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Choosing Easter wine? Consider Cabernet

The Irish Times 4th April, 2015

It is those unmistakable aromas of blackcurrant or cassis, the whiff of cigar box, the firm structured dark fruits overlaid with cedar wood, the satisfying tannic dry finish; they can mean one thing to the wine lover, Cabernet Sauvignon.

Cabernet may have slipped under the radar a little in recent years, as we became more excited about the huge number of local grape varieties being rediscovered in Spain, Italy, France and elsewhere. A greater choice is always welcome, but we should not forget that Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the world’s great varieties, responsible for some of the very best wines in half a dozen countries.

It also produces a huge number of mid-priced red wines that make for perfect everyday drinking. Cabernet Sauvignon has always proved an easy traveller, thriving in a variety of soils and climates. It also has the happy knack of almost always tasting recognisably of Cabernet Sauvignon, while also taking on a little local character. From its original home in Bordeaux, where it forms the bedrock of the great wines of the Médoc and Péssac-Léognan, it has spread out throughout the wine world, both old and new.

If you intend serving a roast of either lamb or beef on Easter Sunday, there are few better matches than a good quality Cabernet. Those drying tannins work perfectly with red meat. Bordeaux would be the traditional choice, but take a look at top-notch Cabernet from more far-flung parts of the globe.

California, and the Napa Valley in particular, has long produced superb age-worthy Cabernet Sauvignon. Sadly most are very expensive. If you do feel like splurging, James Nicholson ( may still have a few magnums of the superb Ridge Montebello Cabernet 2006, for £190. Terroirs in Donnybrook, Dublin has a very good selection of Napa Cabernets, including Ch Montelena.

You could also look to Australia, where the Margaret River in Western Australia is famed for its structured, ripe, scented Cabernets such as Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet 2011 (€89.99) and the Cape Mentelle Cabernet 2011 (€70, independents).

Argentina makes some very good Cabernet, but this seems to get lost amongst all the noise about Malbec. It tends to be fairly big and rich, but not short on flavour.

However, our most expensive wine this week comes from Chile, home to some seriously good Cabernet. Producers here delight in holding blind tastings that pitch their best wines against first-growth Bordeaux; the results often favour Chile. I recently tasted my way through 10 vintages of Santa Rita Casa Real, a single-vineyard Cabernet from the Maipo Valley, source of many of Chile’s greatest Cabernets. It can age very well for a decade or more, but is very approachable in its youth.

Marks & Spencer, whose range of wine becomes more encyclopedic by the day, have a Cabernet Sauvignon produced by two Canada’s leading lights, Ann Spurling and Brian Hamilton. The estate is in Four Mile Creek, one of the warmest parts of Niagara, and is devoted to sustainable biodynamic viticulture. The wine is quite different to most New World Cabernet, and will fox any wine buff you invite to lunch.

I pleaded guilty recently to ignoring South African wines, partly because they seem to have dropped out of sight in a lot of wine shops, but also because many of the reds were over-extracted, over-oaked monsters. However, I have tasted some very good wines recently including some succulent tasty restrained Cabernets at very fair prices.

If you don’t intend spending over €20 for your wine, you could always opt for the Cassillero del Diablo Cabernet, widely available at around €12, or from Bordeaux, Lidl has the tasty Ch Noton 2010 for €9.99.

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Looking for the best in the world? Try a cherry-scented Pinot Noir

Looking for the best in the world? Try a cherry-scented Pinot Noir

New Zealand built its reputation on Sauvignon Blanc. As outlined here a few weeks back, Marlborough Sauvignon has become a favourite the world over. However, the country offers much more, including some great Pinot Noir.

My image of the New Zealand male as quietly spoken, possibly monosyllabic and dressed in a standard uniform of chinos and polo shirt, was shattered on my arrival in Central Otago in New Zealand for a three-day Pinot Noir celebration. Every event was preceded by an ear-piercing whistle and a lengthy (but usually witty) speech. All of the Otagan men competed with each other to appear in the loudest, most colourful Hawaiian shirts. There was a real sense of camaraderie amongst producers, possibly because they are so far away from the other New Zealand wine regions.

Central Otago (or ‘Central’ as they refer to it there) has come a long way in a short time. Although some form of viticulture had been practised here since the 19th century, it was only in the 1990s that the region started to make a name for itself as a producer of world-class Pinot Noir. One of the very first to plant vines was an Irish journalist, Alan Brady. Since then, the expansion has been rapid. I worked my way around 37 wineries at a tasting; apparently there are now 82. This is the world’s most southerly vineyard, with some of the most stunning scenery. Nearby Queenstown is one of New Zealand’s most popular resorts, for skiing in winter and every conceivable outdoor sport in summer.


Light cherry fruits, subtle oak, and a savoury finish.

Available from: Clontarf Wines; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Donnybrook Fair; O’Briens; 64wine Glasthule; Gibneys, Malahide;; World Wide Wines, Waterford


Available from: Redmonds, Ranelagh; DSix, Harold’s Cross; Clontarf Wines; Donnybrook Fair; La Touche Greystones; Thomas Woodberry Galway

Available from: Redmonds, Ranelagh; Clontarf Wines; Donnybrook Fair; La Touche Greystones; Power, Lucan; Gibneys, Malahide; Thomas Woodberry, Galway

In New Zealand’s only continental climate, winters are bitterly cold and summers short but hot. Central Otago Pinot forged its reputation with a series of vibrant fruit-filled wines. As the vines mature, and producers become more confident, the wines are gaining in subtlety and complexity. There were some great wines here, and great people. In addition to the wines of the week, look out for Peregrine, Mount Difficulty, Two Paddocks (owned by local boy Sam Neil), Mud House and Wild Earth.

Moving northwards, Waipara and North Canterbury, two overlapping areas north of Christchurch are among the lesser-known regions of New Zealand. However, here you will find some delicious Chardonnays (something I can see New Zealand excelling at in the coming years) and some very good Pinot Noir.

Waipara can also compete in the beauty stakes with Central Otago. I spent a day foraging around some of the most wonderful scenery. If you have a relative helping rebuild Christchurch, Waipara is less than an hour’s drive away and worth a visit.

Pinot Noir here varies greatly in style, but the best are relatively full-bodied, sometimes spicy, with delicious soft ripe dark fruits and sufficient structure to age for a few years. Look out for Muddy Water, Pegasus Bay and Waipara Springs along with the wines featured below.

Martinborough, an hour’s drive from Wellington on the North Island, has long been seen as the best place to grow Pinot Noir in New Zealand. I am inclined to agree. The region has been expanded to include two other villages and renamed Wairarapa. A large blind tasting covering the entire region provided plenty of evidence that there are some really exciting wines being made here. Sadly few are available in this country. In addition to Ata Rangi mentioned below, look out for Escarpment, Martinborough Vineyards and Paddy Borthwick. Marlborough also produces Pinot Noir, but only a few can match those from Central Otago, Wairarapa or Waipara.

The standard of Pinot Noir in New Zealand is very high; I don’t think I tasted any duds and there were some exquisite wines. Most producers seem to be trying to tone down the exuberant ripe fruit of their Pinots to arrive at a more complex, balanced style. Sadly many of my favourites are not currently available in Ireland, largely due to a combination of cost and size. Central Otago, for example, produces a mere 2.5 per cent of New Zealand’s wine. Waipara is not much bigger and Wairarapa is responsible for a miniscule 2.8 per cent of national production.

The best wines from my two favourite New Zealand Pinot producers – Ata Rangi from Martinborough and Felton Road from Central Otago – both cost around €50, prices that might bring some out in a cold sweat. (Incidentally, both make excellent Chardonnay). I would argue that compared to Burgundy, Germany and other Pinot-producing regions, they are very fairly priced.

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Chin chin, time for an Irish gin

Chin chin, time for an Irish gin

Chin chin, time for an Irish gin

Sat, Mar 28, 2015, 08:00

‘Gin is so much fun’, says David Boyd-Armstrong of Shortcross distillery. He and his wife Fiona are part of a new generation of craft producers that are redefining Irish gin.
Sales of gin are booming. Once the preserve of the older G&T brigade, the surge of interest in cocktails has seen gin become one of the most fashionable spirits of all.
The worldwide increase in interest is not just down to mixologists creating complex new cocktails. Gin and tonic is very trendy. Bombay Sapphire and Hendrick’s started the trend a decade or more ago, but since then a host of new craft gin producers have sprung up in the US, Britain and elsewhere. Now a number of bespoke Irish gins are being produced in small distilleries around the country. Some go foraging in the countryside for herbs and roots to flavour their gin while others use spices imported from across the globe.
“In Ireland, we are just starting to understand white spirits,” says Peter Mulryan of Blackwater Distillery in Waterford. “As a nation we were always very good with whiskey. If I had done this 10 years ago, I would have had to close my doors very quickly. Now the time is right.”
The Dingle Distillery was founded by Oliver Hughes, one of the men behind the Porterhouse bars. As with craft beers, he was ahead of the game, looking for somewhere to create his own whiskey, vodka and gin. I tasted trial batches with Hughes and his colleague in their brewery in west Dublin five years ago. With the Porterhouse bars to supply, Dingle gin was never going to be short of customers.
The Shortcross distillery is located in the historic Rademon estate near Crossgar in Co Down. Water is drawn from a deep well on the estate. Everything in the small distillery is done by hand, right down to painstakingly sealing each bottle with wax and signing each label before sticking it on.
In addition to importing juniper and other spices, they forage in the estate for botanicals, including apples from the orchard, wild clover, elderberries and elderflowers. This, Boyd-Armstrong believes, gives their gin a unique aromatic hint of meadows. “We wanted to create a floral uplift, something uniquely Irish,” he says.
“Every batch will have some slight variation, but we are obsessive and want to be consistent. The biggest skill is being able to taste. We taste and taste – not always easy with a spirit at 90 per cent alcohol.”
They have a beautiful 450 litre copper pot still produced to their specifications by a family of German makers. When I visited, the still was perfumed with juniper and spices from the last distillation. They launched last April in the restaurants Ox and James Street South, in Belfast.
Peter Mulryan wrote books and produced TV programmes about spirits, mainly whiskey, before starting his own enterprise in Cappoquin. He has been going for less than a month now, but is relishing the challenge. “Gin is a drink of empire. The Dutch and the British invented it, so we don’t go heavily on the Irish thing,” he says.
There is a strong spice connection with Waterford though; in the 19th century Whytes of Waterford was one of the most important shipping companies. “I tried out some of the spices they imported (he won’t specify which) and they make the most amazing gin.”
There are other Irish gins available. Glendalough releases seasonal spirits based on wild flowers and herbs foraged locally, and seaweed beauty specialist Voya is experimenting with seaweed-flavoured gin.
Fever Tree seems to be the preferred tonic water, although each producer assured me that his or her gin would go very nicely with market leader Schweppes. Your gin and tonic however, will taste very different.

Blackwater No. 5 London Dry Gin, 41.5%,€32

A complex gin with juniper, lemon and a lovely earthy warm spicy element coming through on the finish. Very different to the Shortcross below with much more musk and spice.

Stockists: Specialist Spirit retailers


Image 1
Shortcross Gin, 46%, €50/£35-£40


Wonderful gin with lightly floral aromas and a subtle fruitiness alongside the juniper. Lingers beautifully.

Stockists: Specialist Spirit retailers

Dingle Original London Dry Gin, 42.5%, €33


Very nicely textured with juniper on the front palate with lively citrus and orange peel.

Stockists: Specialist Spirit retailers

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I am frequently asked what the next ‘big thing’ in wine will be. I do think that we in this country are slowly moving back towards the old world in terms of style, but there is one giant that has yet to really make it in Ireland and elsewhere. Argentina is the world’s fifth largest wine producer. Largely populated by Italian and Spanish immigrants, it has a wine culture going back almost five hundred years. Until recently, it had its own individual style of wine, aged in oak for long periods, which was distinctly lacking in fruit to European palates. However, it was very popular at home, where over 90% of the market lay (Argentina is still the world’s eighth largest consumer of wine). It was only in the late 1980’s that the wine industry began to look seriously at the export market, and helped by the devalued peso, began producing high quality richly fruity wines that made the world take notice.

Argentina has a lot to offer, so it is surprising that it has not had a greater impact on our tastes. The quality of wine has improved dramatically, and prices are very competitive. Yet my local supermarket has only a few shelves devoted to Argentina compared to a huge array from Chile, Australia and South Africa. One problem it does have is a lack of Sauvignon, currently the most fashionable grape variety. There are a few decent examples on the Irish market, but the hot sunny weather in Mendoza, where over 80% of the countries wine is produced, is not ideal for this cool-climate grape. Instead, Argentina can offer its own indigenous aromatic white grape, Torrontés. There are some very tasty wines, the best of which tend to come from the cooler vineyards in Salta to the far north, or more recently from Patagonia in the deep south. Think of a cross a cross between Sauvignon and Gewürztraminer, aromatic and refreshing with succulent ripe fruits. In addition to Torrontés, there has been some success with Chardonnay and Viognier in particular.

The country also has a few special red varieties; most of you will be familiar with Malbec, a French grape variety that Argentina has made it’s own in recent years. The less expensive versions have lovely supple ripe dark fruits; the more expensive are full-bodied and powerful, packed with explosive meaty dark fruits. Provided they aren’t too heavily oaked, I am very fond of both camps. The Bonarda grape was thought to be related to the Barbera grape of Piedmont, and was assumed that it had been brought over by Italian immigrants. More recent studies show it to be the Corbeau of Savoie, also known as Charbono in California. Bonarda is usually full of colour, with plenty of acidity and tannins too. If the winemaker succeeds in taming the tannins, it can be a very attractive refreshing red. Together these two semi-indigenous varieties make up almost 50% of red plantings. But with all the noise about Malbec, it is sometimes forgotten that Argentina makes some very good Cabernet, and increasingly, some very stylish Syrah too.

I am slightly mystified why Argentina has not been more successful as it appears to have everything going for it. Perhaps 2010 will see a real breakthrough. In addition to the wines below, Trapiche, Alamos, Argento and Pascual Toso are both widely available and reliable.


Michel Torino Torrontés 2009, Calchaqui Valley
13.5% €9.99 Michel Torino are based in the cooler northern vineyards of Cafayate. Their wines usually have an elegance and freshness about them. This is a very perfumed Torrontés, with aromas of honeysuckle and a lovely light but concentrated fresh palate with succulence and zip.

Stockists: The Wine Boutique, Ringsend; Dunnes Stores; Matsons, Bandon; Sandyford House, Dublin 14; Deveneys, Dundrum; Redmonds, Ranelagh.

Tesco’s Finest Argentina Shiraz 2009, San Juan
14.5% €5.99 The Callia winery in San Juan, a few hours drive north of Mendoza makes some impressive Syrah. This has savoury chewy liquorice and dark fruits, plenty of power and surprisingly good length. Tesco have this at €5.99 on promotion for August and September, so snap it up as it represents a fantastic bargain.

Stockists: Tesco
Luigi Bosca Bonarda 2009, Mendoza

13.5% €10 A nicely aromatic juicy red with very attractive succulent tangy blackberry fruits and a smooth finish. Perfect on its own but better with cold meats and charcuterie. Serve cool but not chilled.

Stockists: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Ardkeeen, Waterford; Swan’s, Naas; Mac’s, Limerick; Fahy’s, Ballina; Market 57, Westport; Next Door, Salthill; Next Door Kilkee; Red Island, Skerries The Vintry, Rathgar; Sweeneys, Glasnevin; Redmonds, Ranelagh; Next Door, Thomastown; Gibney’s, Malahide; Next Door, Enniscorthy.

Doña Paula Los Cardos Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Mendoza
14% €9.99 A fragrant svelte velvety Cabernet with a sweet new oak and ripe cassis fruit, and good value at €10. Try it with roast lamb.

Stockists: Tesco; Next Door; Nolan’s Clontarf; Eurospar, Dalkey; The Carpenter, Carpenterstown; Fagan’s, Phibsborough.

Altos las Hormigas Malbec 2009, Mendoza
14% €14.99 A fresher style of Malbec with a generous amount of fresh juicy dark fruits, good acidity and a lingering finish. Going slightly towards Europe in style, this would go nicely with medium-bodied red meats.

Stockists: 64 Wine, Glasthule; Red Island Wine, Skerries; Fallon & Byrne, Exchequer St.; Wine Cellar, Sandyford Business Park; J M Vintners; Next Door Enfield; Drink Store, Manor St; Donnybrook Fair; Le Caveau, Kilkenny; Simply Wines and Martins, Fairview.

Bodega Lurton Malbec Reserva 2008, Mendoza
14.5% €18.00 A meatier style of Malbec, but beautifully done; masses of rich swarthy dark fruits overlaid with some spice, and excellent length. A wine of immense power and depth that calls out for a steak.

Stockists: Redmonds, Ranelagh; Thomas, Foxrock.




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