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Whiskey – roll out the barrel.

Whiskey – roll out the barrel.

Without barrels there would be no whiskey,’ says Ger Buckley, cooper at Midleton distillery. Until relatively recently, all alcoholic drinks were transported around the world in wooden barrels. It was the cheapest and most efficient method of moving it from maker to seller. Bespoke wine merchants such as Mitchell & Son, Findlaters, Morgans or Woodford Bourne would take delivery of claret, madeira, sherry and port, and mature the wines in cask until they were judged ready for bottling here. You can still find the odd bottle of Chateau This or Chateau That, bearing the label, “bottled by Mitchell & Son, Dublin”.

The same importers also bought freshly distilled spirit from our whiskey producers, which they added to their redundant wine casks. Left to gently mature for a few years, the spirit became smoother and took on a lovely amber colour. It also developed all of those familiar, highly desirable flavours of wood, nuts and caramel. Then, in the 1960s and 1970s, wine producers began to bottle their wine at source. In many regions, they were legally obliged to do so. Back in Ireland the distilleries were now ageing and bottling their own whiskey. But they were finding it increasingly difficult to find used oak, a problem they solved by going directly to the wine and spirit producers in Spain, Portugal and the US.

Nowadays most distilleries pay big money for used oak barrels that have been used to store wines and bourbon whisky. As sherry, madeira and port producers don’t change their casks very often, these are more expensive – €700-€800 each. Bourbon casks are less expensive (about $100 but the barrels are smaller) as, by law, all bourbon must be aged in new oak casks. At some stage, distillers here and in Scotland realised specific wines added different flavours to the whiskey, and began to “finish” their whiskies for a short period in cask of a single origin. Typically a whiskey is aged in bourbon casks, before six months to two years in sherry or madeira barrels. This week, there are three new whiskies, each finished in a very different kind of oak barrel.

Irish Irish Distillers recently released limited quantities of Dair Ghaelach (Irish oak), the first whiskey finished in new native Irish oak barrels. This blend of 15-22-year-old single pot still whiskies was aged first in American bourbon casks before spending its final 10 months in new Kilkenny oak casks. A mere 12,000 numbered bottles were produced. As part of the project, each of the nine 130-year-old trees felled was processed into separate barrels, so that every bottle can be linked to a specific tree. The forest is Grinsell’s Wood on Ballaghtobin Estate that has belonged to the Gabbets for 350 years. The trees were transported to Galicia to be quarter-sawn, before moving to Jerez, where cooper Antonio Paez Lobato seasoned the wood for 16 months, made 40 hogsheads and gave them a medium toast. Transported to Ireland, they were filled with the whiskey.

Mitchell & Son were one of the merchants that imported wine and then aged whiskey in the same barrels. Green Spot and Yellow Spot whiskies are descendants of these. They have teamed up with the Barton family in Bordeaux to create Green Spot Ch. Léoville-Barton. Initially aged in sherry and bourbon casks, this is finished in oak barrels first used to mature Ch. Léoville-Barton, one of the great grands crus classés of St Julien. The casks were then shipped to Ireland, and filled with Green Spot. Tullamore has released a whiskey finished in barrels used to ferment cider. The freshly squeezed apple juice was added to bourbon casks and left to ferment and mature for three months, before being replaced by Tullamore DEW Orginal for three further months. The result is quite intriguing.

DSCF5795Tullamore D.E.W. Cider Cask Finish Irish Whiskey
€54 for a 1 litre bottle

Honeyed, toasty, spicy and rich with attractive subtle notes of red apple.

Stockists: Duty-free shops and the Tullamore D.E.W. visitor centre

Image 6Green Spot Ch. Léoville-Barton Single Pot Still Whiskey

Apple and pear fruits with hints of vanilla and blackcurrant. Textured and smooth with a lovely lingering finish.

Stockists: Specialist off-licences.

Image 2Midleton Dair Ghaelach Single Pot Still Whiskey

A complex nose of toast, vanilla and dark chocolate, full-bodied on the palate, with forest fruits underpinned by caramel, finishing with a note of coffee and spice.

Stockists: Specialist off-licences.

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The wonderful wines of Alsace

The wonderful wines of Alsace

From the Irish Times Saturday 8th August 2015

Tucked away in a corner along the eastern border of France, Alsace is often passed over by wine lovers. I admit to being guilty of this myself. I cannot remember when I last featured the wines from this region. It holds a place dear in my heart, and not just because of the lovely wines, for it was here that I spent my honeymoon.Mind you, it was bitterly cold in early March so romantic walks among the vines were not really an option. I have been back several times since though. This is a beautiful region with great walks and delicious food too. I would highly recommend a visit, preferably avoiding the summer months when picturesque towns such as Riquewihr are jammed with tourists. Alsace offers a range of great wines including a few light red wines and some very good rosés, both made from pinot noir. But the region is best known for its fantastic dry white wines. These deserve to be better known by the Irish wine drinker.

At first glance the wine nomenclature seems very clear. Alsace is the one region of France that has always allowed varietal labelling. A wide variety of grape varieties are permitted, but you are most likely to come across riesling, gewürztraminer, pinot gris, pinot blanc and muscat for white wines, and pinot noir for red and rosé. The majority of wines are crisp, clean, fruity and dry, exactly the kind we like to drink. Alsace also makes some great sweet wines. The term “vendange tardive” on a label means that the grapes were harvested late and the wine is likely to be medium dry.The classification Sélection des Grains Nobles (SGN) indicates a wine made from grapes affected by noble rot, as with a Beerenauslese in Germany. This is likely to be sweet, although with both of the above wines it depends on the grape variety and producer. Again this seems fairly clear. The problem with Alsace for wine drinkers is that in recent years, some wine producers have started to make off-dry wines. This is partly a result of rising temperatures and lower yields. But very few give any indication on the label, making it difficult for the consumer to know what kind of wine they are buying. A few grams of residual sugar is not a problem, but I have bought a number of sweet flabby wines that lacked acidity.This trend seems to be reversing a little, but when buying a bottle it is best to stick to well-known names or ask the shop assistant for advice.

As in Germany, riesling is held in the highest esteem. The very best are brilliant, compelling wines, powerful and complex with a taut steely acidity.Lower down the scale, you get lovely fresh apple and citrus fruits. Gewürztraminer seems to have fallen out of fashion a little, but when made well, the wines can be a great match for Indian and other Asian dishes, as can pinot gris, which tends to made in an off-dry style in Alsace.The surprise of my tasting were two pinot blancs, one each from Hugel and Trimbach. Both were light (12-12.5 per cent) elegant wines with plump juicy fruits and a pleasure to drink as an aperitif. Alsace also produces large quantities of sparkling crémant d’Alsace, some of it very good. The best vineyards in Alsace are designated grand cru. There are some 50 of these. Generally these are made from a single variety (although some producers are allowed to blend several) and it will appear on the label.

The two big names are Trimbach and Hugel. Both are good. I am particularly fond of Trimbach. Two co-operatives, the Cave de Turckheim and the Cave de Hunawihr, widely available through independents, produce a solid range of wines. Look out too for anything from Josmeyer, Zind-Humbrecht, Weinbach, René Muré, Sipp Mack, Meyer-Fonné and Kientzler.

DSCF5739Trimbach Riesling 2012

A lifted floral nose followed by lovely crisp lip-smacking green apple fruits, and a bone dry finish.

Stockists: widely available in independent wine shops.

DSCF5690Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Les Princes Abbés 2012

Enticing fresh quince and honey fruits with a lovely lingering finish.

Stockists: Searsons, Monkstown.

DSCF5673Muré Riesling Grand Cru Vorbourg Clos Saint Landelin 2012

Riesling at its imperious best. Complex intense honeyed fruit with a steely backbone.

Stockists: Mitchell & Son, chq, Sandycove & Avoca Kilmacanogue.

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From The Irish Times, Saturday 1st August, 2015

I t may not be the first thing that springs to mind when talking about wine, but the art of blending is crucial to the success or failure of a great many wines. There are those who argue that the greatest assets any winemaker can have are the twin abilities to taste and to blend.

You may not realise you are drinking one, but using the term in its widest sense, virtually every wine is a blend of some sort, if only of different parcels within the same vineyard. Blending is simply the process of adding one wine to another. It takes many forms.We are familiar with the use of several different grape varieties, but a winemaker can blend wines from the same grape, but made in a different way, wines from different vineyards, different regions or even different vintages.

Many wine drinkers assume that a blended wine is automatically inferior to a wine made from a single grape variety. We are all used to the inexpensive Australian Chardonnay/Semillon and Shiraz/Cabernet blends. It is true that some takes place for financial reasons, but most blending is done to increase the quality of the finished wine, including many of the above Aussie dual varietals. The aim is to end up with a wine that is greater than each of the individual parts.

The Beauty of Blending was the topic of a discussion and tasting I took part in earlier this year at the Ballymaloe Litfest. I enjoyed the session greatly, not least because there was a wonderful range of wines to taste, including almost all of the great traditional wines; a sherry from Tio Pepe, a tawny Port from Taylors, a Champagne from Bollinger and a Bordeaux and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Only Burgundy stands apart, relying on one sole grape for its red wine, and one for white.

In the classic Bordeaux tradition, Merlot fills out the centre palate of the lean, angular Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc. It has the added benefit of making the wine more approachable in its youth (and ripening earlier too). Shiraz frequently performs the same function in Australia.The final assemblage of a top château in Bordeaux will be the result of blending hundreds of different barrels of wine. It is a skilled process taking a panel of tasters several days to complete.

Most sherry is made by fractional blending, a complicated system whereby young wine is added to the first cask in a criadera or row of barrels and mature wine removed from the other end. The resulting wine will be a blend of many vintages going back decades, if not centuries.

We frequently taste blends without realising it, as producers in many countries can include up to 15 per cent of another grape variety, vintage or even region without declaring it. So your 2014 Shiraz from the Barossa could actually have 15 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, or 15 per cent Shiraz from the 2013 vintage, or 15 per cent Shiraz from Coonawarra.In the past, a great many Australian wines were made from grapes grown hundreds of miles apart. The practice is less common now, largely because EU law frowns on such things. However, Penfold’s Grange, Australia’s most revered red wine, is a blend of wines from many different regions within South Australia. Its white equivalent, Yattarna, blends Chardonnay from the Adelaide Hills with wine from Tasmania, over a thousand kilometres apart.

It is common for a producer of Chardonnay to put a portion of his wine through malolactic fermentation followed by extensive lees stirring to create a softer more nuanced wine, and blend it back into a fresher more acidic wine that has not gone through this process. Some parcels may be aged in expensive new oak barrels, others in stainless steel. The possibilities are endless but in this way a winemaker can make a more complete and complex wine. Arguably the greatest blended wine of all is Champagne.

DSCF5712Santa Rita Secret Reserve White 2013, Casablanca, Chile

An intriguing blend of Riesling, Viognier, Chardonnay and Sauvignon that works really well. Lovely fruity summer drinking.

Stockists: Spar, Tesco, Dunnes Stores.

DSCF5697Groiss Gemischter Satz Dorflagen 2014, Niederösterreich, Austria

From a field blend of up to seventeen different grape varieties, a wine bursting with juicy ripe melon fruits.

Stockists: Greenman, Red Island, On the Grapevine, Donnybrook Fair and Mitchell & Son.

DSCF5643Ch. Sainte-Marie Alios 2012 Côtes de Bordeaux

From a classic blend of Merlot, Cabernet and Petit Verdot, a supple ripe wine filled with lightly spicy blackcurrant and cassis.

Stockists: Wines Direct, Mullingar.

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Grüner Veltliner – Austria’s summery grape

Grüner Veltliner – Austria’s summery grape

I believe that Grüner Veltliner may be the best white summer wine of all. Certainly it is one of most adaptable food wines, great with most salads, fish and white meats and well able to cope with herbs and Asian spicing. Almost all Grüners are light enough to drink solo and are therefore a great choice for summer sipping wine or as an aperitif.

It is that combination of refreshing acidity and plump fruit that makes them so flexible. They are very rarely aged in new oak barrels, so you get a mouthful of wonderful pristine fruit-filled wine.

Whereas Austrian wines were once something of a joke here, it is now unthinkable that a decent restaurant would not have at least one Grüner Veltliner on its wine list. This is partly proof of their food-friendly nature, but also an indication of how perceptions have changed. It helps of course, that the standard of winemaking in Austria is so high; on a recent visit there, over five days, I don’t think I tasted a bad white. I tasted Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling and, while all were very good, only the Riesling managed to match the sheer diversity of style, including sparkling wine, of Grüner Veltliner. The sparkling wines are improving rapidly and only our penal excise duty will prevent them becoming more popular here. The 2014 vintage was very difficult in Austria – cold and very wet. At times, the producers I met were falling over themselves to apologise for their wines. Despite this, I found plenty of excellent crisp, dry whites and some lovely refreshing red Blaufränkisch too. As noted here before, the red wines of Austria have been improving greatly over the last five years.

But Grüner is Austria’s signature grape, covering almost 30 per cent of all vineyards, and Austria is almost the only country where you will find it. On the final day of my visit, I attended a tasting of 100 Grüner Veltliners in Vienna along with a hundred or more wine writers. Not only was it a lesson in how to organise a tasting, but it provided a great opportunity to reacquaint myself with these lovely wines.Wisely, the Austrian Wine Board divided ta sting into four categories; young and elegant, powerful reserve wines, mature Grüner and innovative and wild. It was proof that Grüner can cover all bases; I was very taken with some of the natural wines, not a category that I always enjoy, and each of the remaining sections had some truly glorious wines.

In certain conditions, young Grüner Veltliner can be light, refreshing and supremely elegant. That does not imply an inferiority to the powerful reserve wines; some of my favourite wines come from Kamptal and Kremstal, where the best wines compare very favourably, although in a more refined style, to the richer more alcoholic wines of the Wachau. One look at the alcohol content on the label will usually tell you the style.

Steininger is perhaps better known in Austria as a sparkling wine producer, but I have always found the still wines to be very good and very fairly priced, too. Birgit Eichinger is one of the great producers of both Grüner Veltliner and Riesling (she also offers a very tasty Grüner Veltliner chocolate). I have tasted the wines of Malat a number of times and often wondered why no Irish importer took them up; now one has. These are excellent wines, light and elegant but full of flavour. Those seeking the richer style should take a look at the wines of Domaine Ott, available in 64wine in Glasthule and elsewhere. There you will also find a wonderful natural Grüner Veltliner made by Claus Preisinger.

On August 7th, Thomas Klinger of Weingut Brundlmeyer, one of the finest producers of Grüner Veltliner will host a dinner in Greenacres, Wexford. He will be joined by Dorli Muhr, responsible for some of the very best red wine in Austria. It looks like an unmissable event. Tickets are €49. for details.

DSCF5637Steininger Grüner Veltliner 2014, Kamptal

A perfect example of the lighter refreshing style of Grüner, with green apple fruits and a crisp dry finish.

Stockists: Wines Direct, Mullingar.

DSCF5735Birgit Eichinger Grüner Veltliner Hasel 2014, Kamptal

From one of my favourite producers, a delectable flowing wine with subtle spicy peach fruits, finishing dry.

Stockists: Redmonds, Ranelagh; Mitchell & Son, IFSC, Glasthule and Avoca, Kilmacanogue.

DSCF5687Malat Grüner Veltliner 2014, Kremstal

Fine crisp slightly spicy melon fruits and clean as a whistle. Perfect sipping wine on a summer’s evening

Stockists: Searsons Wine Merchants, Monkstown.

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Coravin – does it work?

Coravin – does it work?

Last February, I went to the Irish launch of Coravin, a new wine preservation device, which promises to allow you to enjoy wine from the same bottle over a period of months, if not years.Founder Greg Lambrecht became frustrated when his pregnant wife was unable to drink wine. He couldn’t consume an entire bottle every night, and, in any case, he wanted a to have a glass of white wine, then one of red, and possibly a glass of dessert wine too. And so he started off on a 12-year process that was eventually to lead to Coravin.He focused on how to extract the wine without introducing any oxygen. The answer is a very smart small piece of equipment that looks a little like a microscope, with clamps to grip the bottle, a long thin needle that pierces the cork, and a capsule of argon gas that automatically replaces the wine as you pour out the desired quantity through a spout. Once you remove the needle, the cork springs back to reseal itself. It doesn’t work on screw caps or plastic corks, but apparently does with all kinds of cork. Coravin claims the wine will remain fresh indefinitely.

There are other wine-preservation systems, such as the Enomatic, but that is expensive and takes up a lot of space. The Vacu-Vin and related Verre de Vin systems work for a short period. Nothing else performs for as long or as reliably as the Coravin promises. A wine enthusiast can now pour a glass of a particular fine wine, reseal it and then return for a second glass months later. It will certainly be of real interest to those who like to have a glass or two of vintage port or dessert wine after dinner. Restaurants can now offer a huge range of wines by the glass, including fine wine, without fear of being left with an opened, rapidly oxidising bottle. Wine shops can offer their customers multiple samples before they buy.

The big question, of course, is does it work? Jancis Robinson and Robert Parker are both fans. Château Margaux uses it to test their wines before sending them abroad for tastings.Recently, I was invited to a follow-up tasting by Coravin agents. We blind-tasted the same resealed wines from February against freshly opened bottles. None of the journalists present were able to tell the difference, and we are not alone. Apparently, more than 2,000 professionals have completed a similar tasting, and none so far has a 100 per cent success rate.

The Coravin does have disadvantages. It is expensive to buy and does have operating costs; I found my argon capsule was good for about 15 bottles – that is 65 cents per use. It is also quite fiddly to use. I cannot imagine a sommelier bringing it to the table. It would be great for restaurants that want to offer fine wines, even flights of a fine wine, or a glass of fortified or sweet wine at the end of a meal. But you probably won’t see it being used on the house wine. I find a bottle of wine rarely lasts more than one evening chez Wilson, and you don’t need a seal if you drink any remaining wine the following evening.There is also a strong argument that a bottle of fine wine, or any wine, is best enjoyed with friends and not kept for your own personal enjoyment.However, my wife and I often enjoy a glass of white wine before dinner or with a starter, and then move on to a red. I can now crack open a very nice bottle and reseal it for a few weeks. So far it is proving very useful.

The Coravin is available through and various retail shops including some O’Briens outlets for €299. Two replacement capsules cost €19.99 and each one works for anything from 15-30 glasses of wine. This week, I recommend three expensive wines that might be best enjoyed by the glass.

DSCF4947Mas de Daumas Gassac Blanc 2014
IGP St. Guilhem-le-Desert Cité d’Aniane

An elegant white wine with enticing floral aromas and soft juicy white peach fruits.

Stockists: Red Nose Wines, Clonmel; Curious Wines, Cork.

juranconJurancon, Clos Uroulat 2012

A deliciously refreshing dessert wine with tangy pineapples and tropical fruits. Heavenly with Roquefort.

Stockists: Redmonds; Listons; Fallon & Byrne; The Corkscrew; Green Man, Terenure; Avoca; World Wide Wines; Le Caveau.

bodegas-tradicion-vors-30-years-old-palo-cortado-sherry-andalucia-spain-10000702Bodegas Tradicion Amontillado Vors, Jerez

An epic dry sherry of breathtaking complexity that demands to be sniffed and consumed slowly, sip by glorious sip.

Stockists: Wines on the Green; Black Pig, Donnybrook.

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Muscadet: the perfect al fresco summer wine

Muscadet: the perfect al fresco summer wine

First published in The Irish Times
Sat, Jul 11, 2015, 01:00

Those of you of a certain vintage will remember Muscadet with a shudder. For a while in the 1970s and 1980s, this was the favourite tipple of the wine drinking classes. No drinks party was complete without it, and it featured on every wine list in the country. To meet demand, the vineyard area expanded dramatically and the larger companies started making vast quantities of very cheap wine.Most was pretty dire and a some of it probably didn’t even come from the Muscadet region. We moved on to the New World, and poor Muscadet hasn’t really gotten a look in since. Which is a pity as the region has long ago reformed itself (the good producers never went away), and now offers the intelligent buyer a selection of light wines, beautifully made and complex, with a character all of their own.There are few finer things in life than a large plateful of spanking fresh plain seafood washed down with generous quantities of Muscadet. As with Beaujolais, it is the perfect al fresco summer wine, one that seems made to drink outdoors at lunchtime.

Muscadet is the wine; the grape variety is Melon de Bourgogne, a distant relative of Chardonnay. The vast majority of the vines, some 20,000 acres, are grown in the Sèvre-et-Maine region and most bottles will bear this name on the label.In recent years, two other smaller sub-regions to the north have been created, Coteaux de la Loire and Côtes de Grandlieu. Muscadet-Côtes de Grandlieu tends to be riper and fruitier; Muscadet Coteaux de la Loire is lighter and more linear.Muscadet sometimes suffers a little due to its reputation as a crisp light white to go with seafood; although it will never be a big wine, that does not mean it is simple. The best have a wonderful subtle complexity. At a wine fair a decade ago, I worked my way around half-a-dozen small domaines, tasting some superb wines, including some excellent 10 year-old Muscadet.However, I would not recommend ageing your bottles; to me this is a wine best enjoyed in the first few years of its life, when the elegant plump fruits are to the fore. I am happy to say that a few intrepid outlets are now importing some of the top estates – Terroirs in Donnybrook in Dublin has the biodynamic Domaine de l’Ecu, and Le Caveau in Kilkenny has Château du Coing. Whelehans in Loughlinstown in Dublin imports the excellent Luneau-Papin, The Wine Store has Domaine Huchet and Wines Direct offers the wonderful Domaine de la Louvetrie. Most sell at €15-€20, very good value for quality wines. These days, most of the multiples offer decent inexpensive Muscadet. “Sur Lie”, which appears on most bottles, refers to the practice of leaving the wines on their lees, or dead yeast cells, for a period after fermentation. Bottled without filtration, the wines have a slight prickle and a soft creamy texture. Producers in many wine regions, including Burgundy and Rías Baixas, age white wines on their lees for 12 to 24 months to add flavour and complexity. It is traditional in Muscadet.

I am the proud owner of a Muscadet vineyard. A few years ago at a wine fair in the Loire, a producer presented me with a wax-covered stick and a small sack. The bag contained salt, Sel de Guérande, and the stick was a Melon de Bourgogne vine. These I was told, were Brittany’s greatest products. I enjoyed the salt and stuck the vine into the only vaguely sunny spot in the garden. Last year, it produced three bunches of very green acidic grapes. I don’t think the vignerons of Muscadet have much to fear from the vineyards of Wicklow.

DSCF5570Muscadet de Sèvre & Maine sur lie, Domaine de la Chauvinière 2013

Lovely light refreshing dry wine with delicate ripe plump apple fruits. Perfect with all manner of fishy things. Try it with oysters for a real treat.

Stockists: O’Briens; James Nicholson , Crossgar.

ImageMuscadet de Sèvre & Maine sur lie, Clos des Montys 2014

Jeremie Huchet makes the Chauviniére above and this delicious wine too; clean, subtle almost snow-like with a lovely long finish and a subtle spritz.

Stockists: Jus de Vine; McCabes; Redmonds; One Pery Sq. Limerick.

DSCF5496Muscadet de Sèvre & Maine sur lie, Les Pierres Blanches, Domaine Luneau-Papin

Delicate refined and crisp with the finest of floral, lemon-scented pristine fruit.
Exquisite wine.

Stockists: Whelehan Wines, Loughlinstown

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Whiskey Galore – Teelings Irish Whiskey

Whiskey Galore – Teelings Irish Whiskey

The Irish Times 4th July 2015

The Teeling family can take a huge amount of credit for the current revival in the fortunes of Irish whiskey. John Teeling was the first to challenge the might of Irish Distillers by setting up Cooley distillery in 1987. It must have been a lonely furrow to plough in those days, but he succeeded in creating viable alternatives for Irish whiskey lovers.

Cooley was always innovative, releasing interesting whiskeys under various names, as well as supplying own-label spirits to many others. In 2011 Teeling and his investors sold Cooley to American giant Beam for $95 million.

Teeling is in the process of building a large column grain distillery in Dundalk, a very canny move. While all the talk is about Single Pot Still whiskeys, blended whiskey makes up the majority of sales, and the new distilleries (26 and counting) will need to buy their base whiskey somewhere.

Teeling’s sons Jack and Stephen obviously inherited his entrepreneurial skills and seem poised for success with their Teeling Whiskey Company. The full story featured recently in Whiskey Business, a four-part documentary on TV3. The Teeling whiskeys are interesting, the label design excellent, and the most of the prices hit the “profitable premium but affordable” category.

The final coat of paint was being applied to their new distillery and visitor centre in the Liberties in Dublin when I arrived last month. The building is smartly designed, a mix of bare cement, exposed wood, steel and copper, giving it an edgy industrial feel. There is a shop, a tasting area and café as well as a bar with wonderful barrel-shaped snugs looking out onto Newmarket. There is a rooftop garden too. It is open for tours and hopes to become a major tourist attraction.

Master distiller Alex Chasko started out as a brewer in Portland, Oregon, but is clearly very much at home discussing whiskey and the art of blending.

Production had started when I visited, with a wort fermenting away, although according to Chasko it will be the end of the year before they hit full production of around 500,000 litres a year. It will then take several years before any of the distillate can be called whiskey.

In the meantime the Teelings bought up stocks of old whiskey from Cooley. These have been put to good use, finished in various casks and released as a series of very tasty whiskeys. I have featured the Single Grain Whiskey (€45) here before. Finished in American Cabernet Sauvignon casks, it is smooth and buttery with vanilla and spice. The Small Batch entry-level whiskey was the first release.

“The challenge was to say ‘this is who we are’, to take existing stock and make it unique,” says Chasko. They did this by marrying grain and malt whiskey in rum casks to create a distinctive and delicious whiskey with raisins, vanilla spice and light woody flavours.

“For the Single Malt, my instructions were simple,” Chasko says. “Make it the best.” He chose from whiskey originally distilled in 1991, and aged in five types of cask (White Burgundy, Californian Cabernet, Sherry, Port, and Madeira).

The 21 year-old Reserve Single Malt was created by fear, jokes Chasko. “What happened if it was crap? That was two and half years ago. Now we can’t keep it in stock.”

This wonderful complex whiskey, smooth and quite delicious was finished in Sauternes casks. At the top of the tree is the 26 year-old Reserve Single Malt (€475) a truly unique whiskey that has been partly aged in White Burgundy casks. It is full of fruit and lemon zest, with subtle deep woody flavours.

It seems that once again the Teeling family are laying down the gauntlet to Irish Distillers and the other Irish whiskey producers.

ImageTeeling Whiskey Small Batch

Raisins, vanilla spice and light woody flavours on nose and palate, with a soft sweet finish.

Stockists: specialist off-licences.

Image 2Teeling Whiskey Single Malt

Aromas of tropical fruit, lemon zest and spice, and a palate of toffee, caramel and exotic fruits. Full of flavour.

Stockists: specialist off-licences.

Image 3Teeling Whiskey 21 year-old Single Malt

Wonderful aromas of white stone fruits, honey and beeswax; the palate explodes with complex flavours of peaches and apricot with a background note of smoke.

Stockists: specialist off-licences.

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Portuguese Style Counsel

Portuguese winemaker Luis Duarte is a sought-after winery consultant
The Alentejo is a vast arid region, historically best-known for growing wheat and cork oak trees

First published in The Irish Times:
Sat, Jun 27, 2015, 00:00

Portuguese winemaker Luis Duarte jokes: “I have three lives.” Originally from the Douro, he began his winemaking career in Esporao, a well-known estate in the south of Alentejo. The Esporao wines, once popular with Superquinn customers, are available again through independents. Duarte moved on and now has relationships with no fewer than 10 wineries, almost all in the Alentejo, as consultant, proprietor or managing director – hence the three lives. One of only two people to be voted Portuguese Winemaker of the Year twice, he is recognised as one of the finest winemakers in his country.

The Alentejo is a vast arid region, historically best-known for growing wheat and cork oak trees (and the black pigs that feed on their acorns). More recently the construction of reservoirs has allowed a huge increase in olive oil production and viticulture, both with notable success. The Alentejo only received D.O. status in 1989, which may have retarded marketing efforts, but the lack of regulation meant winemakers were free to plant whatever grape varieties they wanted. It has certainly made the region one of the more varied and exciting in Portugal, although, by and large, native Portuguese (red and white) varieties hold sway. The wines tend to be forward and full of ripe fruit. After 18 years in Esporao, Duarte was on the point of setting up his own business when he was approached by a German insurance company that had bought an old farm in the Alentejo and wanted to turn it into a luxury agriturismo hotel and winery. They asked him to set up and run the operation and agreed he could keep his own project, Luis Duarte Vineyards, as well as running his consultancy.

Duarte has been manager of Herdade de Grous since its beginning in 2004. This, like Malandinha and Sobroso, has a small hotel, restaurant and spa, complete with swimming pool (infinity pools seem obligatory) and is very popular for weddings, weekend breaks and holidays with Portuguese and foreigner visitors.Regular travellers to the Algarve may be familiar with the Malandinha labels. Brothers Joao and Paulo Soares, with their families, own a chain of 15 wine shops in the south – unsurprisingly, their wines feature alongside other Portuguese and foreign wines. When I met Joao and Rita Soares they were still enjoying the afterglow of several awards for their wines. The estate is beautiful, set in the rolling hills, with a boutique hotel and restaurant. They produce their own olive oil and rear black pigs, horses and Alentejo cattle.

Both white and red wines reds are very good (they find it difficult to make sufficient white wine, frequently running out after six months) More expensive than the Monte Peceguina below, the claret-like Maladinha 2012 red is excellent and well worth the extra cost. Quinta do Sobrosa is one of Duarte’s more recent clients. This is a 1,600 hectare estate, although vines take up only 52 hectares. Filipe Teixeira Pinto and his wife, Sofia, began production in 2006 with a mix of Portuguese and international varieties.

Wine consultants are not always universally liked. Critics argue they impose the same winemaking techniques and produce similar wines wherever they work. If Duarte has a style, it is wines with rich, smooth fruit and good ripe tannins for the red wines, and plump, textured whites. However, the three wineries I visited all had a very distinct identities.

“Wine is a great international emblem for Portugal,” says Duarte. “If the government had spent money over the last 15 years marketing our image as a green country, instead of building motorways, we would be in a much better place. We produce fantastic fruit of all kinds. They may not always look perfect but they taste great. The Alentejo has great potential. The crisis is finishing and the future will be good.”

Image 3Herdade dos Grous Red 2013

A very moreish medium-bodied wine with rounded plump dark fruits.

Stockists: La Touche, Corkscrew, Fresh, O’Donovans, Donnybrook Fair, Deveney’s, Fallon & Byrne, Sweeney’s, Nectar, Redmonds, Mortons; D Six, Listons, Whelehan Wines, Red Island, Power & Co. On The Grapevine, Baggot St. Wines, Green Man Wines,Terenure, Mitchell & Son, The Wine Shop,Perrystown.

Image 4Sobro Red 2013, Herdade de Sobrosa

An attractive blend of Aragonese and Alicante Bouschet with a little Syrah and Cabernet, this has light elegant blackcurrant and plum fruits, with a good dry finish.

Stockists: Stockists: La Touche, Corkscrew, Fresh, O’Donovans, Donnybrook Fair, Deveney’s, Fallon & Byrne, Sweeney’s, Nectar, Redmonds, Mortons; D Six, Listons, Whelehan Wines, Red Island, Power & Co. On The Grapevine, Baggot St. Wines, Green Man Wines,Terenure, Mitchell & Son, The Wine Shop,Perrystown.

Image 2Mte de Peceguina Red 2013, Herdade de Malhadinha Nova
€ 20.95

A lovely inviting wine with smooth fresh strawberry fruits and an easy finish.

Stockists: La Touche, Corkscrew, Fresh, O’Donovans, Donnybrook Fair, Deveney’s, Fallon & Byrne, Sweeney’s, Nectar, Redmonds, Mortons; D Six, Listons, Whelehan Wines, Red Island, Power & Co. On The Grapevine, Baggot St. Wines, Green Man Wines,Terenure, Mitchell & Son, The Wine Shop,Perrystown.

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Light Summer Reds

Light summer red wines
Demand for wines lighter in body and alcohol steps up in summer

From the Irish Times, Sat, Jun 20, 2015

In recent years, there has been a slow but perceptible trend towards wines that are lighter in alcohol and in body. The two are different, although they often go hand in hand. For many it means drinking more without ill effects and once the sun comes out, it becomes an imperative. I might drink a glass or two of a full-bodied red with barbecued red meat, but otherwise I head straight for a more refreshing wine that will feel less heavy in the mouth.Thankfully these are becoming more common; there was a time when every red wine seemed to be 14 per cent or more, and packed full of rich fruit and ripe tannins.This style of wine often won medals and trophies at competitions, but were a little too powerful to actually drink. Over the past five years, producers in the New World have realised the consumer is turning away from these wines and have tried to lower alcohol levels – not always an easy thing to achieve. It may actually lead to increased sales, as it can be hard to drink more than a glass of a 14.5 per cent monster, whereas a wine tipping 13 per cent slips down all too easily. A number of companies have released lower alcohol wines and I want to like them, but barring German Riesling, most taste incomplete. White wines at 12-13.5 per cent or lower are relatively easy to come across. Reds are more difficult.

The two best-known light red wines are Gamay and Pinot Noir. Gamay generally means Beaujolais although you will find some good versions elsewhere; the Loire Valley is one place to look (see below). The 10 “crus” of Beaujolais are variations on a theme, markedly different in taste, but almost always light in alcohol and sometimes the nearest thing a red wine can get to white with its delicate fruit and elegance.These wines are often best served cool – chilled is too much, but left in a cool unheated room or in the shade outside (in Ireland) those mouth-watering succulent fruits comes alive.

Further north of Beaujolais lies Pinot Noir country – the great red wines of Burgundy. These are light in body, but often 14-14.5 per cent in alcohol. I would include most of the red wines from the Loire valley in this category, Cabernet Franc in particular. These tend to be light in alcohol with crunchy redcurrant, blackberry fruits and an attractive sappiness. Some wine lovers find them a little too herbaceous but I love them. They are a brilliant foil for cold meats, charcuterie as well as oily fish such as salmon or tuna. Beyond France, Austria is now producing some very good light red wines from the Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt grapes, and the north-west of Spain offers some very good light sweet-savoury reds that are generally low in alcohol. The Italians are very fond of lighter wines generally and the north of Italy produces a huge range of fragrant fruity reds, often made from obscure local grape varieties. Look out for Teroldigo from Trentino (Mitchell & Sons and Supervalu both stock one) as well as Bardolino, some Valpolicella and the fascinating wines of Emilia-Romagna, such as the Sangiovese.

New World reds tend to be bigger and higher in alcohol, although several countries, including Chile, New Zealand and Australia produce very good Pinot Noir. Chile and New Zealand can also make very good Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape that can ripen properly at 12.5 per cent alcohol.If you like red wine, but suffer from headaches after just one glass, it might be worth trying lighter, less tannic wines. The causes of red wine headache are still unclear; some believe they are caused by the high levels of histamines in red wine, others by the tannins. Wines that have been macerated for shorter periods and are less extracted seem less likely to cause headaches.

Image 14Frappato 2013 IGT Terre Siciliane

Juicy light easy summery strawberry fruits – a great seasonal quaffing wine.

Stockists: Marks & Spencer

DSCF5304Sangoiovese Rubicone Medici Ermete

Charming, dangerously moreish wine with light ripe cherry and raspberry fruits. Amazing value for money.

Stockists: Sheridans Cheesemongers

Image 13Gamay Le Bois Jacou 2014, Jean-Francois Gamay Mérieau

Free-flowing fresh cherry fruits with a nice earthy edge.

Stockists: Terroirs, Donnybrook

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New World brings us back to Chardonnay

Did Chardonnay ever go away and, if so, is it now making a comeback? If the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) crowd were merely trying to get us to try out a few other grape varieties, they have certainly succeeded. In turn the BTC (Back to Chardonnay) party, of which I am a paid-up member, was merely pointing out that Chardonnay produces some of the world’s greatest white and sparkling wines. I hope we can all agree that good Chardonnay is great and the bad stuff is awful and move on a little in the debate.

Talking to importers of New World wine I get the distinct impression Chardonnay never really went away; there is a large swathe of wine drinkers who have continued to buy it even if all of the noise was about Sauvignon Blanc. At the bargain-basement end there are plenty of sickly-sweet wines with very pumped-up, confected flavours, but at €10-€15 you can find plenty of well-made, crisp, dry and fruity Chardonnay from every part of the globe.

If you need convincing, try Aldi’s Lot 2 Chardonnay (€12.99) from Tasmania, a fresh crisp dry wine, made by Wakefield, one of the leading estates of Australia. The New World has learned that masses of new oak and rich buttery wines are not always what the public wants. If anything the criticism is that some have gone too far the other direction, offering us wines stripped of all flavour and character.

Today I concentrate on Australia and New Zealand, which have had very different relationships with Chardonnay. Both now appear to be making world-beating wines made from this variety. At one time Australian Chardonnay was big and brash; how times have changed. Now the best wines come from the cooler regions: the Mornington Peninsula and the Yarra Valley, both near Melbourne, and Tasmania all produce some excellent wines as can the Adelaide Hills in South Australia and parts of Western Australia, the Margaret River in particular.

New Zealand has been hugely successful with Sauvignon Blanc, but we have seen precious little Chardonnay in Ireland. That may be about to change. New Zealand is making some excellent Chardonnay, often in regions responsible for the best Pinot Noir, such as Martinborough, Waipara and Central Otago, although Neudorf in Nelson and Kemeu River up north are two of the best.

The best Chardonnay I tasted on a visit to New Zealand earlier this year was the 2013 Ata Rangi Craighall Chardonnay. This will arrive in Ireland shortly. A close second was a Puligny-like Felton Road 2013. James Nicholson has something of an embarrassment of riches when it comes to Chardonnay; they are waiting for their allocation of Felton Road Chardonnay, but in the meantime customers can try the excellent Neudorf from Nelson and the Dog Point from Marlborough. I would also love to see Pegasus Bay return; they make some fantastic Chardonnay

What should you look for in a top Chardonnay? The best are nuanced yet sumptuous wines, medium-bodied with a lightly creamy texture, possibly with a hint of spicy oak, but never to the exclusion of fruits – green apple in cool climates moving through to pears and then peaches in warmer regions. Chardonnay coats the entire mouth with flavour. The three wines selected this week are all expensive. But then their equivalents from Burgundy would certainly match them for price, if not make them look reasonable.

I know some wine drinkers are reluctant to spend money on white wine, possibly because they see it as something to sip with a starter before moving on to the main course. I tend to save my best white wines, usually a Chardonnay or Riesling, for those times when I am cooking really good fish or chicken as a main course – black sole drenched in butter, turbot, and of course salmon paired with a top-notch Chardonnay will turn dinner into a real feast.

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