on holiday, I suspect there might be greater availability over there. jwilson@irishtimes.com

dscf7265Paço dos Cunhas de Santar Nature 2012 (organic), Dão

14%

Wonderful smooth elegant dark fruits with light tannins on the finish.

McHugh’s; Martins; Baggot St Wines; Corkscrew; Donnybrook Fair; Morton’s Galway; Sweeney’s.

 

 

 

 

 

niepoort-rotuloDâo Rótulo 2015, Niepoort, Portugal

12.5%

€16.95

Delicious refreshing light red with a savoury edge to the clean damson fruits.

Stockists: Grapevine; Morton’s Ranelagh; Drinkstore; Redmonds; Baggot St Wines; Martins.

 

 

 

 

encruzado_169x430Quinta dos Carvalhais Encruzado 2015

13%

€29.99

Softly spicy with vibrant citrus and pear fruits. Engaging and sophisticated wine.

 

Stockists: Baggot St. Wines; Redmonds; Corkscrew.

 

 

 

dscf7265Bargain Wine

Ribeiro Santos 2014 Dão

13.5%

€14.95

Harmonious pure damson and dark cherry fruits. Perfect with duck breast or pork. Excellent value.

Stockists: Fresh Outlets, La Touche, The Coachouse; Power & Co; D Six; Nectar; McGuinness Wines; Green Man Wines, Corkscrew.

 

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Ten Places to find a Decent Glass of Wine in Ireland

First published in the Irish Times Saturday 18th March, 2017

A few years ago, I got in touch with wine distributors around the country and asked them to name a few of their favourite haunts, places where they could order a glass of decent wine. It didn’t seem a big ask, just half a dozen or more interesting wines served in a proper wine glass, but privately the majority expressed a deep frustration with their local offering. Things have changed for the better.

Many hotels continue to serve industrial quality Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and other standard names at exorbitant prices, but it seems that some pubs at least are starting to see the light, and are now serving a small rotating range of interesting wines at reasonable prices. The big move over the last few years has come from wine shops. A number of them now morph into wine bars in the early evening, or have a separate mini-wine bar attached. It is all about the wine and not the food, which is usually pretty basic (cold meats or cheese) and mark-ups are a fraction of those in a full-blown restaurant.

Corkage fee

As well as having plenty of wines by the glass, many allow you to choose any wine from the shelves, adding a corkage fee of €5-€10. This makes it worthwhile buying a bottle of something really good. For the moment, most seem to be in the greater Dublin area, and include Grapevine in Dalkey, Green Man, Terenure, Baggot Street Wines, La Touche in Greystones, 64 Wine and Mitchell & Son in Glasthule, Whelehan’s in Loughlinstown and Fallon & Byrne on Exchequer Street. All of these are well worth trying out if you like wine.

My top 10 is regionally balanced. I haven’t been to every one of these, but I have fairly reliable spies in most corners of the country. Ely wine bars can claim to be daddy of them all, now celebrating 15 years of trading, offering a superb selection of 80 wines by the glass. They have now teamed up with 64 Wine in Glasthule; the outcome is awaited with interest.

Of the newer establishments in Dublin, Piglet, on Cows Lane in Temple Bar, is a wine bar or osteria. They offer a great range of wines by the glass, alongside some amazingly good food, and Green Man Wines in Terenure would be a regular haunt if I lived slightly nearer.

The place to go

Moving southwards, I hear great things about the wine selection in The Tannery wine bar in Dungarvan. L’Atitude51 is the place to go in Cork city. Lively and fun, there is always a great range of wines open. Likewise, The Black Pig in Kinsale. Galway has Cava Bodega and Martine’s but I love the fascinating wines offered by Sheridan’s Wine Bar– and of course the cheeses. Westport has the eclectic Gallery Wine Bar, although if you prefer a more traditional atmosphere, McGings offers five wines by the glass, alongside excellent pints and local beers. I have yet to make it to Hargadons in Sligo, but everyone tells me I should make the trip. In Belfast, Cave, part of the excellent Ox restaurant, is a lovely pared-down wine bar with an eclectic list of wines, and, as you might expect, some very nice nibbles too.

I have missed anyone out, feel free to send me an email.

The first readers to email/tweet me regarding omissions were fans of Stanley’s excellent wine bar & restaurant on Andrew Street in Dublin 2. It certainly has one of the best, most eclectic lists in the country, plus a great range of interesting sherry by the glass.

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Irish Cognac & French Whiskey

First published in the Irish Times, March 11th, 2017

In the 18th century, Irish businessmen were very prominent in the Cognac region. Two houses are direct descendants of Irish families and many others had strong Irish connections. These are detailed by historian Louis Cullen in his book The Irish Brandy Houses of 18th-Century France (Lilliput Press).

Hennessy is well-known. The family has been involved in Cognac since 1724 and there are still several Hennessys involved. Maurice travels the world as brand ambassador, as well as selling grapes from his vineyard to Hennessy. His brother Frédéric lives in the original Hennessy homestead in Cork. The Hennessy three-star is very popular in this country. Richard Hennessy created the first XO for his friends. The current version is a real treat.

Delftware

The other “Irish” house is Delamain. Nicolas Delamain settled in Ireland in 1639. His descendent Henry was the first in Ireland to fire delftware with coals, examples of which can be seen in the National Museum, and were illustrated in a series of stamps. Henry’s nephew James Delamain moved from Dublin to France and, in 1759, formed a partnership with his father-in-law, proprietor of one of the oldest cognac houses. The company is still owned and run by two descendants of the original Delamain, and is one of the only family-owned companies in Cognac.

Delamain is unique amongst cognac houses in that it produces no three-star or VSOP cognac. The entry level is an XO, and that is made from 25-year-old spirits (XO or extra old needs only to be six years old). They do not add caramel or syrup to make it darker and sweeter, hence the name Pale & Dry. It is my favourite Cognac.

Method & Madness

Irish Distillers, by far the largest producer of Irish whiskey, is now owned by French company Pernod Ricard. They have just released four new whiskeys under the banner of Method & Madness. These are intended to be a blend of curiosity and intrigue (the madness), with the tradition and expertise at Midleton Distillery (the method).  Each is distilled or aged in a different way, giving it a unique flavour. Prices run from €49 to €79. Other new releases include Roe & Co, a new premium blended whiskey from Diageo, named after George Roe, who in the 19th century ran the largest distillery in Thomas Street. It is deliciously smooth, rich and concentrated. Down the road Teeling have released the third bottling of The Revival Single Malt, a 14-year-old whiskey aged in Pineau de Charentes casks priced at €120.

image-8Method & Madness Single Pot Still Whiskey French Chestnut Finish

46%

€69

Finished in French Chestnut barrels, this is a superb whiskey brimming with spice and subtle dried fruits ending with a lingering rich complex woody note.

Stockists: Specialist off-licences and Duty-free.

 

 

 

image-4Delamain Pale & Dry X.O. Grande Champagne Cognac

40%

€82

A slightly lighter (hence the name) and more delicate cognac, but certainly not lacking in flavour. Exquisite, smooth rounded and complex fruits.

Stockists: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Baggot Street Wines.

 

 

 

 

image-6Hennessy X.O. Cognac

40%

€140

Richer in style than the Delamain, but equally attractive – spice, leather, vanilla and oak. smooth

Stockists: widely available.

 

 

 

 

imageBargain Wine:

Craft 3 Chenin Blanc 2015, Stellenbosch, South Africa

12.5%

€15

Lightly floral nose with crisp apple fruits, a touch of honey, a hint of caramel, wand a dry finish. Plump and very moreish.

Stockists: Marks & Spencer

 

 

 

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Enjoying Nebbiolo a rite of passage for wine nerds

“Do people really drink that?” a student asked me a few years ago on taking her first ever mouthful of Nebbiolo. This variety, from Piemonte in northeastern Italy, makes some of the country’s finest wines. But with its firm dark impenetrable fruit, high acidity and swingeing tannins, Nebbiolo can never be described as easy-drinking. These are wines for the aesthete rather than the hedonist .

Before you stop reading, two things: first of all, most Nebbiolo nowadays is made in a much more approachable style than in times past. Secondly, as with all wines, you need to drink it in the right setting. Arm yourself with a bowl of tajarín, the fine egg-rich pasta of the region, accompanied by wild mushrooms, white truffles, rabbit or a beef ragù, or maybe a risotto, or agnolotti del plin (little folds of pasta stuffed with meat), or maybe simply some roast game or aged parmesan, and Nebbiolo begins to make perfect sense. The food of Piemonte, centred on the towns of Alba and Asti, is amongst Italy’s finest. So are the wines.

Enjoying Nebbiolo is almost a rite of passage for real wine nerds. Tannic and alcoholic they may be, but really good Nebbiolo also has fleeting aromas of violets and perfume, an array of supremely elegant complex fruits that have you scrabbling for adjectives  – leather, truffles, black olives, tar, licorice, wood smoke and much more besides. Those tannins allow the wines to age and improve for decades in great vintages.

Patchwork of vineyards

The grape reaches its finest expression in the two small towns of Barolo and Barbaresco, both on the valley floor, surrounded by vineyards high up the slopes, peeking through a shroud of swirling mist. Often called the Burgundy of Italy, the region has a similar patchwork of tiny vineyards, with holdings scattered throughout. As in Burgundy, each sub-region, each vineyard, every change in height and exposure is reflected in the wines. Sadly, the prices are fairly Burgundian too.

In the past, many young men and women deserted the region for the two big local employers – Fiat in Turin and the massive Ferrero chocolate plant, manufacturers of Nutella and Ferrero Rocher, which gobbles up one of the region’s other great products, hazelnuts. Nowadays, farmers with a field or two in either town own a very valuable asset.

There are plenty of other wines produced in the region, including the more approachable Barbera and Dolcetto, as well as some good white wines, but Nebbiolo is the undoubted king, and Barolo and Barbaresco its finest expression. Langhe Nebbiolo is their Bourgogne Rouge: in the right hands it is much more approachable and often good value. Further north in Piemonte, Proprietà Sperino produces silkier wines with a lovely mineral streak.

Langhe Nebbiolo 2014, Massolino, 13.5%, €29.99
Fragrant violets and redcurrants; tangy, elegant, approachable wine with light tannins on the finish.
Stockists: Fresh Outlets, Dublin; Blackrock Cellar.

Proprieta Sperino Costa della Sesia Rosso
Uvaggio 2012, 12.5%, €39.99

A Nebbiolo blend. Scented, floral, laced with herbs; lingering fruits; an utter delight.
Stockists: Terroirs; Red Island; 64 Wine; Red Nose Wine

Massolino Barolo ‘Parafada’ 2012, 14%, €79.99
Beautifully aromatic, with intense structured robust dark fruits and a firm dark finish. Ideally keep it five years-plus.

Stockists: Corkscrew; Green Man Wines; Blackrock Cellar.

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How to buy a ‘nice’ bottle of wine

First published in the Irish Times, Saturday 24th February, 2017

I worked in wine shops for several years and was always bemused me when a customer asked for a bottle of nice wine. What did they think I was going to recommend? My special reserve of disgusting, undrinkable wines? And yet I knew exactly what they meant – a wine that wasn’t too expensive, but offered more than your average bottle.

This is probably what we all want 90 per cent of the time, but it can be elusive. Standardised winemaking techniques mean it is all too easy to come across bland, broadly fruity, slightly confected wines, red and white, that won’t harm anyone but offer very little real enjoyment.

Finding a wine with a little character can be a more challenging. With our punitive tax regime, sadly the more interesting bottles will invariably cost €12-€15, if not more.

As with most working couples, during the week our dinner tends to be a fairly simple affair. In the colder months, I frequently throw plenty of vegetables into the oven to roast, usually butternut squash and/or potatoes, sweet potato, onions, red peppers, aubergines, and tomatoes, or cauliflower, leeks, mushrooms and beans.

The spicing varies according to my mood. With many vegetables, the best wine match would be rich white wine, but as we usually have some sort of grilled or roasted meat as well, I generally open up a red wine. In the winter months, I naturally gravitate towards red wine anyway.

Best partner

I don’t go into an elaborate thought process to choose the wine; I find light and medium-bodied reds offer the best partner for both roasted vegetables and grilled meat.

For lighter wines, I seek out Beaujolais, lighter Italian reds such as Barbera and Valpolicella, Pinots from Chile or New Zealand, or a lighter Cabernets from Australia.

In colder weather, I often drink these with fish as well. However, my favourite winter wines are medium-bodied reds with supple fruit, and around 13.5 per cent alcohol. I try to avoid over-oaked or over-alcoholic wines and I am becoming more and more frustrated with off-dry and medium-dry red wines.

So where to find a wine that delivers that little bit extra? Usually it will be made by smaller producers, although quality-conscious co-operatives can offer great value too.

It generally means avoiding the best-known names, such as Bordeaux and Burgundy. Bargains tend to be found in the biggest producer regions such as La Mancha in Spain, the Languedoc in France and parts of Italy. My favourite hunting grounds would also include much of Australia, Chile, the southern Rhône in France, and most of Portugal.

Today, four very nice red wines, all costing less than €15. I cannot promise that they will send you into paroxysms of joy, but I hope you will find them satisfying.

Image 6Le Mas 2015 Domaine Clavel, Languedoc, Organic

13.5%

€14.70

 

A hugely satisfying wine with rich red cherry fruits, spicy black peppers and nice grip on the finish. With lamb or beef dishes.

 

Stockists: Wines Direct, Mullingar

 

 

Image 1Ch. de Paraza Cuvée Spéciale, Minervois

13.5%

€12.95

 

On offer until 5thMarch. Medium-bodied with supple red and black fruits, black olives and herbs. A good all-rounder.

 

Stockists: O’Briens

 

 

DSCF7210Illuminati Riparosso 2015, Montepuliciano d’Abruzzo

13.5%

€14.95

 

Very seductive smooth warm dark fruits, with a touch of tobacco. Perfect with spicy lamb from Diana Henry’s Simple.

 

Stockists: SuperValu Ballinteer, Lucan, Charlesland, Blackrock, Deansgrange, Swords, Rathgar, Sundrive Road; Donnybrook Fair; Londis Terenure.

 

 

Image 5Faugères Les Collines 2014, Domaine Ollier Taillefer

13.5%

€14.85

 

Attractive savoury dark plums with a savoury touch. Went nicely with pork chops and mushrooms.

 

Stockists: Wines Direct, Mullingar

 

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Try the uncharted wine regions of southern Italy

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 18th February, 2017

For many wine-lovers, the south of Italy is uncharted territory. If pushed, they might remember Salice Salentino and perhaps Primitivo. And yet, these are some of the oldest vineyards in the world. The entire region is coming down with little known indigenous grape varieties, most of which date back to Roman or Greek times. Today we skim the surface of three areas, each with their own unique wines.

Our journey starts in Campania, the area surrounding Naples and Salerno, dominated by the Campanian volcanic arc that includes Vesuvius and Campi Flegrei. We think of southern Italy as being hot. Yet the icy mountain slopes back from the coastline here have one of the latest harvests in the entire country, producing some excellent, vibrant white wines. We will look at those another time; today the reds.

Backhanded compliment

Aglianico is often called the Nebbiolo of the south – a slightly backhanded compliment. It may be the most long-lived, but the wines can be tough, dry, tannic and austere in their youth, especially those from the most revered, cooler sub-region of Taurasi. Instead of fruit, you often find liquorice, tobacco and dried spices. There are other red grape varieties in Campania: Coda di Volpe and Piedirosso are two ancient varieties, both producing softer, easy-drinking wines. Piedirosso, the second most-planted red, is often blended with Aglianico to soften those tannins. As well as Taurasi, Aglianico is found in Taburno and neighbouring Benevento. The high limestone content and volcanic deposits are said to give that tannic bite to Taurasi. Others are more forthcoming.

Devastated by decades of emigration to the Northern cities and the US, Calabria is the most obscure of the three regions. This is the “toe” of Italy. The most important grape here is Gaglioppo – you can rest assured that most wine buffs have never heard of this grape either, but it can produce perfumed, warming soft wines.

Stiletto heel

Lastly Puglia, or Apulia, the stiletto heel and calf of Italy. This long, narrow region is responsible for massive quantities of red wine. Negroamaro produces rich wines with dark fruits and plenty of oomph. Primitivo, the same grape as California’s Zinfandel, can produce wines high in alcohol, tannin and fruit. Some, including the example below, can be sensationally good. Sadly, not all reach such peaks; I tried a host of semi-sweet soft wines that desperately needed an injection of character. Less common is Uva di Troia (or Nero di Troia) possibly named after the city of Troy, which produces wines that range from soft and fruity to full-bodied and tannic.

Anyone looking to improve their knowledge of Italian wine should buy the newly released The Modern History of Italian Wine, edited by Walter Filiputti (Skira), a fascinating, unique look at the development of Italian wines over the last 50 years.

 

ImageSavuto Rosso DOC 2014, Colacino, Calabria

13%

€16.99

Moreish clean ripe blackberry and red cherry fruits

Stockists: Corkscrew; Green Man Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Wineonline.ie

 

 

 

DSCF7266Il Cancelliere Aglianico 2014, IGT Campania

14.5%

€18.95

 

Big powerful concentrated earthy dark fruits, with well-integrated tannins on the finish.

 

Stockists: Quintessential Wines, Drogheda; Atasteofitaly.ie; Morton’s; Hole in the Wall; The  Grapevine; Dublin 9; Martins.

 

DSCF6603Primitivo Lamie dell Vigne 2012, Masseria Guttarolo, Puglia

14%

€24

 

A delicious, full-bodied wine with intense ripe dark fruits, lovely acidity and leathery length. I love it.

 

Stockists: 64 Wine; Green Man; Mitchell & Son; Sheridan’s.

 

 

 

 

Bargain Wine

 

Image 1Le Vigne di Sammarco Uve di Troia 2014, Puglia

13%

€14.85

 

Smooth, medium-bodied ripe plum and black cherry fruits. Mid-week with pork chops?

 

Stockists: Wines Direct, Mullingar

 

 

 

 

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Get ready for the best Burgundy vintage since 1929

Image 19

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 11th February, 2017

Burgundy has given me more pleasure (and at times heartache) than any other wine. But now supply, always a problem, is diminishing and growing ever more expensive. Now along comes the 2015 vintage, heralded by some as the greatest since 1929.

Prices are moving steadily upwards and quantities are even more limited than usual, 20-30 per cent less than in 2014. Three importers are offering en primeur access to 2015 Burgundy, with another to follow later this year. This means buying wine that is still in the cask that will be delivered later this year or in early 2018.

There is no doubt that 2015 was an excellent year for red wines; leaving aside the hype (and there is no shortage of that) most are laden with perfectly ripe, succulent fruit, excellent concentration and good acidic balance. In a generally warm and dry growing season, the biggest danger seems to be low acidity, and an oversupply of sugar leading to high alcohol levels – in a region that traditionally struggles to ripen grapes.

Liam Cabot of Cabot and Co says “2015 is an outstanding vintage – it’s a vintage of real pleasure and enjoyment – the wines will drink well from release, yet have the structure to age. Many are comparing it to 2005, but those of a slightly older generation also point as far back as 1949 and 1929. Although prices are rising, it is possible to find classic wines that will deliver real pleasure at very reasonable prices.”

‘Incredible balance’

Charles Derain of Nomad Wines will wait until June to make his offer. He is equally positive. “The grapes”, he says, “were absolutely healthy, beautiful to eat. Everything I have tried so far has been outstanding, reminding me of 2005. The wines have incredible balance and structure. I have tried some super Bourgogne Hautes de Beaune and Nuits 2015 that will give great value.”

Conor Richardson of Burgundy Direct, making his 25th Burgundy offer, agrees. “2015 is excellent, possibly outstanding . . . Burgundy lovers in particular can only be hugely impressed by this very, very fine vintage”. Donal Morris of Greenacres reports “the reds are superb and certainly the best since 2005, even surpassing it. They have a lovely purity of fruit, a luscious concentration and are very fragrant. And this is right across the region.”

No matter how good the vintage, poor winemakers make average wine. Buy from producers (and importers) you can trust. If your budget doesn’t stretch to buying wine by the caseload, keep an eye out for the underrated 2014 Burgundies. I would also set aside a few euro for 2015 (and 2016) from the Northern Rhône, as well as Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder) and Riesling from Germany. Burgundy 2015, including some of the finest estates, is being offered by Cabot and Co, Burgundy Direct, Greenacres and Searsons.

DSCF7240Côte de Nuits Villages 2014, Jean-Marc Millot

13%

€34.95

 

Lovely meaty succulent dark fruits, with a savoury edge.

 

Stockists: Grapevine, Dalkey; Cabot & Co, Westport.

 

 

DSCF7257Domaine Robert Groffier, Bourgogne Passe-Tout-Grains 2013

13%

€25

 

Bright fresh dark cherry fruits with a lovely succulent quality. Rounded and dense.

 

Stockists: Greenacres, Wexford.

 

 

DSCF7228Givry Pied de Chaume 2014, Domaine Joblot

13%

€35

 

Richly concentrated, with firm dark fruits and excellent structure. Drink or keep a year or two.

 

Stockists: La Touche, Greystones; Burgundy Direct; 64wine.

 

 

Bargain Bottle

 

DSCF7242Coteaux Bourguignons 2015, Joseph Drouhin

12.5%

€14.95

 

Light refreshing cherries and raspberries with a leafy touch.

 

Stockists: La Touche, Greystones; Jus de Vine; Grapevine; McHugh’s; Donnybrook Fair.

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The Best Off-licence in Ireland

First published in the Irish Times, Saturday 4th February, 2017

Blackrock Cellar: well-trained staff, free delivery and a vast and eclectic selection of interesting drinks

Location is everything, and not just for your property investment portfolio. Wisdom has it that a wine shop or off-licence should be situated well away from competition, the supermarkets in particular. It also needs to have easy access to ample free parking, enabling customers to drop in and pick up a case of wine. So what possessed Frenchman Joel Durand to start up Blackrock Cellar on the busy main street of Blackrock, with very limited parking and competition in the form of two large shopping centres, each featuring a major supermarket with a reputation for its wine selection?

Five years on, Blackrock Cellar is still there, boasting one of the finest selections of wine, craft beer and spirits in the country. Recently it won the ultimate drinks-business Oscar, the Noffla National Off-licence of the Year award. The premises first opened as a branch of UK off-licence chain Oddbins in 1997. When Oddbins ran into difficulties, its four Irish stores closed down, bequeathing the Irish wine trade a cohort of well-trained individuals, many of whom have achieved success elsewhere. Durand had been working at the Blackrock branch and knew it had potential. Prior to that, he trained as a chef in France, working there and at restaurants in Italy and the UK.

“At first, we were going to do just wine, but it didn’t make sense,” says Durand, “Oddbins had been importing quality beer and were always running out. So craft beer has been there from the start and has really helped us.” As for the supermarkets, he thinks they help each other. “SuperValu are not the worst neighbours,” he says. “I can’t do the big-label brands and they cannot stock all the small producers we do.”

It took a while to get the landlords’ agreement, but they finally opened in March 2012. Two months later, Durand contracted a flesh-eating bacterial infection from a small shoulder wound. “The staff in St Vincent’s were fantastic,” he says. “I made so many great friends there; the doctor is now my customer.’ Six months and 40 operations later, he went back to work.

So how does Blackrock Cellar survive? Basically by doing things the supermarkets can’t: having well-trained staff, a vast (450 wines, about 450 craft beers, and copious spirits) and eclectic selection of interesting drinks, free local delivery and a lively online presence. More than anything, it is a friendly, really well-run shop.

Other Noffla winners include Jus de Vine in Portmarnock, which won the Wine Specialist of the Year award for a record 10th time; McHugh’s in Artane, which grabbed the beer award; and Redmond’s of Ranelagh, which not for the first time carried off the Spirits Specialist award.

Three of this week’s wines were chosen by Joel Durand, while Julie Cullen of Jus de Vine selected the Vigneti Zabu.

Image 3Le Petit Caboche 2015, VDP de Vaucluse Domaine du Père Caboche

13.5%

€14.95

‘A baby Châteauneuf du Pape, with dollops of red fruit and warm, spicy flavours. Moreish to dangerous!’

Stockists: Blackrock Cellars.

 

 

 

 

Image 1Vigneti Zabu Il Passo 2015, Sicily

13.5%

€17.99

‘A rich ripasso style red from Sicily – a real winter warmer!’

Stockists: Jus De Vine; 64 Wine; Blackrock Cellar; Callans; Donnybrook Fair; Drink Store; Grapevine; Martins; McHughs; Red Island: Wine Well; World Wide Wines.

 

 

 

ImageCa De Frati 2015, Lugana

13%

€22.95

‘A staff favourite; floral, aromatic and full of ripe and vibrant fruit. Just great.’

Stockists: Blackrock Cellar; Corkscrew; Clontarf Wines; Donnybrook Fair

Deveney’s Dundrum; Drink Store; Fallon & Byrne; Grapevine; Jus de Vine; La Touche; Martins; Red Nose; Sweeney’s; Wineonline.ie; World Wide Wines.

 

 

 

Bargain Wine

Image 4Sangoma Chenin Blanc 2015

13%

€12.95

‘A cracker at the price – the label doesn’t do it justice; it is very nice inside. Fresh perfumes, crisp apples, pineapple and hay, clean and dry.’

Stockists: Blackrock Cellars; Bradleys; Leopardstown Inn; Martins.

 

 

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A host of new Irish whiskies including one for €260

ImageFirst published in The Irish Times, Saturday 28th January, 2017

On a wonderful, crisp, clear, sunny morning last December, I headed up to the beautiful Ballydowling Wood in Glenealy, Co Wicklow. There, I watched a 150-year-old native Irish oak tree being felled. The tree was destined to become an oak barrel, (in fact three to four barrels) used to mature and season the latest edition of Midleton Dair Ghaelach, the unique single-pot-still whiskey that is aged in virgin Irish oak.

Gabriel Fernández Rodríguez of the Madebar sawmill in Galicia was on hand to approve the quality of the wood, and to work out how many barrels he could garner from this tree, as was master cooper Ger Buckley, along with Irish Distillers head blender Billy Leighton and head of maturation Kevin O’Gorman. All three have been involved in this fascinating exercise for the last seven years.

The forest, sustainably farmed by Coillte, was one of the first to be managed under the Native Woodland Scheme, and part of the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification. Along with 11 others, the felled tree would go on a trip to Galicia, where Gabriel and his father would saw them into staves. Then the staves would be transported to Jerez in the south of Spain, to be seasoned for 15 months and fashioned into 250-litre casks, before being returned to Ireland some two years later. Back home, they will be filled with some of the finest old single-pot-still whiskey. All being well, this will become the third release of Dair Ghaelach. Each bottle will be traceable back to a specific barrel and the individual tree.

A few specialist off-licences still have stocks of the first release of Dair Ghaelach, yours for about €260. The next release is planned for later this year.

Irish Whiskey Magazine

Further whiskey news: Irish Whiskey Magazine, run by a group of very knowledgeable enthusiasts, is, I think, our first specialist publication about Irish whiskey. See irishwhiskeymagazine.com for subscription details.

Whiskey aficionados will soon be flocking to city-centre Dublin. We already have the Irish Whiskey Museum on Grafton Street and the Teeling distillery in the Liberties. They will soon be joined, in March, by the refurbished Jameson visitor centre in the Smithfield area of Dublin 7, followed by the Pearse Lyons Distillery in the renovated deconsecrated St James’s Church in Dublin 8.

In the meantime, I would be tempted to take the train to Killarney and the Irish Whiskey Experience to enjoy one of their 50-minute courses covering various aspects of Irish whiskey and how to enjoy it (see irishwhiskeyexperience.net for details).

While in Kerry, a visit to Dingle Distillery would certainly be on the cards too. Alternatively, the Kilkenny Whiskey Guild is a group of 10 establishments in the city, all of whom offer at least 60 whiskies, served by a trained bartender.

Image 7Redbreast 12 year old Single Pot Still Whiskey

40%

€59

One of my favourite whiskeys, and very well priced; dried fruits, raisins, toasted hazelnuts and coffee in a delicious warming spirit.

Stockists: Widely available

 

 

 

 

Image 1Teeling 10 year-old Single Cask Amarone Finish Whiskey

46%

€65

Deliciously richly fruity with raisins, toasted almonds and caramel. A limited edition made exclusively for O’Briens, using Amarone casks from Musella, one of their suppliers. It works really well.

 

Stockists: O’Briens.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2976Tipperary Knockmealdowns 10 year-old Whiskey

47%

€70

Chocolate, vanilla and butterscotch with a touch of honey.

Stockists: Celtic Whiskey and other independent off-licences.

 

 

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The problem with Dry January

First published in The Irish Times, January 14th, 2017

I have given up giving up. I don’t avoid alcohol in January or November. Throughout the year, I try not to drink on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. I dismiss most research showing the positive effects of alcohol, but reckon that wine and beer have been around for more than 5,000 years, so a moderate consumption is unlikely to harm me.

I post my consumption online every week, and it usually consists of six bottles, enjoyed by two or more of us over four nights. Not all are empty either, but under current HSE guidelines, I am still probably drinking too much. The HSE advises no more than 11 standard drinks a week for women and 17 for men. For wine, a standard drink is 100ml. (35.5ml for spirits, and half-pint for beer), much smaller than the average serving in a pub, restaurant or at home. A measure often contains two or more standard drinks. Ely Wine Bars are one of the few establishments to provide a marking on the glass. Their 187.5 ml serving is a ¼ bottle of wine.

The HSE guidelines are for wines with 12.5 per cent alcohol; most wines contain more, and it can be challenging to work out how many units you are drinking. One (industry-sponsored) website explained that multiplying the alcoholic volume of a wine by 0.8 (the alcoholic density of wine) gives you the grams of alcohol. So 12.5 multiplied by .8 = 10 grams of alcohol in a 100ml serving which represents one unit. A 15 per cent bottle of wine (12 grams of alcohol per 100ml) has nine units, while a lighter German Riesling Kabinett might contain 6.5.

Three pints

Binge-drinking is defined as six units or more at one sitting. If, over the course of an evening meal, you have an aperitif, followed by a glass of white wine with your starter and two generous glasses of red wine with your main course, you are a binge drinker. Or if you consume more than three pints of beer or three glasses of wine on a night out. This probably includes a sizeable portion of the Irish population.

We already have the highest tax on wine in Europe, so pricing may have a limited influence, although alcohol consumption has actually fallen 20 per cent since 2002. What we need urgently is a change of attitude. Twice recently I heard radio presenters laughing about how we drink ourselves into oblivion on stag weekends and at staff Christmas parties. It was the usual boasts of “if you can remember it, you didn’t have a good time” and “how bad was your hangover”. I also heard a friend dismiss her teenage son’s binge drinking with a shrug and a “sure what can you do?” If we continue to think like this, no legislation or minimum pricing is going to make any difference.

DSCF7124Torres Natureo Delcoholised wine 2015

0.0% (0 Units)

€7.95

An alcohol-free Muscat that is the closest I have tasted to the real thing. A refreshing enjoyable drink.

Stockists: Very widely available.

 

 

 

Image 1Domaine de la Pépière, Muscadet de Sèvre & Maine, Organic

12% (less than a unit per 100ml serving)

€17.95

Light and refreshing apple fruits, with a wonderful zestiness.

Stockists: O Learys, Cootehill; Clontarf Wines; Hole in the Wall; O’Driscoll, Ballinlough, Quintessential Wines, Drogheda.

 

 

 

DSCF7152Vale de Capucha 2011, VR Lisboa, Portugal

15% (1.2 units per 100ml serve)

€21

Seemingly restrained with damson fruits, good acidity and a very attractive mineral core. Great wine with real character.

Stockists: Corkscrew; Gibney’s, Malahide; Redmond’s, Ranelagh; Corkscrew, Chatham Street, Dublin 2; Blackrock Cellar.

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