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Gin is It – Irish Small Batch Gin Producers

Published in the Irish Times Saturday 16th January, 2916

Whiskey is not the only home-produced spirit enjoying a revival. Gin, once seen as the preserve of the middle-aged yachting classes, is now the fashionable drink around town. Served in teacups or in cocktails, as a classic G&T, or simply by itself with ice, gin overtook vodka in the style stakes several years ago and looks set to become even more popular in 2016.

At one stage we were content to choose from a few large well-known brands, but the new gin drinker is much more demanding. Following on from a group of entrepreneurial artisan producers in the UK, Spain and the US, new small-batch craft distillers are springing up all over this country.

The process of making gin is quicker than whiskey; no long-ageing in barrels or intricate blending of different casks is needed. Gin is all about the botanicals. It must contain juniper; after that it is up to the master blender to come up with a concoction of herbs, spices and fruits that put a unique stamp on his or her gin. One distillery offers seasonal gins reflecting the changing weather. Some use herbs, flowers and other ingredients foraged locally.

You can make your own “bathtub” gin simply by soaking juniper berries, followed by whatever botanicals you fancy, in a neutral spirit such as vodka, although the result is never as good as a high quality gin. Still, you can now try your hand at making gin in Lillie’s Laboratory in Lillie’s Bordello in Dublin.

Last year, Desmond Payne of London gin producer Beefeater toured the country with his array of gins. I missed the tasting but have been working my way through the leftovers, so to speak. The delicious Beefeater 24 includes Chinese green tea and Japanese sencha tea in its makeup. Otherwise, Tanqueray No 10 is my favourite foreign gin at the moment, but there are plenty of good artisan producers in the UK.

Craft gin production has taken off here in the past 18 months. I looked at the Shortcross, Dingle and Blackwater No 5 gins in 2015; all three are very good. This time, three more Irish small-batch producers. Look out also for the award-winning Blackwater Thin Gin, based on Irish botanicals.

Glendalough Distillery make four seasonal gins each year, from wild botanicals, berries and fruit selected by local forager Geraldine Kavanagh. “We have turned consistency on it’s head,” says Gary McLoughlin of Glendalough. “You are literally tasting what is in season.” Less than 2,000 bottles of each batch is made.

“They got him on milk and alcohol,” as Dr. Feelgood used to sing. Bertha’s Revenge is a gin distilled from cow’s whey. Bertha was the oldest cow in the world when she died in 1993, at the age of 48. The gin is the brainchild of Antony Jackson and Justin Green of Ballyvolane House in Castlelyons, Co Cork. As well as several ciders, Highbank Orchards, run by Julie and Rod Calder-Potts, make a range of excellent organic apple-based products including two gins. I feature the Crystal below; the other is Pink Flamingo.

Most gin is consumed in cocktails, where the combination of botanicals can really add complexity to the mix. Classic gin cocktails, such as negroni, martini or simply the gin and tonic are in vogue, but the nation’s mixologists have plenty of innovative options to offer as well. The Spanish prefer to drink their G&Ts very late at night, often in a goldfish bowl glass. The Dutch drink jenever, the forerunner of gin, neat, in shots, from the freezer. Whatever way you drink them, the new gins offer a range of fascinating flavours. If you fancy a short wine break to lift the winter gloom, Knockranny House will hold one of their excellent wine producer’s weekends from January 29th-30th. Closer to home, two Antipodean wine fairs will take place, New Zealand on the January 21st, followed by Australia on the 27th.


150702-BHSCLtd-0al>Bertha’s Revenge Small Batch Irish Milk Gin, 42%, €49.99

A lovely lifted aromatic nose, and a smooth warming lightly spicy palate. Complex and delectable.

Stockists: Full list of stockists at

DSCF6344Glendalough Wild Winter Botanical Gin, 41%, €45-€47

Pine trees, damsons and spice. Very distinctive. Christmas in a glass!

Stockists: Specialist off-licences including Celtic Whiskey, Dublin Airport and O’Briens


Highbank Organic Irish Apple Crystal Gin, €60

A delicious fragrant gin with subtle apple, juniper and herbs finishing dry and long. Very fine.

Stockists: Greenacres, Wexford; Celtic Whiskey Shop;

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Bog Hopper Hairy Bullocks American Pale Ale


First published in the Irish Times, Wednesday 6th January, 2016

I was seated at the bar in McGrory’s of Culdaff, pondering what to drink. James the barman, suggested I try a brand new craft beer, ‘the only one produced on Inishowen’. Until now, the excellent Kinnegar, brewed on the next peninsula, was the nearest craft brewer. The Hairy Bullocks was very good, full of citrus hops with a lovely bite, and plenty of character.

Bog Hopper was set up very recently by David Mullan and his wife Áine, and Hairy Bullocks is their first release. ‘So far the reaction has been good’, says David. ‘We didn’t really know what to expect. We only got our licence in early December, so it is very early days. Some pubs have taken to it with gusto, others just took in a few bottles to try. A few are running out of it every few days, and to be honest, I’ve been firefighting to keep everyone supplied. We launched at a busy time of year for everyone, so we’ll go back to talk everyone in January’. At the moment, it is available in SuperValu and Costcutters in Carndonagh, and SuperValu and Gill’s in Buncrana.‘I would love to have a beer that you have to come to Inishowen to buy, but I am not sure if that is commercially viable’.

Mullan, a software engineer, worked on the administrative side of things at Pyramid breweries in California. He caught the bug, and got to know the guys who did the brewing. ‘American Pale Ale is my favourite style of beer from living on the west coast of America for a few years, so we started with that’ he says. ‘I wanted to make a beer that wasn’t too extreme but still interesting.’ Next up is Dirty Chick, ‘an over-hopped American style pilsner,’ according to Mullan. I returned to McGrory’s the following night and asked for another bottle of Hairy Bullocks. Sadly it had run out. It seems the locals know a good thing when they come across it.

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Plan your Wine Holiday for this year.

First published in the Irish Times Saturday 9th January, 2016

If you are one of those lucky people who has just returned, or is about to embark, on a trip to the southern hemisphere, I am very jealous. One advantage of the recent diaspora is that many Irish people now have friends or children living in Australia, New Zealand or South Africa. At this time of year, they are enjoying very different weather to our own. In wine country, the harvest won’t start for a month or two, but the sun will be out, and wineries will be welcoming visitors through their cellar doors.

Wine regions tend to be situated in sunny places. Many are picturesque, and some breathtakingly beautiful. They make great places for leisurely tours by car, bike, foot or even boat. Wine tourism has boomed over the past decade. The danger now is one of overexposure; some regions close to large cities, such as the Hunter Valley in Australia or the Napa Valley in California, are overrun by wine tourists at certain times of the year, and have lost any small-town rural charm.

In the Napa Valley it is big business, with visitors being charged considerable sums for a tasting or tour of the winery. With shopping, restaurants and various other attractions, it can feel more of a retail experience than a visit to somewhere that produces wine. If you are planning your spring or summer break, Europe is the most likely destination. It took some parts of Europe a while to realise the potential value of wine tourism. Most producers are now aware of its importance.As well as cellar-door sales, visitors can buy by mail-order or online and in shops back home. Italy has its successful agritourismo business. Spain and Portugal have been particularly active, but France is the nearest country and full of interesting regions to visit. Here, too, some regions, such as Alsace, can become very busy in high season, but if you plan ahead (dodging German bank holidays) you can avoid large crowds. Burgundy and Champagne were both recently awarded Unesco heritage site status, something they believe will further stimulate tourism.

Champagne, close to Paris and with plenty of vast cellars to visit, is growing in popularity. Burgundy is one of the prettiest wine regions, much of it still undiscovered. The picturesque town of Beaune is well-known, but cycling holidays in the region have become popular.The city of Bordeaux is wonderful to visit, and many of the well-known Châteaux have opened their doors to the public. Other lesser-known regions offer a routes des vin of some sort, with guides covering the network of local wine producers, accommodation and restaurants.

In Spain, Jerez is a relaxed town with great bars, and Rioja has some architecturally impressive wineries and hotels. Portugal has the stunning Douro Valley (another Unesco heritage site), and the Alentejo.Germany offers boat trips down the Rhine or the pretty Weinstrasse. Vienna is becoming a popular destination and is surrounded by heurigen, hillside wineries that offer increasingly sophisticated food. But for those seeking a little solitude, a trip to lesser known wine regions is a chance to discover new wines, visit new producers and enjoy unspoilt countryside. With small domaines it is advisable to call ahead or make an appointment by email. A local guidebook will usually advise on this. Naturally you will need a designated driver each day.

You can enjoy a different kind of wine tourism closer to home; many hotels in Ireland run wine weekends or midweek breaks. I enjoyed a memorable tasting and dinner at Kelly’s Resort Hotel recently.Last year, I had an excellent wine dinner with South African producer Bouchard Finlayson in Ashford Castle and visited their beautifully restored wine cellars. Of course, if you dine in situ, you won’t have to worry about who drives.


DSCF6280De Bertoli Windy Peak Pinot Noir 2013, Yarra Valley, 13%, €18.50
From a wine region favoured by Melburnians, a light pinot with juicy red cherry fruits.
Stockists: Corkscrew; Deveney’s, Rathmines; Gerry’s, Skerries; Martins; La Touche, Greystones.

Image 1Domaine Regnaudot Maranges 1er cru ‘Fussières’ 2013, 13%, €24.40
Elegant and concentrated with delicious dark cherry fruits.
Stockists: Le Caveau; Green Man Wines; Redmonds; MacGuinness; 64wine; Fallon & Byrne; On The Grapevine; Avoca.

Image 3Bouchard Finlayson Galpin Peak Pinot Noir 2012, Hemel en Aarde, 14%, €42.80
Rich, smooth, sweet and dark cherry fruits with woodsmoke.
Stockists: Kinnegar Wines,

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Last Minute Buys

First published in The Irish Times, 24th December, 2015

Haven’t got around to buying your Christmas wine yet? Below is a roundup of what is available, including some inexpensive wines that will keep the hordes happy. Also, a few more expensive wines for the man or woman who has everything.From O’Briens, the 1757 (€49.99), a Bordeaux blended by O’Briens wine buyer Lynne Coyle, is an excellent young, structured wine. Ideally, the recipient would decant it an hour before serving, or stash it away for a few years.At a more affordable level, I was very impressed by the latest vintage of Jaspi Negre, great value at €14.99. I have also written before about the excellent Begude Chardonnay Terroir 11300 (€17.99) – perfect for Christmas starters and turkey too.Moving down in price, an old favourite, the Rioja-ish Protocolo is back down at €9.99, where it competes with the delicious rounded Porta 6 at the same price. The sweetly fruity Côtes du Rhóne (€5.99 from Lidl) won’t set the world on fire, but it might keep a crowd content.I have written before about their very drinkable, soft, fruity Cepa Lebrel Rioja (€6.99) and the oakier Reserva from the same house at €8.99.

Lidl also has two keenly-priced Bordeaux. I enjoyed the leafy elegant Fiefs de Lagrange St Julien for €24.99 and the meaty, robust Prieur de Meyney St Estèphe (€19.99).Aldi have two nice sparkling wines, the Cremant de Jura for €10.79 and an impressive Champagne, the Monsigny Blanc de Blancs 2010 for €26.99. I was also taken with their Lot 07 Bush Vine Chenin Blanc (€13.99) and the Lot 10 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon (€13.99).

If you need fizz, Tesco have their Finest Prosecco, made by Bisol, one of the top producers, for €15. From South Africa, they have a pair of very decent wines made by the Adi Badenhorst for €12. Both the Chenin Blanc and the Shiraz would do nicely for Christmas.I preferred Tesco’s Finest Rioja Crianza (€12) to the two more expensive Rioja Reservas. If you are having a large crowd, Tesco’s Finest Old Vine Garnacha (€9) is pleasant, juicy and warming. For a statement gift, Tesco’s Finest Barolo at €20 represents very good value.

To start your meal off, Dunnes Stores offer the Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc for €11 or the attractive Paco & Lola Albariño for €13. If you prefer lighter red wines, the Puy de Dome Le Pinot Noir (€13) offers light, juicy fruits at a bargain price, or the Domaine de Sainte-Marthe Syrah is a little richer, but equally good value at €10.50.I would consider the Cune Reserva 2011 (see below), or the excellent, structured, and well-priced Muga reserva for €19.50. If possible, decant the latter an hour before serving with turkey.If you need to buy a statement present, the Château Haut-Batailley 2005 (Dunnes, €55) is an excellent claret.

Moving on to SuperValu, you could start the Christmas dinner with either the easy-drinking and rounded Alchimie Coteaux du Giennois (€10) or for something a little unusual a Pinot Gris from Oregon; the Kings Ridge Pinot Gris (€15) has lovely melon and peach fruits with hints of honey.For an inexpensive Bordeaux, I would go for the light, rounded Château Camp de la Hire (€12), or if you want to splurge, the very tasty Charles Mignon Grand Cru Champagne for €45.

Marks & Spencer offers the delicious maturing Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs 2010 sparkling (€18.99). For something a little offbeat the Croatian Golden Valley Grasevina (€14.79) is excellent, and for a red wine, the fresh juicy Dolcetto d’Asti (€10.99) with its dark fruits is delicious.I am sure there will be last-minute bargains from all the major stores, but sadly they keep this a secret from wine writers until the last minute.

Image 5Jaspi Negre 2012, Monsant, Spain, 14.5%, €14.99
Sumptuous dark fruits with a fine minerality. An affordable present for the wine geek in your life.
Stockist: O’Briens

DSCF6246CUNE Rioja Reserva 2011 13.5%, €16
Delicious elegant Rioja with ripe dark cherry fruits, a smidgen of oak and a lovely finish. Christmas dinner sorted.
Stockists: Dunnes Stores

DSCF6258Charles Mignon Cuvée Comte de Marne Grand Cru NV, 12%, €45
An excellent Champagne with lightly floral aromas and creamy apple and brioche, finishing dry.
Stockists: SuperValu

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The Sweetest Thing

First published in The Irish Times, 18th December, 2015

How often do you complain about the cost of wine? I have a regular moan, but there is one time where I feel the producer seldom receives a fair price. Naturally-made sweet wines are the most costly and complicated to make, yet hardly ever receive a price commensurate with the effort and risk involved. This is one occasion where I am usually happy to pay a premium.

To make a sweet wine, you can add brandy to a fermenting must, as they do with fortified wines. Or you can simply stop the fermentation by chilling the wine. The alternative is to leave the grapes on the vine. As the sugars increase over time, the water content, and therefore the eventual yield, decreases. That is in a good year.

If the producer is unlucky, he or she may lose part of all of the crop to bad weather. As the harvest typically takes place in November, December or even January, the risk is far greater than with conventional wines. At times, growers make several “tries” or passes through the vineyard, picking only selected bunches of over-ripe grapes. This too is hideously expensive.

There are several styles within this non-fortified camp; some grapes become infected with noble rot or botrytis cinerea, a mould that attacks the grapes, miraculously decreasing the water content while lending a unique flavour, variously described as honeyed, beeswax, orange peel, or marmalade to the wine. In some regions, conditions for botrytis do not occur and producers simply leave the grapes on the vine, allowing them to dry out and shrivel. This method, known as passerillage, can only be practised in regions where autumn conditions are favourable, notably in southwest France. Ice wine is made by allowing grapes to freeze on the vine. The water content remains frozen, while the sugars and other dissolved solids are not. Therefore the juice is highly concentrated and exceptionally high in sugar. Production is limited to a few select areas, Germany and Canada being the two major producers.

There really is no excuse not to drink these wonderful wines. I try to avoid what I call body-builder wines: dessert wines that are incredibly sweet and unctuous. They may have impressive levels of sugar but I find they cloy after a few sips. I prefer lighter, less sweet wines with good levels of refreshing acidity. The French excel at these. Sauternes may be the best-known, but I believe the Loire valley and Chenin Blanc may well make the finest, most balanced and long-lived sweet wines of all. I am also a great fan of Jurançon and the other sweet wines of southwest France, two of which feature below. Further east, Alsace, Germany, Austria and Hungary all make superb dessert wines.

What to do with these treasures? They are perfect with all sorts of fruit pastries, including raspberry, strawberry and apple tarts, tarte tatin, bakewell pudding and pear tarts, including those with frangipan. You could also try one out with lighter fruit salads or crème brulée.I do not have a sweet tooth so I sometimes have a glass (or two) as my liquid dessert, or I drink them with blue cheeses. Roquefort, with its saltiness, is perfect. Of the Irish cheeses I think Crozier is probably the best match, but I am experimenting with my new favourite cheese, the delicious Young Buck cheese from Co Down.If you haven’t tried it, please do. You can mix savoury and sweet with simple but delicious matches such as blue cheese and pears, or blue cheese with walnuts. Those who indulge in foie gras will know that sweet wine is one of the great partners. Lastly if you are the sole dessert wine drinker in the house, don’t worry. Once opened, a bottle or half-bottle will keep for a week or more in the fridge so you can enjoy a small glass night after night – the perfect Christmas treat.

Wilson on Wine 2016 by John Wilson is now available to buy from irishtimesbooks


DSCF6188Ch de la Motte 2012, Pacherenc du Vic Bilh (Organic) 12.5%,
€21.95 per 50cl bottle
Lovely tangy sweet fruits with orange peel and pears
Stockists: Cases Wine Warehouse, Galway,

DSCF6207Grains Nobles de la Truffière 2011, Monbazillac, 12.5%
€22.95 per 50cl bottle
Rich, textured and honeyed with butterscotch and peaches, balanced nicely by the subtle acidity
Stockists: Wicklow Wine Company, Wicklow

DSCF6202Domaine Ogereau 2014 Coteaux du Layon Saint Lambert,12.5%,
In an ideal world you would keep it for 10 years, but the young fresh pure honey and pear fruits are pretty irresistible right now
Stockists: Terroirs, Donnybrook

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Rhubarb Tart IPA, James Brown Brews

DSCF6221This seems more of a crumble than a tart, but lets not be too picky. James Brown is not the first to make a rhubarb beer, but I haven’t seen any other Irish craft brewer produce one before.
He used 300kgs of rhubarb and 28kgs of hops hoping to create something fairly big and memorable. The result is an interesting beer, light, belying its 7 per cent alcohol, tangy and lightly fruity with a cleansing tart sourness from the rhubarb. There is a nice biscuit character and an attractive hoppy touch. When I talked to James, he was very busy with his day job as assistant manager in one of the O’Briens off-licences. He did say his next batch will be tweaked a little to give a little more rhubarb kick. In the meantime, this is well worth trying out.

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The Wines to Pair with your Christmas Dinner

First published in the Irish Times, 12th December, 2015

Today, wines to match the recipes from our all-star team of chefs. Do not get stressed trying to find the perfect wine to match your Christmas dinner. Almost any wine tastes fine when sharing nicely-cooked food with good friends or family. If the host is hyperventilating, the rest of the table are unlikely to enjoy themselves. That said, it can be fun to try out different combinations, and a good food and wine match will make both taste so much better.

Scallops, brown butter and mandarin
This looks absolutely delicious. Here we need something with nice plump fruit and hopefully a touch of orange zest to match the mandarin. Grüner veltliner sounds brilliant as does a medium-bodied chardonnay, an albariño from Spain or the fiano below.

Suggestions:I am a big fan of Birgit Eichinger’s Hasel grüner veltliner (€19, independents). The Michele Biancardi fiano (€16.95 has the fruit to match the scallops; those on a budget could look at the Exquisite Collection Rías Baixas from Aldi (€9.49).

Clare Island salmon, crab, pickled vegetables and apple balsamic vinegar
You could stick with the above suggestions here but the sweet/sour pickle should go very nicely with a German riesling. Riesling has floral aromas, which sounds good with cherry blossom, and is also one of the best matches for crab, so that would seal it for me.

Suggestions:The award-winning Penfold’s Koonunga Hill Autumn riesling (€18.99 from O’Briens and independents) or the exotic Wagner-Stempel riesling (€19.95, independents).

Confit duck leg spring roll with pickled red cabbage, yoghurt and cumin
This has a whole lot going on in terms of flavour and spice. Duck goes really well with pinot noir so this is a bit of a no brainer. The spice and mild pickled cabbage (strong vinegar flavours do not go well with any wine) would suggest steering clear of Burgundy and heading to the New World; Chile, Oregon, California or New Zealand are all possibilities. I really enjoyed the Windy Peak pinot noir recently (€15.99 in independents) but it might be a little too light for the duck. If you want to start off with a white, the riesling or the grüner veltliner suggested above should work nicely.

Suggestions: In an ideal world a bottle of Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir (€37), but reality might dictate the Secano Pinot Noir (€14.29), both from M&S.

Turkey with buttered roots
Pinot noir would be an option here again. It goes well with turkey and with the sweet notes of the buttered vegetables. If you fancy something with a bit more power, grenache-based wines from the Rhône or Australia would do nicely too. I include one of my favourites below. However, if you really want to push the boat out, I would go to Italy and the excellent Villa di Capezzana, as it has none of those drying tannins that can clash with turkey.

Suggestions:See below for two main course options. If you are having a large crowd, the Cepa Lebrel rioja reserva 2010 (€8.99) or the lighter unoaked Cepa Lebrel Joven (€6.99), both from Lidl are worth considering.

Poached pear on pain d’épices with vanilla cream
I might try this myself for Christmas day. It looks truly lovely, simple to assemble on the day and light enough after a big meal. It will also go perfectly with some of my favourite dessert wines. I feature three next week, but in the meantime…
Suggestions: You could try out the elegant Baumard Coteaux du Layon (€13.50, independents) or the delicious Bernkasteler Doctor Riesling Auslese Dr H Thanisch (a bargain €20 from Jus de Vin, Portmarnock).


Pazo SenoransPazo de Señorans 2013, Rías Baixas, 12.5%, €22.99
Delightful succulent pear fruits cut through with refreshing citrus, finishing long and dry. Perfect with scallops and other seafood.
Stockists: O’Briens

DSCF6216Ch. Pesquie Les Terrasses 2012, Ventoux, 14.5%, €18.95
Delicious, warming, supple wine packed with strawberry fruits and light spice.
Stockists: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; 64wine, Glenageary; La Touche, Greystones; Donnybrook Fair; One Pery Square, Limerick.

Villa di CapezzanaVilla di Capezzana 2011, Carmignano, 15%, €34.99
Seductive soft ripe cherry fruits with a savoury, spicy touch. A lovely combination of elegance and richness.
Stockists: 64wine; Jus de Vine; Green Man Wines; Fallon & Byrne; Redmond’s; Searsons; Michael’s Wines.

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Take it Home December 16th: Dunbrody IPA and Clos des Alisiers Macon

Dunbrody Irish Pale Ale
Last week the Arthurstown brewery joined the ever-lengthening list of craft breweries in this country. Based in the Dunbrody House Estate, this is the brainchild of celebrity chef Kevin Dundon, owner of Dunbrody, local farmer and B&B owner Tosh Crosbie, local businessman Eamon Murphy and marketeer Niamh Ní Dhónaill. The story goes that Arthurstown had no pub, so ‘The Local’ bar was built in the grounds of Dunbrody. Kevin and his mates were enjoying a pint there one evening when someone came up with the idea of brewing their own beer.

The brewery has the capacity to produce eight thousand litres a week. The brewer is Kieran Bird, a local, or at least ‘five or six miles down the road’ he says. They produce the Kings Bay beers for SuperValu as well as Dunbrody Irish Pale Ale and Irish Red Ale. The latter are aimed at restaurants and specialist off-licences, the former as introductory beers for newbie craft beer converts. All of the base malts are grown locally, and Kieran is very happy with the soft water supplied by an ancient well on the grounds of Dunbrody. I’ll be brewing the stout in the New Year, and we are starting to think about other seasonal beers,’ says Kieran, ‘maybe a lager with strawberries to go with the other famous local produce, maybe a pumpkin ale or a lighter Kölsch for the spring. We will see.’ The Dunbrody Pale Ale is light, crisp and refreshing with a subtle citrus finish.

Closerie des Alisiers Mâcon-Milly-Lamartine 2014


Most of us will have supped a glass of Mâcon-Lugny at some stage in our drinking lives. It appears on almost every restaurant wine list and on the shelves of almost every supermarket. It comes in various labels and in various styles but the vast majority (some 13 million bottles) is made by the Caves de Lugny, the largest wine co-operative in France. Most of it is very quaffable if a little boring at times. There is much more to Mâcon though ; thirty odd other villages are allowed to add their name to that of Mâcon. So you will find Mâcon-Uchizy, Mâcon-Vergisson or Mâcon-Davayé. There is even a Mâcon-Chardonnay, from the town of Chardonnay. These are often made by small quality-minded producers who make amazingly good wines at very reasonable prices. Such as the Mâcon above. Fresh and pure, with lovely plump apple fruits, this is a steal at €14.95. Available from Whelehan’s Wines in Loughlinstown.

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Stonewell Tawny 15%

From the Irish Times, Take it Home, Wednesday 9th December 2015

DSCF6209It’s not a cider, it’s not a beer, and it certainly isn’t a port. Daniel Emerson of Stonewell Cider likes to play around a little – witness his appetising Esterre sparkling cider and low alcohol Tobairín. The Stonewell Tawny is something else: fermented with the help of some sugar to an impressive port-like 15 per cent, it is then dry hopped, as in a beer, at the end. The result is quite extraordinary, but in a good way. There is a burst of apple spiked with spice and ripples of butterscotch. Sort of like a liquid alcoholic apple pie.

It’s all part of Stonewell’s plan to get us to drink cider in a more refined manner. “A well-produced cider can stand shoulder to shoulder with good wine,” says Daniel Emerson of Stonewell. “The reaction has been extremely positive, I haven’t heard one negative comment so far. It won a prestigious Pomme d’Or award at the Frankfurt Apfelwein Welweit earlier this year.”

Beautifully packaged, I can see this ending up in the stockings of many beer, cider and general booze lovers. My bottle went very well with several cheeses and I suspect it will go nicely with many desserts over Christmas. It sells for around €20.

Image 1

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I had a lot of fun earlier this year making my own gin, tonic water and flavoured vodkas, so I decided to try out a few homemade festive drinks to present to deserving friends this Christmas.
Sloe gin and other fruit-soaked spirits can be particularly tasty: we currently have a batch of damsons in a mix of vodka and gin; both fruits and liquid are delicious. These take a month or more to make, so it’s too late to start now in time for Christmas. Don’t worry though: plenty of speedier options are available. Buy some nice bottles, design a few cool labels and you will have instant presents for your loved ones.

Last-minute drink options include Limoncello (which takes 2-3 weeks, so you should just have enough time) and Amaretto. Some very complicated recipes include dried apricot kernels and lengthy ageing, but others use almond essence. My version, with almond essence and sugar, was fine and instant, although I am not an Amaretto expert. The three recipes on these pages were easy to make and proved popular in my mini-tasting.

Alternatively, you could give someone the means to make their own drink. Deveney’s, Dundrum and are offering a range of Brooklyn Brew Shop beer-making kits priced at €50, containing everything you need to make your own craft beer.

Wilson on Wine 2016 by John Wilson is now available to buy from irishtimesbooks



500ml vodka
1 cinnamon stick
a few slices of fresh ginger
1 clove
2 pears, cored and cut into chunks

This sounded nice. I began tasting after a few days, but I wanted a vodka with plenty of pear flavour, so I removed the cinnamon and left it for 10 days. It still needed something so I added a slug of whiskey which really helped.

Recipes: Time to make, bake and give

Put all of the ingredients into a jar or bowl. Cover or seal and put in a cool place. Once you are happy with your flavours, strain through a double muslin cloth into a clean bottle. A very pleasant winter drink.


350ml Irish whiskey
250ml single cream
300g condensed milk (sweetened)
a few drops of vanilla extract
3 teaspoons chocolate sauce
1 teaspoon instant coffee

Bailey’s, the original Irish Cream Liqueur, is one of the best-selling liqueurs in the world. It has been copied by many, but I always assumed that mixing cream and whiskey was a complicated process best left to the professionals.

The internet is coming down with recipes. They all seem simple; just put whiskey, cream and a few flavourings into a blender and whizz for 20 seconds.

Most recipes include condensed milk and vanilla essence; some add chocolate syrup, instant coffee, almond essence, eggs and even melted chocolate.

You can experiment by starting with a base of whiskey and cream. Adding condensed milk adds sweetness (this is not a diet-friendly drink) and texture.

I left out the almond essence, but chocolate sauce and vanilla extract are essential. I find most cream liqueurs too sweet, so I used only about 300g of condensed milk, rather than the recommended 400g. The results were delicious.

Simply combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

Pour into bottles and keep in the fridge. Apparently it keeps for two months.


Bottle of vodka
300g dried fruits (mix of raisins, sultanas, currants)
70g caster sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
2 cloves
a few good grates of nutmeg
2 teaspoons mixed spice
zest of one orange, finely grated
zest of an unwaxed lemon, finely grated

I was intrigued by a number of spiced vodkas, and this Christmas pudding vodka in particular. What could be more festive?

Mix all of the above in a bowl, or put into a jar. Place in fridge or somewhere cool for three days, then start to taste. Some recipes call for two weeks, but I found three days plenty.

Strain through a double layer of muslin into clean bottles. It comes out a warm brown colour.


DSCF6194Ch. du Bascou 2010, Saint Mont, 14%, €18.95
Lovely firm muscular blackcurrant fruits, with hints of leather and chocolate. With a steak or duck breast.
Stockists: Cases Wine Warehouse, Galway.

DSCF6162Canon La Chapelle 2011, Canon-Fronsac,13%, €19.50
An impeccably mannered Bordeaux with elegant ripe plum fruits and refined tannins on the finish.
Stockists: Terroirs, Donnybrook

DSCF6197Pago de los Capellanes 2014, Ribera del Duero Joven,13.5%, €21.95
A delightful combination of ripe plum fruits with a touch of oak. Smooth, velvety and very sophisticated.
Stockists: Mitchell & Son, Sandycove, Chq and Avoca, Kilmacanogue.

Posted in: Irish Times

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