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White delights: there’s more to southern Rhône than reds

First Published in The Irish Times, Saturday, 31st August, 2019

There is a richness and generosity to the wines that I really enjoy when I want something a little different

 

Earlier this year I spent four days tasting my way through scores of wines from the Rhône Valley. Although I enjoyed the red wines, in many cases it was the whites that stood out as really special. There is a richness and generosity to the wines that I really enjoy when I want something a little different. These are wines that grow and improve with food.

In the past some wines were a little too generous; too high in alcohol and lacking acidity and freshness. This has all changed, partly a result of better viticulture and winemaking, and partly by choosing the right places to plant vines; some parts of the Rhône Valley are at a relatively high altitude and can produce wines with good acidity to match the succulence and texture.

While the vast majority, more than 90 per cent, of the wines produced in the southern Rhône are red, there is growing interest in both white wines and rosé. A mere 4 per cent are rosé, and the remaining 6 per cent white; this may not sound like much, but when you remember the region produces more than half a million cases of wine each year, it means there are plenty of wines to try.

The grape varieties are more varied here than in the northern Rhône. As well as Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne, you will find Grenache Blanc, Ugni Blanc, Picpoul, Bourbelenc, Clairette and Vermentino, known here as Rolle. These are typically blended together to create individual wines with real character.

I mentioned food earlier, and these are great wines to match with more robust chicken and fish dishes, as well as those with creamy sauces. Barbecued chicken, crab cakes, seared scallops, creamy curries and chowders all work well, as do a lot of cheeses. Some hard cheeses are far better with Rhône whites than red wines.

Some of the best white appellations, such as Vacqueyras, Ventoux, and Valréas are not very well-known for either red or white. The one area I didn’t cover was Châteauneuf-du-Pape, home to some great long-lived white wines, although I tried a Chapoutier Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Bernadine 2017 that was explosively good. If you fancy a real treat, Searsons in Monkstown still has a few bottles of the Vacqueyras Blanc from Sang de Cailloux – €46.95 but worth every cent.

The easiest way to try out the white wines of the southern Rhône is to buy a bottle of basic white Côtes du Rhône the next time you go to the supermarket or wine shop; they can offer great value for money. Most of the big names, such as Jaboulet, Chapoutier, Délas, Ferraton and Guigal offer a range, and most are well worth trying.

La Truffière 2017, Côtes du Rhône, La Ferme du Mont
13.5%, €18.95

Restrained opulence in an enticing fresh wine with lightly textured apricots and nectarines. Perfect with poached or grilled salmon.
From Grapevine, Dalkey, Co Dublin, onthegrapevine.ie

Sablet 2017, Côtes du Rhône Villages, Domaine Les Goubert
13.5%, €19.50

Medium-bodied with attractive pure plump peach fruits. Fish soups, grilled white fish, or a quiche and salad.
From Terroirs, Dublin 4, terroirs.ie

Zephyr 2017, Côtes du Rhône, Les Deux Cols (organic)
13.5%, €22.95

This is quite gorgeous and worth every cent. Honeysuckle aromas; medium-bodied, textured with rich pear fruits, a touch of toasted almonds and marzipan with a glorious finish. Roast Mediterranean vegetables, fish soups, salade Niçoise.
From Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin, ely64.com; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth, Co Kildare, elywinebar.ie; La Touche, Greystones, Co Wicklow, latouchewines4u.ie; Martin’s Off -Licence, Fairview, Dublin 3, martinsofflicence.ie; Morton’s, Dublin 6, mortons.ie; Searsons, Monkstown, Co Dublin, searsons.com

Mineral 2017, Vacqueyras Blanc, Domaine Montirius
13%, €35

Lightly and aromatic with very enticing elegant succulent yellow fruits underpinned by a crisp reviving acidity. With grilled or barbecued chicken.
From Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin, ely64.com; Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin, blackrockcellar.com; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie

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Home-grown talent: Portugal’s finest indigenous wines

First published in The Irish Times,Saturday 24th August, 2019

All of the wines listed below are made from blends, all 100 per cent Portuguese.

Portugal has always done wine differently, placing its trust in a group of indigenous red and white varieties rather than the well-known “international” grapes. For a while it seemed as if the rest of the world was content to ignore the wines, even though some were world class, but that has all changed in the past decade or so.

I wrote earlier this year about Alvarinho, the Portuguese name for Albariño, the variety responsible for Rías Baixas in northern Spain. Most Alvarinho is used to make vinho verde, or green wine, in the north of Portugal. The green refers not to the colour of the wine but to the verdant countryside; you can actually find red vinho verde. The quality of white vinho verde has shot up in recent years, but so too has white wine in every part of Portugal.

I have written about Prova Regia before too. Various versions are widely available from independents and from O’Briens for €14-€16; this is one of the best-value white wines of all. Prova Regia is made from the Arinto grape.

Originally from the coastal regions around Lisbon, Arinto has spread to other regions, particularly Alentejo, where it is prized for its ability to retain much-needed acidity in hot climates. Given a year or so to develop, it can also have richer peachy flavours.

Antaô Vaz is another high-quality indigenous variety that has some Chardonnay-like characteristics. Pick early and you get a crisp, refreshing dry wine. Leave it a while longer on the vine and you get a much richer, more textured wine, with plump ripe fruits.

The third high-quality grape is Encruzado, grown mainly in the Dâo region, where it produces excellent crisp, dry whites with structure and plenty of rich fruit.

Add in Fernão Pires, Loureiro, Bical, Roupeiro, Rabigato, Gouveio, and many more, and you have an array of exciting unusual varieties. The names do not trip off the tongue, and, to make matters even more complicated, each of these varieties will have its own unique local name in each region. All are pretty much exclusive to Portugal, and most are capable of producing good, sometimes great, wine. Once you taste a few wines, you begin to understand why Portugal never really needed to import Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay.

At the entry level, O’Briens pioneered inexpensive Portuguese blends, with the Porta 6 and Júlia Florista wines both available for about €10. SuperValu and Fresh now offer similar wines. But it is worth paying a few euro more to find wines with uniquely Portuguese character and style. All of the wines below are made from blends, all 100 per cent Portuguese.

Fonte do Ouro 2018, Dâo Branco, Portugal
13%, €16.95
Fresh and fruity; greengages and apples with lively lemon zest and a crisp, dry finish. Perfect with grilled hake and dill.
From: O’Briens, obrienswine.ie

Herdade de Grous Branco 2018, Alentejo
13%, €17.95
A wine blessed with succulent plump, peachy fruits balanced perfectly by a streak of citrus. The Reserva (€27) is even better. Drink solo, with nibbles or a Greek salad.
From: Morton’s, Dublin 6, mortons.ie; La Touche, Greystones, Co Wicklow, latouchewines4u.ie; the Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; Fresh, freshthegoodfoodmarket.ie; Redmonds, Dublin 6, redmonds.ie; Matson’s, Grange and Bandon, Co Cork, twitter.com/matsonswines; MacGuinness Wines, Dundalk, Co Louth, dundalkwines.com; Whelehan’s Wines, Dublin 18, whelehanswines.ie; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Listons, Dublin 2, listonsfoodstore.ie; D-Six Wines, Dublin 6; peggykellys.ie; Donnybrook Fair, Dublin, donnybrookfair.ie; Red Island Wine Co, Skerries, Co Dublin, facebook.com/Red-Island-Wine-Company

Clima 2016, Vale da Capucha IG Lisboa
13.5%, €19-€21
Delicious textured nectarines with a distinctive salty tang. Serve with richer fish dishes; some stewed squid or octopus, perhaps?
From: First Draft Coffee & Wine, Dublin 8, firstdraftcoffeandwine.com; Avoca, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4, and Monkstown and Rathcoole, Co Dublin, avoca.com; the Wine House, Trim, Co Meath; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3, sweeneysd3.ie

Redoma Branco 2018, Douro, Niepoort
11.5%, €26 
Light, crisp and mineral with light pear fruits, hints of toasted almonds and a long, dry finish. Drink this with oysters – or go Portuguese, with grilled sardines.
From: Morton’s, Dublin 6, mortons.ie; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin, blackrockcellar.com; Redmonds, Dublin 6, rRedmonds.ie; siyps.com; Wicklow Wine Co, wicklowwineco.ie; Nectar Wines, Dublin 18, nectarwines.com

 

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My sherry amour: Why I can’t resist a glass or two of fino

First published in the Irish Times, Saturday 17th August, 2019

 

There are exceptions to every rule. I have been recommending lower-alcohol wines over the summer. But I have a confession to make: most evenings I have been quietly drinking a glass or two of wine that registers at 15 per cent. The wine that breaks the rules is sherry, or fino and manzanilla to be more precise. This is one of the great summer wines, bringing back fond memories of lunches in Jerez, sitting in the shade, sipping a glass of chilled sherry.

Treat fino as you would any other white wine, and don’t leave it lying around for weeks; once opened, drink it within a few days. Two of today’s bottles come in handy half-bottles. Serve chilled in proper large wine glasses alongside a variety of foods.

I sometimes wonder if retailers and restaurants have ever tried placing their fino and manzanilla sherries alongside all their other white Spanish wines instead of corralling them alongside the other fortified drinks – they are wines, after all.

Fino is not to everyone’s taste, but if you like umami-rich foods such as green olives, Roquefort, anchovies, Marmite and soy sauce, then you will probably like fino too.

Manzanilla is a fino sherry produced and aged in and around the seaside town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. All other fino is aged in nearby Jerez. Because of the differing climates, manzanilla is generally livelier and fresher, and is said to have a characteristic salty tang.

There has never been a better time to try sherry. Changes are afoot in the region; some producers are now offering “en rama” unfiltered sherries, others single-vineyard sherries, and some are producing limited edition batches of unfortified wines. These fascinating and delicious wines deserve an article all to themselves, but look out for Bodegas Cota 45 Ube de Ubérrima as a brilliant example of an unfortified sherry.

You could ease yourself gently into fino sherry by dropping into a wine bar, most of which serve it by the glass, or try a half-bottle of the Rey Fernando de Castilla fino – this also would go well in a rebujito, made by mixing fino with lots of ice and fizzy lemonade, or soda water. Otherwise, look out for the names Valdespino and Barbadillo in independents and the excellent Lustau sherries, to be found in Mitchell & Son and elsewhere.

Fino sherries are traditionally matched with all manner of tapas, including deep-fried fish and croquetas, tortilla, Ibérico ham and other cold meats, olives, toasted nuts, and cheese. They are also great with sushi, sashimi (and most Japanese food), gazpacho, fried hake, smoked salmon, garlic prawns, asparagus and so much more. In fact, fino goes amazingly well with just about any food, particularly anything deep-fried or salty.

Marks & Spencer manzanilla sherry
15%, €12
Light, fruity, tangy and fresh; the perfect summer sherry – and a steal for €12.
From Marks & Spencer, marksandspencer.com

Gabriela Manzanilla NV, Pago Balbaina, Sanchez Ayala
15%, €12.30 for a half-bottle
This is quite lovely; a fresh intense nose, lightly floral with bready notes; the palate has almonds, lovely subtle fruit, excellent length and real character, finishing dry.
From Worldwide Wines, Waterford, worldwidewines.ie; Le Caveau, Kilkenny, lecaveau.ie

Callejuela Manzanilla Fina
15%, €12 for a half-bottle, €18 for full bottle
Light and refreshing as a manzanilla should be, with lovely crisp biting acidity, and intense bready, toasted almond flavours. Brilliant sherry.
From Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin, ely64.com; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin, blackrockcellar.com; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; the Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Co Dublin jusdevine.ie; Redmonds, Dublin 6, redmonds.ie; Whelehan’s Wines, Dublin 18, whelehanswines.ie; Wicklow Wine Co, wicklowwineco.ie; Martin’s Off Licence, Dublin 3, martinsofflicence.ie

El Maestro Sierra Fino
15%, €25.99
Wow! This explodes with flavour; full of character, dry with classic almonds, savoury, and an earthy touch too.
From the Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Alex Findlater, Limerick, alexfindlaterandco.ie

 

 

 

 

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German Riesling, one of the great summer wines

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 10th August, 2019

Riesling nerds such as myself tend to get very excited about high-quality Riesling. It is one of the world’s great white wines, every bit as good and arguably more reliable than Chardonnay.

This year, I have been drinking my way through a ‘forgotten’ mixed collection of mature German dry Rieslings (as well as some amazing Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2005 from Australia). Virtually all of them have been great, some sublime.

However, I suspect the price tag of top German Riesling (€40-€60) will put most wine drinkers off. Also, for some, the developed flavours of aged Riesling is a step too far. Instead this week I will concentrate on younger, less expensive fruit-filled dry German Riesling, one of the great summer wines.

Officially, German wines are put into precise categories based on the ripeness (or sugar levels) of the grapes when picked. But here is the confusing bit – Kabinett, Spätlese and Auslese wines, made from riper grapes in ascending order, can be dry, medium-dry, or in the case of Auslese, sweet, depending on whether the sugar has been fermented fully or not. If the word ‘Kabinett’ is followed by the word ’trocken’, it is dry, or dryish, or ‘halbtrocken’ and it is off-dry.

Confused? Join the rest of the world, including much of the wine trade. Kabinett, Spätlese and Auslese wines can all be glorious wines. During the warm weather there are few things nicer than a chilled glass of fragrant Mosel Kabinett or Spätlese, usually around 8 per cent alcohol, filled with delicate ripe fruits.

A generation ago, these medium-dry and sweet German wines were very fashionable. Since then, many growers have changed course radically and now simply produce trocken or dry wines, ignoring the official designations.

Most of the time, I drink Riesling Trocken. It has the body and richness of any dry wine, a wonderful purity of fruit, backed up by a cleansing vibrant acidity. As outlined earlier this year, it is a great match for all kinds of shellfish, raw seafood such as oysters, ceviche and sashimi, as well as pickled, smoked or cured fish. You could also try it with pork dishes. Or you can drink it as an aperitif.

If you feel German Riesling might be a step too far, you could start off with a fruitier, richer Riesling such as the Austrian Brandl below or an Aussie Riesling – the Alkoomi (€15.15, Wines Direct), the Penfolds Koonunga Hills Autumn (€20.95, O’Briens) or the Aldi Exquisite Clare Valley Riesling (€9.99). Alternatively pop into your local independent, and ask for a Riesling Trocken; you might be pleasantly surprised.

Geil Riesling Trocken 2018, Rheinhessen
12%, €17.50-€18

Vibrant, light, luscious pineapples and pears; made for summer drinking either solo or with fish dishes – Asian prawn recipes sound perfect.

From Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3, clontarfwines.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Co Dublin, jusdevine.ie; Morton’s, Dublin 6, mortons.ie; 1601 Off-licence, Kinsale, Co Cork; Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin, ely64.com; Drinkstore, Dublin 7, drinkstore.ie; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin, blackrockcellar.com; Red Island Wine Co, Skerries, Co Dublin; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3, lilacwines.ie; Martin’s Off-Licence, Dublin 3, martinsofflicence.ie; Redmonds, Dublin 6, redmonds.ie; D-Six Wines, Dublin 6; peggykellys.ie; Higgins, Dublin 14, higginsofflicence.ie; McHughs, Dublin 5, mchughs.ie; Mortons of Galway, mortonsofgalway.ie; La Touche, Greystones, Co Wicklow; latouchewines4u.ie; Listons, Dublin 2,listonsfoodstore.ie; Nectar Wines, Dublin 18, nectarwines.com.

Maximin Riesling 2017, Maximin Grünhaus, Mosel
11%, €21.99

Ethereal wine with crisp green apples and white peach, with a lovely floral note. Drink it by itself, with oysters or maybe salmon tartare.

From Ely Wine Store, Maynooth, Co Kildare, elywinebar.ie; Red Island Wine Co, Skerries, Co Dublin; Red Nose Wines, Clonmel, Co Tipperary, rednosewine.com; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Co Dublin,jusdevine.ie; Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin, blackrockcellar.com;wineonline.ie

Brandl Zöbing Riesling Terrassen 2018, Kamptal, Austria
12.5%, €19.25

Very seductive clean concentrated stewed apples with a hint of spice. Try it with pork chops with caramelised apples.

From Wines Direct, Mullingar, Co Westmeath, and Arnotts, Dublin 1, winesdirect.ie

Win Win Riesling Trocken 2017, von Winning
12%, €21.95

Packed with succulent ripe white fruits – all peaches and nectarines – with a mouth-watering citrus acidity. Drink it with a herby crab salad.

From Avoca, Rathcoole, Co Dublin; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3, clontarfwines.ie; Grapevine, Dalkey, Co Dublin,onthegrapevine.ie; Morton’s, Dublin 6, mortons.ie; Redmonds, Dublin 6, redmonds.ie; Worldwide Wines,

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Floral, fruity and pink: Three Irish gins to try

Loch Measc Gin, Listoke 1777 cacao and raspberry gin and Grace O’Malley heather-infused gin

 

Three very nice bottles of gin arrived on my doorstep recently. Grace O’Malley recently launched several whiskies, including a range of three very good 18-year-old single malts finished in a variety of casks. The Mayo-based company is owned by Stephen Cope, lately managing director of Lir Chocolates and two German investors, Stefan Hansen and Hendrick Melle. They brought in French maturation expert Paul Caris to handle the ageing and finishing of their whiskies. The refreshing floral lightly fruity Heather Infused Grace O’Malley Gin (€44) has no less than 14 different botanicals, most from the west of Ireland.

Also from Co Mayo is Loch Measc Gin (€47), made from wild juniper berries and botanicals that grow on the shores of Lough Mask. Made in a true micro-distillery by Eoin Holmes, this also has some lovely floral notes alongside the true juniper forward style of a London Dry Gin. Holmes also produces a vodka, or Vodca (as Gaeilge).The first whiskey will be ready in 2021. The distillery is in a renovated building in Kilateeaun, near Tourmakeady, with views of Maamtrasna, the Dirk Mountains and of course, Lough Mask. Tours are available see Loughmaskdistillery.com for details.

Pink gin is hugely popular; the original drink consisted of gin with a few drops of angostura bitters, but now it can mean a whole range of flavourings from rosehips, rose petals, rhubarb, strawberries, raspberries to pink grapefruit. Some are very sweet and mawkish, others floral, dry and elegant. The 1777 Cacao & Raspberry Gin from Listoke Distillery and Gin School in  Co Louth (€35) is definitely in the latter school, perfumed and smooth with subtle notes of raspberry and juniper. If you fancy making your own gin, why not visit the Listoke Gin School – see listokedistillery.ie for details.

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Licence to chill: Why Cabernet Franc is best served cool

Cabernet Francs from Langlois-Château, Domaine Guion, Y Amirault and Château Fouquet

 

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 3rd August, 2019

It was a Loire Cabernet that started it all. Years ago in Paris, sitting in a wine bar, I was served a glass of a lightly chilled red for the first time. It was an inexpensive, lightly fruity, fairly acidic Cabernet Franc, and it went down a treat with a lunch of Poilâne bread and, if I remember correctly, a bowl of rillettes, some pâté en croute, a few slices of salami, and cornichons. There may have been cheese involved too. There usually is.

Cool for me means about 14 degrees. (Ely wine bar tell me they serve their “cool” wines at 13-14 degrees). As well as Cabernet Franc, young and fruity wines such as Beaujolais, Bardolino, Valpolicella, the Mencía-based red wines of northwest Spain and even unoaked Rioja all taste even better given this treatment.

Cabernet Franc has always been one of my favourite grapes. Generally, it is lighter and less muscular than its cousin Cabernet Sauvignon. Less expensive versions, such as the one I drank in Paris, should be fragrant, light and fruity; these are the wines to chill a little. The very best Cabernet Franc, given time, can morph into magnificent wines that are all soft red fruits, forest floor and pencil shavings. In between you will find all sorts of delicious, elegant wines with wonderful pure red and black fruits – the essence of summer. Most also have a refreshing acidity that makes them great with food – fatty foods in particular.

In the Loire Valley, production is centred within Touraine – Chinon, Bourgeuil, St Nicolas de Bourgeuil and Saumur-Champigny are the names to look out for, although you will also find some very good AOC Touraine and vin de pays too. Each appellation is said to have its own style, Chinon being considered the most elegant, St Nicolas de Bourgueil the most structured. But much depends on the local soils and individual grower.

Elsewhere in France, almost half of all Cabernet Franc is found in Bordeaux, and St Émilion in particular. Some of the greatest wines of all, including Châteaux Cheval-Blanc, Angelus and Ausone, are about 50 per cent Cabernet Franc. A number of producers in Argentina believe that Cabernet Franc has a great future in their country – try Kaiken or the Zorzal Eggo Franco – but made in a very different style.

Sadly, there seems to be a shortage of inexpensive Loire Cabernet Franc in our supermarkets. I suspect that acidity does not always appeal to the Irish palate. Talking to the supermarket buyers, several had tried it, but it hadn’t sold. Independent wine shops are a better place to look: Terroirs, in Donnybrook in Dublin, Le Caveau, in Kilkenny, and Quintessential, in Drogheda, in Co Louth, all have an excellent range.

 

Langlois-Château St Nicolas de Bourgueil 2017
12.5%, €17.95
Classic Loire Cabenet Franc, with delicious light, fresh, crunchy, tangy, ripe blackcurrant fruits, backed up with good acidity. Try it with rillettes.
From O’Briens, obrienswine.ie

Bourgueil 2017 Cuvée Prestige Domaine Guion (Organic)
12.5%, €25
Lovely red cherry aromas, flowing smooth, ripe red fruits, a mouthwatering acidity and a pretty good finish. Very nice wine; try it with a seared breast of duck.
From syips.com; Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin, ely64.com; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Martin’s Off Licence, Dublin 3, martinsofflicence.ie

Bourgueil 2017 La Coudraye, Y Amirault (Organic)
13%, €25
Abundant blackcurrants and other dark ripe fruits, with light tannins on the impressive finish. A lovely glass of wine. With pork chops or sheep’s cheese.
From Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, Dublin 2, Kells, Co Meath, and Galway, sheridanscheesemongers.com; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Red Nose Wine, Clonmel, Co Tipperary, rednosewine.com; Fallon & Byrne, Dublin 6, fallonandbyrne.com

Saumur-Champigny Le Clos 2015, Château Fouquet (Organic, biodynamic)
13%, €30
Very closed at first, then opens out nicely. Very concentrated rich red fruits, a good tannic structure and excellent length. Decant or keep a few years.
From Whelehan’s Wines, Dublin 18, whelehanswines.ie

 

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Irish craft cider

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 27th July, 2019

We hear a lot about local spirit and beer producers, but possibly the most Irish drink of all is cider (and we are talking about craft cider here) which in most cases is 100 per cent Irish, made from fruit grown in orchards around the country. All four ciders below were made from estate-grown apples, using wild yeasts, and without the addition of sulphites or preservatives. They are also both coeliac-friendly and vegan.

Cider-making has similarities with wine, with an array of varieties, including many specific to cider-making, and goes through a similar fermentation process. Alongside mead, it can claim to be one of the most ancient Irish drinks of all.

In this country, cider has always faced two problems: a reputation as a summer drink, or as a tipple of choice for underage drinkers. Neither is necessarily true, although there are few things nicer than a good cider on a sunny day. The problem is one of perception and price; consumers are familiar with cheap medium-dry cider and don’t see why they should pay more.

Tipping point

Is cider now at the same tipping point as craft beer and gin 10 years ago? At a tasting at an event organised by Cider Ireland, I tasted some wonderful refreshing ciders, although many were medium-dry rather than dry.

The Mór from Longueville House was fermented and aged for a year in casks that had previously been used to mature the (excellent) Longueville apple brandy. The estate has a 30-acre orchard, much of it planted 35 years ago, making them one of the very first craft producers, along with Highbank in Kilkenny.

Cousins Barry Walsh and Dave Watson, with his wife Kate, own and run the 30 hectare Killahora estate in east Cork. As well as making a wonderful apple ice wine, a delicious perry and various other fascinating experimental apple drinks, they have two Johnny Fall Down ciders. The Bittersweet below is made from 47 different varieties of apple from their orchard, including many rarities.

An orchard

The McNeece family bought a farm in the Boyne Valley in 1962. It included an orchard. They always made cider for home consumption, but in 2013, Olan McNeece decided to go professional and make a range of ciders, named after his great grandfather, who used to drive the Dublin-Belfast train that runs through the orchard.

Cockagee is one of a series of ciders made by Mark Jenkinson from his and a few neighbours’ orchards in Co Meath. Jenkinson has more than 100 varieties of apple, many rare, in his organic orchard. Cockagee is keeved or given a very long slow natural fermentation; it is bottled without filtration, pasteurisation, sweetening or carbonation.

Dan Kelly’s Original Cider
4.5%, €3.90
Lightly sparkling with clean refreshing crisp green apple fruits. A great sunny day cider.
From See dankellyscider.com for stockists, plus SuperValu in Meath and Louth.

Johnny Fall Down Bittersweet Cider
5.8%, €4.80
Delicious, refreshing, complex cider with pears and green apples; tannic with some good acidity and a light sweetness but definitely one for grown-ups. And preferably with food – pork chops with caramelised apple perhaps.
From killahoraorchards.ie

Cockagee Irish Keeved Cider
5%, €4.95-€5.25
A wonderful complex cider with slightly funky apple fruits, good intensity and a lightly pithy dry finish. Drink with ham and cheese crepes.
From O’Briens; Blackrock Cellar, 23 Rock Hill, Blackrock, Co Dublin; Bradley’s Off-licence, 81 North Main Street, Cork; Carry Out, O’Moore Street, Tullamore, Co Offaly; Fresh Outlets; McCambridges, 38-39 Shop Street, Galway; Number 21, 6 Greenhill Road, Ballinacurra, Co Limerick; Redmonds, 25 Ranelagh Road, Dublin 6; Drinkstore, Manor Street, Stoneybatter, Dublin 7; McHughs, St Assam’s Park, Donaghmede, Dublin 5; Whelehan’s Wines, The Bray Road, Loughlinstown, Co Dublin.

Mór Longueville House Cider
8%, €6.50
A delicious rich and powerful cider, smooth, with red apples, a touch of spice and great length. With barbecued ribs or a roast of pork.
From See longuevillebeverages.ie

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Looking for light red wine? Try these four from Loire

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 2th July, 2019

The Loire river is 1,000km long, surfacing in southeast France, crossing half the country before reaching the Atlantic in Brittany. Holidaymakers know the final 500km stretch best for its beautiful countryside, spectacular châteaux, excellent food and of course, the wines. While we have taken the white wines of the Loire to our hearts – this is the home of Sauvignon Blanc Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and Muscadet – we sometimes seem a little reluctant to try out the reds.

This started out as an article on the joys of Cabernet Franc, the main red grape of the Loire Valley, and somehow got hijacked by two other varieties, Pinot Noir and Gamay. I feature one Cabernet Franc, but will return to the subject. The other two grapes have improved hugely over the last decade; at one time, the Pinot Noirs were frequently thin and acidic, more like rosé wines than red, and dismissed as poor imitations of red Burgundy. Our tastes have changed, and so have the wines. Nowadays the best wines have a wonderful fragrance, and delicate just-ripe cherry fruits.

The best (and most expensive) Pinot Noirs of the Loire come from Sancerre, but many shops also stock a cheaper Vin de Pays. The catch-all Vin de France classification allows producers to blend Pinots from various parts of France, often with good results. Try the La Perrière Pinot Noir (€11.99) or Kiwi Cuvée (€9.99) from SuperValu

Pinot Noir is also used to make some very good rosé wine, both in Sancerre and elsewhere. O’Briens has the very attractive fragrant Henri Bourgeois Pinot Noir Rosé (€15.95, second bottle ½ price).

Gamay is best known as the grape responsible for Beaujolais. In the past, Loire Gamay too could be tart and acidic, often with an unattractive earthiness. Frequently it was used to make inexpensive rosé wines. However, it too has changed.

Just about all of the Loire reds make for perfect summer drinking; Pinot Noir and Gamay are generally light in alcohol and low in tannins; they should be served at a cool temperature, 10-14 degrees Celsius. They go well with green spring vegetables and salads, soft goat’s cheese, and some fish, salmon and tuna, as well as white meats.

Other Gamays include the delicious biodynamic Domaine des Pothiers, Côte Roannaise (€19.50 from Terroirs in Donnybrook) and the organic Henri Marionnet Touraine Gamay (€16.65) from Le Caveau in Kilkenny and independents. For something completely different, try the ancient Pineau d’Aunis variety (try the stunning Rouge-Gorge Domaine de Bellivière, €39 SIYPS.com).

Terroirs in Donnybrook has an excellent selection of Loire wines, red and white, as does Searsons in Monkstown, Whelehans in Loughlinstown and  SIYPS.com.

Gamay 2018, Touraine, Domaine a Deux

13%, €14.95

Easy rounded juicy rounded red fruits. Lovely summer wine. Serve cool with charcuterie and mild cheeses.

Stockists: Searsons, Monkstown, searsons.com

La Roncière Pinot Noir 2017, DB, IGP Val de Loire, André Vatan

12.5%, €17

Very seductive soft sweet ripe strawberry and red cherry fruits; delicious by itself or The Sancerre Rouge (€24.50) from the same producer is even better. With cold salmon mayonnaise.

Stockists: Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown, whelehanswines.ie

Sancerre Rouge La Croix du Roy 2014, Lucien Crochet

13%, €34

Delicious soft fragrant mature delicate fruits – soft cherries a light herbal note and good acidity. Perfect with warm poached salmon.

Stockists: SIYPS.com; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Ely 64, Glasthule, Ely64.com; Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, Galway, sheridanscheesemongers.com.

La Porte Saint Jean, Saumur 2015 , Sylvain Dittière

12.5%, €39.50

A superb, refined Cabernet Franc with intense ripe blackcurrants and red cherries, a touch of lead pencil, and a precise long elegant finish. With your finest organic roast chicken.

Stockists: Terroirs, Dublin 4, Terroirs.ie

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Celebrate Bastille Day with Four Quintessentially French Wines

There are few things so quintessentially French as a glass of fresh, fruity Beaujolais accompanied by a crusty baguette, a hunk of cheese, a few slices of ham, rosette salami and a nice green salad.

 

First publised in The Irish Times, Saturday 13th July, 2019.

This week we celebrate the French National holiday with four of the best-known names in French wine. At their best, all offer excellent everyday drinking.

There are few things so quintessentially French as a glass of fresh, fruity Beaujolais accompanied by a crusty baguette, a hunk of cheese, a few slices of ham, rosette salami and a nice green salad. In many ways Beaujolais has it all. The region is picturesque, with rolling verdant hills and quaint old villages. The wine scores at most levels too; good basic Beaujolais is a delight. Beaujoalis Villages is even better; light in alcohol and filled with crunchy fresh fruits. It is summer in a glass. In the late 20th and early 21st century, the region lost its way a bit. Spurred on by one or two critics, a few large producers began ramping up the alcohol (largely by adding sugar) and created big, over-extracted monsters that bore little resemblance to the real thing. It is perhaps not surprising that the natural wine movement – small producers farming biodynamically, and making low-interventionist wines, started in Beaujolais. Today, quality at every level has never been higher.

Further south, the Southern Rhône valley produces massive quantities of decent glugging wine. Every supermarket offers one or more, usually at less than €10 and most are very drinkable. Spend a few euro more and you will find some great wines. Like Beaujolais, Côtes du Rhône goes well with many foods, although more substantial recipes work better. I brought a bottle of the Côtes du Rhône on this page to an Indian BYOB restaurant (the lovely 3 Leaves in Blackrock) and it went perfectly with a wide variety of lightly spicy meat and vegetarian dishes. If you plan on firing up the barbecue this weekend, it will cover all of the meat options.

I cannot think about Muscadet without shellfish. I salivate at the thought of a large plate of oysters, a bowl of moules, or a pile of prawns to be picked through, with a glass of lightly chilled Muscadet on hand at all times. As with Beaujolais, the quality of Muscadet has shot up in recent years, and prices have not always kept pace. Dunnes Stores (€10.50), O’Briens (€14.95/€11.95) and SuperValu (€10) are all worth trying out too.

 Our image of Bordeaux is of the beautiful large châteaux of the famous Médoc region. At the top end, Bordeaux produces some of the finest and most expensive wines in the world. But that represents a tiny part of total production. The rest is made up of small farmers producing lightly fruity wines, with good acidity and a dryness on the finish. They go perfectly with your Sunday roast, chicken, lamb or beef, as well as pork and lamb chops.

Château Roc de Villepreux 2016, Bordeaux Supérieur (Organic)
Château Roc de Villepreux 2016, Bordeaux Supérieur (Organic)

Château Roc de Villepreux 2016, Bordeaux Supérieur (Organic)
12.5%, €10.50
Light, smooth, easy red fruits with a nice herbaceous edge. This would be great with grilled lamb chops and roasted peppers.

From Dunnes Stores, dunnesstores.com

Beaujolais ‘69’ 2015, Christophe Coquard
Beaujolais ‘69’ 2015, Christophe Coquard

Beaujolais ‘69’ 2015, Christophe Coquard
12%, €16
Arm yourself with a crusty baguette, some quality charcuterie and a hunk of cheese; sit out in the garden and enjoy with a cool glass of this lip-smacking light Beaujolais, with its bouncy summer fruits.

From Grapevine, Dalkey, Co Dublin, onthegrapevine.ie; First Draft Coffee & Wine, Dublin 8, firstdraftcoffeandwine.com;stationtostationwine.com; the Coach House, Dublin 16, thecoachhouseofflicence.ie; the Vintry, Dublin 6, vintry.ie

Côtes du Rhône Saint-Esprit 2017, Delas
Côtes du Rhône Saint-Esprit 2017, Delas

Côtes du Rhône Saint-Esprit 2017, Delas
14%, €16.95
A rich, rounded, svelte Côtes du Rhône with smooth dark fruits; as well as the Indian food above, I enjoyed a bottle with rare fillet steak, freshly dug spuds and salad, followed by some Comté cheese.

From 1601 Off-licence, Kinsale, Co Cork; Shiel’s Londis, Malahide, Co Dublin; Donnybrook Fair, Dublin 4, donnybrookfair.ie; Grapevine, Dalkey, Co Dublin, onthegrapevine.ie;  O’Neills, D8; Ballyvaughan Village Stores, Co Clare; the Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; Coolers, Swords, Co Dublin; the Grape Vine, Dublin 9; Higgins, Dublin 14; higginsofflicence.ie; Kellys, Dublin 3, kellysofflicence.ie;  the Malt House, Trim, Co Meath; Ennis Gourmet Store, Co Clare, ennisgourmet.com; Rineys Off Licence, Sneem, Co Kerry; Molloy’s Liquor Stores, molloys.ie.

Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine sur Lie, La Louvetrie 2018, Organic
Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine sur Lie, La Louvetrie 2018, Organic

Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine sur Lie, La Louvetrie 2018, Organic
12.5%, €17.15
What could be better than a plate of oysters or a handful of prawns with homemade garlic mayonnaise, accompanied by this delicious fresh, vibrant, fruit-filled Muscadet?

From Wines Direct, Mullingar and Arnotts, Dublin 1, winesdirect.ie 

 

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A lighter shade of Pale: Lighter whites for brighter weather

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 6th July, 2019

Now that the schools have closed, and Met Éireann is promising temperatures approaching 25 degrees, we turn our attention to summer wines again. I recently splashed out on a mixed case of white wines: two Vinho Verdes, a few Rieslings, a tasty Muscadet and a few others too. All were 12.5 per cent or less in alcohol, the Vinho Verdes just 11.5 per cent. These (if they last) will be my summer whites.

Thankfully, as our general tastes move towards lower alcohol wines – particularly with lighter white wines – buyers are providing us with a greater choice. I tend to avoid very low alcohol wines, those at less than 10 per cent, as they often don’t really seem like wine.

The one exception is German Riesling Kabinett and Spâtlese, both of which make for fantastic summer drinking. Bear in mind when buying that a producer is allowed 0.5 per cent leeway either way, so a 12.5 per cent wine could actually be 13 per cent or 12 per cent.

There is no shortage of choice; virtually every country produces something light and white. Muscadet would always be one of my first choices; it is still incredibly good value. Most of the multiples including SuperValu, Aldi, Dunnes Stores and O’Briens offer at least one. Picpoul de Pinet, often tagged as the Muscadet of the south, is another option.

Elsewhere in France, many of the white wines of the Loire and southwest France come in at under 13 per cent. I covered Vinho Verde from Portugal a few weeks ago. Semillon from Australia, Grüner Veltliner from Austria, as well as a host of Italian white wines all register as light and refreshing. But this week, I am focusing on four less well-known names, all at 12 per cent alcohol or less.

Gentil d’Alsace, once a traditional name for any wine made from various varieties, now has official AOC status. It must include at least 50 per cent “noble” grapes – riesling, gewürztraminer, muscat and pinot gris – with the remainder made up from sylvaner, pinot blanc, chasselas.

The version below, a blend of four different grape varieties from one of the most reliable producers in Alsace, is excellent value for money. Sauvignon blanc drinkers should certainly check out Tesco’s Finest Côtes de Gascogne; made from the very local colombard and gros manseng grapes, this is a bargain at €9.

The Édalo comes from Huelva, in the far south of Spain, right beside the Portuguese border. The cooling Atlantic winds make for a delicate light dry wine, made from the local Zalema grape. Argentine made from the Torrontés grape can sometimes be a little too aromatic and rich, but in the wine below, the inclusion of 15 per cent Riesling adds a lovely vibrancy to the aromas and fleshy fruit of the Torrontés. This is one of my favourite summer (and winter) white wines.

Tesco Finest Côtes de Gascogne 2018
11%, €9
Lightly aromatic with clean fresh apple and pear fruits, with plenty of brisk citrus. On its own, with seafood or soft goat’s cheese salads.
From Tesco, tesco.ie

Édalo 20 Condado de Huelva, Contreras Ruiz, Spain
12%, €13.90
Lightly herbal nose with fresh green apple and pineapple fruits, finishing dry. An old favourite revisited at a party recently, on a mild summer’s day, it made a perfect aperitif, and also later with summery salads including salmon.
From Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin, ely64.com; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Bradleys Off-Licence, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3, clontarfwines.ie; Drinkstore, Dublin 7, drinkstore.ie; D-Six Wines, Dublin 6; peggykellys.ie; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3, lilacwines.ie; Listons, Dublin 2, listonsfoodstore.ie; Lilliput Stores, Dublin 7, lilliputstores.com; Wicklow Wine Co, wicklowwineco.ie

Amalaya Torrontés Riesling 2018, Calchaquí Valley, Argentina
12.5%, €17.99
Torrontés with a touch of Riesling, and it really works very well. Lightly aromatic, with subtle elderflower aromas; very fresh crisp and pure with mouth-watering peaches, finishing dry. By itself, or with fish. A seafood ceviche?
From Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin, blackrockcellar.com; the Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Co Dublin, jusdevine.ie; Kellys, Dublin 3, kellysofflicence.ie; Martin’s Off-Licence, Dublin 3, martinsofflicence.ie; Red Island Wine Co, Skerries, Co Dublin; wineonline.ie

Gentil d’Alsace 2015, Meyer-Fonné
12%, €18.95
A blend of Muscat, Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Gewürztraminer that is softly fruity with touches of honey and ginger, balanced by lively citrus. A perfect summery aperitif, with quiche and salad or spicy chicken dishes.
From Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Drinkstore, Dublin 7, drinkstore.ie; Fallon & Byrne, Dublin 2, fallonandbyrne.com; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Worldwide Wines, Waterford, worldwidewines.ie

 

 

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