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Champagne Bubble: the rise of the small producer

Champagne bubble: the rise of the small producer
What started with a few ambitious growers is now the next big thing in wine trends

From the Irish Times, Sat, Sep 5, 2015, 05:00

Champagne remains the most glamorous drink of all. It may have been taboo to order a bottle in a restaurant during the downturn, but sales, apparently, are on the increase once again. Prosecco has its place, but so too does good Champagne. We know all of the big brands – Bollinger, Veuve Cliquot, Roederer and Moët & Chandon – as well as their luxury cuvées – Cristal, Krug and Dom Perignon. For a long time these big names had it all their own way. Many still cling to the idea that they are superior, and sometimes they are, but they don’t always make the best wines.

The big houses have a wealth of experience (and a wealth of wealth) and are experts in the process of blending. As suggested a couple of weeks back, Champagne is probably the greatest blended wine of all. A typical nonvintage Champagne will be a mix of vintages, grape varieties, subregions, and various wine-making methods. A master blender is more like a parfumier, with several hundred options open to him.

At a recent tasting, chef de cave Michel Parisot of Champagne Devaux pointed out a change of 2-3 per cent in a blend will have a dramatic effect on the outcome. With nonvintage Champagne (or multivintage, as the Champenois now prefer to call it) the idea is to offer the consumer exactly the same wine every time.

The supermarkets make a decent job of their own-label Champagnes, although I would avoid any unknown brand sold at “half-price”. The big trend in the past few years has been towards what are known as grower Champagnes. In the past, the big houses bought grapes from vignerons all over the Champagne region and made the wine themselves (or bought wine and labelled it as their own). The emphasis was on the complicated winemaking and blending process and, of course, the expensive marketing.

Then and now, if you were lucky enough to own a patch of vines in the region, or better still a vineyard with Premier Cru or Grand Cru status, you could make a lot of money simply selling on your grapes every autumn. None of that messy, time-consuming winemaking to worry about, and no expensive machinery to buy. Then a few more ambitious growers started making their own Champagne. Instead of regional blends, their wines are usually from a single commune, or even a single plot of vines.

Does that make them better? It can certainly make them more interesting, although it depends on how good the vineyard is and how good the winemaker is. Either way, these wines are now hip and in huge demand in Paris, New York and London.

As these are small producers, they tend to be of interest to independent wine merchants who can import boutique Champagnes without pressure to achieve huge sales. Terroirs in Donnybrook imports the excellent biodynamic Champagnes of Larmandier Bernier. Wines Direct has the lovely, reasonably priced Charpentier range. This year, I have also tasted the excellent and reasonably priced Bénard-Pitois (€34.95 Whelehans Wines); the gluggable fruity AR Lenoble (€45 Greenacres, Wexford) and Bérèche & Fils (restaurants only but brilliant Champagne). You will find others, but beware of large co-operatives masquerading as small producers.

We tend to drink Champagne before a meal or (disastrously) with dessert or wedding cake. Yet it is one of the most accommodating food wines, great with shellfish (especially oysters and lobster), of course, but also all sorts of fish, rich canapés, Chinese and Thai food, sushi and sashimi. My favourite food with Champagne is gougères, those delicious warm cheesy choux pastries served in Champagne and Burgundy, although I have several friends who swear by fish and chips with their Champagne! It works, so long as you don’t add vinegar into the mix.

DSCF5883Champagne Gaston Chiquet Sélection Brut N.V.

A fine grower Champagne, with expressive ripe raspberry and redcurrant fruits and citrus with a fine dry finish.

Stockists: Green Man Wines, Terenure; Fallon & Byrne, Exchequer Street.

Image 4Vilmart Grand Cellier Brut Premier Cru N.V.

One of the finest grower Champagnes; a beautifully textured elegant Champagne with subtle brioche and rounded fruits, with a refined acidity throughout.

Stockists: Quintessential Wines, Drogheda, Hole in Wall, D7.

DSCF5658Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin Vintage Rosé 2004

Superb mature refined raspberry fruits, balancing the fine acidity, with a long elegant finish. From one of the large Champagne houses.

Celtic Whiskey Store, Redmond’s, O’Briens and Jus de Vine.

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Last of the summer wine
Before the nights close in, try some light, fresh and fruity reds
The Irish Times, Sat, Aug 29, 2015, 01:00

It is not quite yet time to stow away the garden furniture for another year, but summer is drawing inexorably to a close. Whether you are heading down to Electric Picnic (see you there at the chocolate and wine matching session in the Theatre of Food?) or (hopefully) just taking in the last few rays, this might be the final opportunity to enjoy summer wines before the dark nights close in. Or is it? If truth be told, I enjoy fresh and fruity wines the whole year round. I love red wine with tuna and salmon, and also with cold meats, charcuterie, chicken and pork. The best red wines for this kind of food are lower in alcohol and lighter in style.

Beaujolais is the first wine that comes to mind, but a glass of cool Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley, chilled if the weather is really hot, is thirst-quenching and satisfying. A few months ago, a wine importer called me up in a state of excitement, boasting that he had sourced a Loire Cabernet with 14.5 per cent alcohol and really ripe fruit. I wondered why he had bothered; the whole raison d’être of these wines are those distinctive just-ripe crunchy redcurrant fruits and that tangy fresh acidity.

A decade ago, many were a little too herbaceous with stalky green flavours, and lacked any fruit on the centre-palate. But the overall quality has improved greatly, while prices have remained amazingly cheap. The very best wines can have austere drying tannins and will evolve wonderfully for a decade or more. But most are primed for drinking the summer following harvest. Fresh and fruity, they would be my ideal bistro wines, thirst-quenching and moreish. Either way, they will be naturally low in alcohol.

Cabernet Franc does not have the sweet succulence of a Pinot Noir; it is more austere and reserved, with higher acidity. Chinon is the best-known region for Cabernet Franc, but Bourgeuil, Saint Nicolas de Bourgeuil, Saumur and Saumur-Champigny, as well as the catch-all region of Touraine all produce very good versions. Saumur-Champigny tends to be the lightest and freshest, Chinon the smoothest and silkiest, while Bourgeuil tends to be earthier and more structured.

Moving across Europe, an alternative source for light red wines is Blaufrankisch. Light in alcohol and tannin, with crunchy blue fruits, they make for brilliant summery drinking. Austria is the best-known producer, but Blaufrankisch is grown all across eastern and central Europe under various names, usually with the word ‘french’ incorporated; Franconia in Italy, Frankovka in Slovakia, Modra Frankinja in Slovenia and Limberger in Germany.

One enterprising Irish couple, Sinéad and Liam Cabot play tag-team winemaking, flitting between Slovenia and Westport. Their 2013 Roka is delicious, and their Reserve (€ 20.99) even more so. I have also tasted some very good Austrian Blaufrankisch from Claus Preisinger (€ 16.50, 64wine) and J Heinrich (€ 18.99, Wines on the Green). I also tried two very good light fruity wines made from Zweigelt, a step-child of Blaurfankisch, from Waltner (€ 16, On the Grapevine) and Preisinger again.

Lidl’s annual French wine sale starts on Monday September 7th. The emphasis is on Bordeaux. My picks would include the following: the light, balanced Ch Vieux Ligat 2010 (€ 9.99), the impressive Ch Maugresin de Clotte 2010 (€ 11.99), and the delightfully spicy Ch Grand Abord 2010 (€ 12.99). Moving up in price, I enjoyed the Ch La Cardonne 2010 (€ 19.99) a classic firm Médoc, the lush spicy Fugue de Nenin 2006 (€ 30) the mature, soft leafy Ch Phélan Ségur 2007 (€ 24.99), and the sweet ripe Virginie de Valandraud 2012 (€ 30). At the top end, the delicious elegant Reserve de la Comtesse 2010 (€ 35) and the nicely mature Ch Poujeaux 2005 (€ 40) were all very tempting as was the luscious marmalade-scented Sauternes, Ch Muras at € 14.99 per bottle.

DSCF5696Chinon Les Graviers, Domaine des Clos Godeaux 2014

A subtle herbiness that goes perfectly with the juicy light red cherry fruits and a tannin-free finish.

Stockists: Searsons, Monkstown.

DSCF5740Bernard Baudry Chinon Les Granges 2014

From one of the best producers in Chinon, a delicious light wine with crunchy redcurrant fruits and a piquant edge.

Stockists: On the Grapevine, Dalkey (; Red Island Wines, Skerries; Cabot and Co, Westport (; No.1 Pery Square, Limerick; McCambridges, Galway.

DSCF5790Roka Blaufränkisch 2013, Slovenia

Light and fragrant with free-flowing refreshing dark cherry fruits.

Stockists: On the Grapevine, Dalkey (; Cabot and Co, Westport (; No.1 Pery Square, Limerick; McCambridges, Galway.

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Take it home: a craft beer hit and a wine designed for women

Take it home: a craft beer hit and a wine designed for women

From the Irish Times Online Edition Friday 4th September, 2015

Image 5

Brehon Brewhouse Stony Grey India Pale Ale

6% €3.50 for 500ml bottle

Those with literary pretensions will know immediately where this beer comes from. Seamus McMahon set up the Brehon Brewhouse in 2014, out the back of a working dairy farm – an opportunity for milk stout perhaps? He is in the parish of Killanny, close to Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan, home of poet Patrick Kavanagh.

“We started off at the Carrickmacross Festival in June 2014 with a festival ale,” says McMahon. “We made three thousand bottles and sold out within three days. Monaghan people really took to us and our beer. We got five taps in town within a week. Now we are in fifty pubs locally, across Louth, Cavan, Monaghan and Armagh. Monaghan Enterprise Board have been a great help too.” He is “absolutely loving it” but has his work cut out, looking after 120 cows at the same time. The brewer is Phil Bizzell, originally from Dublin, where he worked in L Mulligan Grocer, before joining Brehon. The core brands are their blonde and red beers, but they also now make the IPA above and a strong stout. “It is part and parcel of what we do as craft brewers,” says Bizzell. “Coming from Dublin, I have been very pleasantly surprised by the local reception. For most people it is their first time to drink craft beer. But most of the pubs who tried it out are keeping it.”

The Stony Grey has forward citrus hoppy aromas, plenty of refreshing lemon peel on the palate, balanced nicely with some malty notes, and a lightly bitter finish. Might it even bring back “the long hours of pleasure,” that Kavanagh lost in the stony grey soil of Monaghan?

DSCF6104Ch de Nety 2014 Beaujolais Villages

12.5% €8.99 from Aldi

Do women and men like different wines?

Beyond the clichés about Pinot Grigio, Prosecco and Girl’s Nights, do women prefer lighter, less alcoholic wines? I am generally cynical about award stickers on bottles of wine but I was intrigued by the gold medal on this one. It was given by the Concours Mondiale des Féminalise 2015. A little search on the internet revealed that the tasting panel in this competition is made up of all female wine professionals. I am not sure about the other award-winning wines, but the woman in my house certainly enjoyed this. Then again so did I. Do I have girly tastes? Looking at the website it does say that a medal “guarantees you a wine appreciated by women,” but then also adds “it is a wine that has all the requirements that appeal to men.” Phew!

Ch de Nety is very light, low in alcohol with delicate cherry fruits. It is refreshing; the French would call it gouleyant or lively. They would probably also call it a vin de soif or thirst-quenching wine. In other words, a pleasant wine to be enjoyed without too much fuss or any great palaver. Maybe that is what women like. It is also very cheap, so we can all enjoy it without damaging the credit card.

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Take it Home Mescal Red Tripel & Ch. Lorgeril

Take it Home from the Irish Times, Friday 28th August, 2015

DSCF6049Mescan Red Tripel, Westport

MescanI began hearing great things about the Mescan beers from friends in Westport, but Westport was the only place you could buy them. Eventually I made a trip down there and succeeded in trying out the Red Tripel. It was worth the wait. This is a delicious full-bodied beer with masses of rich malty caramel and peach fruits. At 8 per cent, it is definitely not a session beer, but I sipped my way slowly though a bottle while reading the Sunday papers.

Cillián Ó Móraín and Bart Adams weren’t deliberately trying to create publicity through an artificial shortage; they both worked as vets (Adams has now given up and works full-time at brewing), and simply didn’t have the time or energy to make more beer. “After twenty years as vets, we were both looking for a new challenge or interest,” says Ó Móraín. The Red Tripel is matured for ten months before release, so managing demand is a nightmare. “We have to sell it sparingly because it will be a while before the next batch is ready,” he adds.

Phil Cullen of Mountain Man BrewingTake it home: a Hairy Goat IPA and a supple juicy red
Michaela Dillon and Richard SiberryTake it home: an Irish farmhouse ale and a Portuguese wine
Nowadays most distilleries pay big money for used oak barrels that have been used to store wines and bourbon whiskyIrish whiskey: roll out the barrel

Ó Móraín is from Dublin, Adams from Belgium. They both learned about Belgian beer from many visits to that country over the years, and decided to brew Belgian style beers in the shadow of Croagh Patrick – hence the mountain logo. The reek means a lot to both men. The water used in brewing is drawn from under the mountain. The year before they started, they made a weekly ascent together to plan the brewery. According to Ó Móraín, Mescan was a disciple of St Patrick and his personal brewer (we could all do with one of those).

Classic Tripels are golden with lots of malt and are 8-10 per cent in strength. Red Tripel is made with roasted malts, hence the darker colour. O Móraín thinks they were the first to make this style, but several others have now appeared in Belgium. Mescan now appears to be available nearly nationwide, at least in some specialist beer off-licences. I also managed to snaffle a bottle of their latest creation, Westport Extra, made, as the label says, with extra hops, extra malt, extra alcohol (9.3 per cent, and extra conditioning. But you may have to travel to Westport to find a bottle. “We are,” says Ó Móraín, “small and self-contained; we recycle everything, including the water and the spent grain, which is fed to the animals and our beers get a long maturation. We are in the process of expanding but we will never be massive.”

So, not easy to find, but worth the effort.

DSCF6062Ch. Lorgeril 2011, Cabardès
Available from SuperValu at €10

The multiples swing into autumn mode once September comes, usually with a French wine sale. Lidl start theirs on September 7th; SuperValu next week on Thursday 3rd with over 100 wines on offer. I enjoyed two Bordeaux, the light, easy Ch Moulin Lafitte (€14) and the richer softly fruity Ch La Baronnerie (€12). But my wine this week comes from Cabardès in the Languedoc. I remember standing high up in the hills, in the stunning vineyards of Ch Lorgeril a few years back. From the south comes the warm Mediterranean sun, and from the north-east, the cooling Atlantic winds. This unique climate makes for wines with a certain elegance and freshness, despite being less than ten kilometres from the heat of Carcassonne. Nicolas and Miren de Lorgeril are the 10th generation of the family to have overseen the estate. Local noble Bernard de Pennautier built the impressive château back in 1620, during the reign of Louis XIII. It is available for hire for seminars, weddings and other events, and just a handy five kilometres from Carcassonne airport.The wine is soft and earthy, with some nice ripe cassis fruits. At €10, it is something of a bargain.

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Pop goes Prosecco: sparkling alternatives to the Italian favourite

Pop goes Prosecco: sparkling alternatives to the Italian favourite

From the Irish Times, Saturday 21st August, 2015

Are we getting tired of Prosecco? The answer, according to one retailer in the leafy suburbs of Donnybrook, was a quite definite no. “Cannot keep it on the shelves here in D4, dear boy,” he said. “And the same goes for the rest of south Dublin.”

We like Prosecco. It is fresh, fruity, sweetish (although we prefer not to be reminded of this), and best of all, sparkling. We like fizz and we like a wine that doesn’t try to be too complicated. Prosecco doesn’t attempt to ape Champagne, and doesn’t cost the earth. Sales have rocketed here and elsewhere. Over the past few months newspapers have been full of stories of a poor harvest and a shortage of wine. I very much doubt we will suffer from a shortage of Prosecco, but if we do, there are plenty of very affordable alternatives.

Sparkling wine can be divided into three categories. Wines made by the traditional method go through their second fermentation in a bottle. These include Champagne, Cava, the various crémants and many New World sparkling wines. Others go through a similar process, but in a large tank. This is known as the Charmat or tank method. In the third, unofficially known as the méthode pompe bicyclette, the wine is simply carbonated, as with a soft drink. The traditional method is said to produce superior, more complex wines with a finer stream of bubbles (although this may partly be due to the quality of wine used). It also costs a lot more. Prosecco is made by the Charmat method.

In recent years, a new category of ‘non-sparkling’ sparkling wine has emerged. Irish importers realised that slightly less fizzy Prosecco, labelled Frizzante, which comes with driven cork or screw cap, is classified by Customs and Excise as still wine and therefore attracts a lower level of duty. If you buy a bottle labelled Spumante, it will have more bubbles and one of those mushroom-shaped corks. You will then be paying double the rate of tax.

Virtually every country around the world makes fizz of some sort. So far this year, I have tasted some very presentable sparkling wines from Romania and Hungary and some seriously good stuff from Austria, Germany, New Zealand and the UK. Other parts of France, Australia, South Africa and Italy can also claim to make excellent sparkling wine. Unfortunately you will usually pay at least €20 and more often multiples of that for the very best. If any wine ever puts a dent in Prosecco sales it is most likely to be Cava. This Spanish wine is made by the more expensive traditional method and is therefore liable for the higher duty rate, but as it is produced in very large quantities, you can often find it at prices not dissimilar to Prosecco. Not all Cava is cheap; there are plenty of very good, but more expensive bottles. But most of the multiples offer one at €10-€15.

I asked importers for their alternatives to Prosecco. My tasting divided neatly (with two exceptions) into two categories: Prosecco wannabees and Champagne lookalikes. I tried a few very good drier Cavas, including the Tesco Finest Cava, a steal at €10.69, the Aldi Cava Convento (€10.49) and the Segura Viudas Lavit Brut Nature (€22, Next Door).There were also plenty of more expensive sparkling wines from the New World, Burgundy and the Loire Valley.

Two sparkling wines fell into a third category of weird but wonderful; the funky, cloudy and delicious Gaillac Brut Nature 2013 (€29.50) from Terroirs in Donnybrook, and even funkier, in a good way, was the sweet red Reggiano Lambrusco I Quercioli (€19.50) from Sheridans Cheesemongers.This week I have chosen two wines that are similar in style and price to Prosecco and one that is competition for many Champagnes.

DSCF5665La Rosca Cava Brut NV

Medium-dry peach and apple fruits with good lively citrus to keep it in check. A prefect Prosecco replacement.

Stockists: O’Briens

DSCF5702Jean Claude Mas Piquepoul de Pinet Frisant 2013

Lightly fruity and refreshing; this is a very attractive alternative to Prosecco.

Stockists: Deveney’s Dundrum; Clontarf Wines, Corkscrew, Jus de Vine, Martin’s, Wine Centre Kilkenny, Morton’s Galway, 64 Wine.

DSCF5729Graham Beck Brut NV, South Africa

A seriously good glass of sparkling wine with creamy raspberry fruits and a long dry finish. A great alternative to Champagne.

Stockists: Ardkeen; Mitchell & Son; Deveney’s; The Corkscrew; Molloy’s; Next Door.

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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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