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Alsace Wines – perfect for a posh summer lunch

First published in The Irish Times, 26th May, 2018

A tasting of Alsace wines last week was a timely reminder of just how good the wines of this part of France can be, and how I probably don’t drink them often enough. I don’t think I am alone. Alsace wines seem to have fallen off our radar a little, despite being made in a style that is universally popular.

Riesling tends to get most of the publicity and praise, rightly so, as it produces some the world’s greatest wines both here in Alsace and elsewhere. After that our knowledge of Alsace tends to get a little sketchy. Leaving aside Gewürztraminer – which I generally try to do – there are two other important grape varieties, responsible for some very enjoyable wines.

Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, better known as Pinot Grigio in Italy, both produce fruit-filled, unoaked white wines, generally lowish in alcohol, that can offer great value for money. While they can certainly be drunk as an aperitif, they really show best when matched with food. It may not be a coincidence that Alsace is home to some of the great foods and restaurants of France.

Blended wines

In addition to the varietal wines, Alsace also produces a number of blended wines. Known as Edelzwicker (noble blend) in the past, these were often seen as inferior, a means for the producer to tidy up the leftovers, although a few were very good. Some were involuntary blends, made from various varieties planted together in the same vineyard. The term Gentil is used more often nowadays, to signify a blend made up of at least 50 per cent Riesling, Muscat and/or Gewürztraminer, and the remainder is the rest made up of Pinot Blanc Sylvaner, Chasselas and/or Pinot Blanc. Before blending, each grape variety must be vinified separately. Sounds complicated, but I am very fond of these.

Combining the floral aromas and rich fruit of Muscat or Gewürztraminer with the crisp acidity of Pinot Blanc or Riesling can yield a delicious summer wine, perfect with al fresco lunches or with many of the lovely pork dishes of Alsace. With their ripeness of fruit, they can go very well with lightly spiced Asian dishes too.

I have chosen four relatively expensive wines, with a posh summer lunch in mind. Alsace does offer cheaper versions although some of these are a little too sweet for my tastes. Trimbach, Hugel, Sipp Mack, Schlumberger and the Caves de Turckheim are all reliable, widely available producers in independent wine shops. O’Briens has the excellent Kreydenweiss. Most supermarkets have less expensive Alsace wines – Lidl will have a rounded fruity Pinot Gris for €10.99 from June 11th. But if you are having an upmarket al fresco meal featuring salmon, pork, chicken and salads, all of the wines below are worth investing in.

Alsace wines: four to choose from

Gentil d’Alsace 2016, Meyer-Fonné
12% €17.95
This wonderful wine is a blend of four grape varieties. Seductive aromas followed by plump melons and passionfruit laced with ginger and a touch of honey. As an aperitif, or with lightly spicy prawn dishes.  Stockists: Baggot Street Wines, Baggot Streetwines.com; Bradleys Off-licence, Cork, Bradleysofflicence.ie; Fallon & Byrne, Exchequer Street, Fallonandbyrne.com; Green Man Wines, Terenure, Greenmanwines.ie; Le Caveau, Kilkenny, Lecaveau.ie.

Trimbach Pinot Blanc 2015, Alsace
13% €17-€17.99
From one of the great producers of Alsace, a light refreshing wine with quince and yellow fruits, finishing bone dry. With nibbles before dinner or with shellfish, cold meats and salads. Stockists: Donnybrook Fair; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown, Whelehanswines.ie; McHugh’s, Kilbarrack Road and Malahide Road., McHughs.ie;  Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; Higgin’s, Clonskeagh, higginsofflicnece.ie; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny, Thewinecentre.ie;  Martin’s, Clontarf, Martinsofflicence.ie.

As de B 2016, Agathe Bursin, Biodynamic
12% €23.50
A field blend of six varieties from the Bollenberg vineyard, this is a delightful wine with floral aromas and delicate soft ripe pineapple and melon fruits. Perfect summer drinking on its own or with light white fish dishes. Limited quantities available. Stockists: Terroirs, Donnybrook, terriors.ie

Pinot Gris Tradition 2016, Domaine Pfister
13.5% €29
Ripe exotic fruits on the nose, leading to a crisp taut palate that finishes long and dry. One to try with tartes flambées, quiches and other pies. Stockists: 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; The Wine Library, Dún Laoghaire, thewinelibrary.ie

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Natural Wines and where to find them

Puzelat and FoillardPierre Foillard and Thierry Puzelat

 This is an extended version of an article from the Irish Times, 28th April, 2018

NATURAL WINES

Mere mention of the words natural and wine is still guaranteed to start a row amongst wine lovers, although less so than in the past. This is partly down to critics being won over, but also because the wines are improving every year. There are fewer wines that smell of poo or taste like cider.

I like the comparison of natural wine to punk rock. Punk burst on to the music scene in the late seventies and early eighties, an antidote the mega bands that used three drummers and an entire orchestra to produce a concept album. Instead you had three or four piece bands playing simple (often very simple) three minute rock songs. It was a breath of fresh air. For the first time, you could go and see your favourite bands locally. I am old enough to have experienced it all; in the first few heady years, I saw The Jam, the Stranglers, The Clash, The Ramones, and even a few of the Sex Pistols, and many many more.

In the same way, the natural wine movement brought wine back to its roots. Small producers making tiny lots of wine, generally from unfashionable areas, using local grapes. Instead of hugely expensive ‘luxury’ wines pampered and cosseted every step of the way by a large corporation, or cheap mass-produced wines that had been made in a laboratory, you had simple wines, made with minimal interference. You can take the punk analogy further; many of the bands were truly awful. The ability to play an instrument was considered optional, and a host of ‘artists’ deservedly sunk without trace. Others went on to achieve international stardom, wealth and, in time, joined and improved mainstream music. You can say exactly the same about natural wine; along with some thrilling fresh fruit-filled wines, you have others ‘that taste like they’ve been filtered through a porcine duodenum’, to quote Observer food critic Jay Rayner. I suspect the natural wine movement has obliged mainstream producers to question their production methods, while commercial realities may have reined in the more extreme natural winemakers.

My first encounter with natural wine was back in the mid-1990s while on a wine-buying trip in France. Looking for a supplier of Crozes-Hermitage and Hermitage, we visited Dard & Ribo, a producer we had heard good things about. The wines were incredible, fresh and invigourating with superb fruit and an amazing vitality. Monsieurs Dard and Ribo explained in French their new way of working with low or no added sulphur. Thrilled with our new discovery, we asked for samples to be sent to Dublin. There they languished in my office for a month or so. When we finally go around to tasting them, it was a massive disappointment. The wines were dull, some oxidised, others stinking of Brett. We didn’t buy.

Fast forward twenty years to April 2018, and I tasted a Crozes Hermitage Rouge Les Baties 2016 from the same Dard & Ribo at the Le Caveau spring portfolio tasting. It was stunning; fragrant and bursting with fruit, charged with that same wonderful vibrancy and life. Obviously, this natural wine producer has changed for the better and Le Caveau know how to store them.

Two high priests of the movement visited Ireland recently. Both gentlemen are very French in very different ways. Thierry Puzelat is enthusiastic and passionate, Jean Foillard is less effusive and initially withdrawn. Both paid homage to ‘the Pope’ the late Marcel Lapierre, a producer in Morgon who started it all back in early 1990’s. ‘Lapierre was the father of it all’, says Foillard. ‘He converted a small group of people (his youngest friends) and the message spread out from there. It (natural wine) seems obvious today, but it was very lonely back then. Everyone, even your neighbours, told us we were doing it wrong.’ However, Lapierre in turn was a disciple of Jules Chauvet, a traditionalist who railed against much of what was happening in Beaujolais throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s. Foillard was joined by Jean-Paul Thévenet in Mâcon, and Guy Breton in Beaujolais. Lapierre passed away in 2010.

Jean Foillard also owns vineyards in Morgon in Beaujolais, and Thierry Puzelat in the Loire valley. Inspired by Lapierre, they began to take wine back to it’s roots. ‘We did not invent anything, We simply returned to what our grandfathers did,’ says Puzelat. ‘I went to school where I learnt to make wine in the normal way, using all the standard treatments. Then one day I tasted a glass of wine and thought s**t! That’s what I want to drink; and to make.” Neither uses organic or biodynamic certificates or symbols on their labels, but say the have all the certificates. ‘It is all about the quality, not the signals’, says Foillard. Both say they prefer less ripe vintages. With his father, there were only a few ripe vintages in a lifetime. Now they are commonplace and less interesting to make. 2014, Foillard says, was a long slow maturing vintage that doesn’t have the richness or power of the 2015, and had higher yields, but the wines are good, (his are excellent).

There is no legal definition for natural wine. Many argue that all wine is natural, yet that ignores the level of manipulation, – additives and treatments – that are standard in a great many ‘normal’ wines, inexpensive wines in particular. These days, many prefer to use the terms low-intervention or light-touch instead of natural. The basic tenets are organic or preferably biodynamic viticulture, but certainly never using herbicides or fungicides. In fermentation there is no indigenous yeasts, no enzymes, filtering or fining, no chaptalisation or acidification, and most controversial of all, little or no sulphur. A winemaker walks a tightrope when they under-sulphur or don’t add any at all. Sulphur (a natural byproduct of fermentation) has been used since Roman times to prevent bacterial spoiling and oxidising.

I came across an interesting article about bread in The Guardian by Joanna Blythman. Much of what she writes could also apply to wine. “Others prefer to stick with tried and tested “natural” foods made by traditional methods because they quite legitimately interpret the presence of multiple additives in products as signifiers of debased factory food, mainly used for purposes of fakery….proponents of our industrial food system slur defenders of traditional food standards and practices as luddites, hopeless romantics, scientifically incompetent scaremongers railing against technological progress. They would love to tie us up in a never-ending philosophical debate about what “natural” means. She writes that our own Food Safety Authority of Ireland has tried to define the word natural (alongside three other debased terms – ‘Artisanal’, ‘Farmhouse’ and ‘Traditional); “The ingredients are formed by nature and are not significantly interfered with by man.” Obviously this is open to all sorts of interpretation, with many food (and sometimes wine) producers using all sorts of ‘natural’ flavourings, and additives as well as complicated processes that can hardly be described as natural. Blythman finishes ‘We live in a world where big food manufacturers and retailers constantly use our food vocabulary to fit their own agenda. The word “natural” is in the frontline of our battle to reclaim it”.

Natural wines are a mixed bag. Some are clearly faulty, or at least, have aromas that have little to do with wine (or ‘terroir’ as some claim). Others taste more like cider. Puzelat agrees: For the first five years, we made a lot of vinegar’, he says, adding that it takes a decade or more to convert your vineyards to sustainable viticulture. But the good natural wines have a wonderful freshness and purity, a liveliness not always found in everyday wines. They are a joy to drink.

While it is easier to farm organically in warmer, drier climates, wines from cooler regions have higher acidity, which acts as a natural antiseptic. It may be no coincidence that the highest concentration of natural wines are found in the Loire and Beaujolais, both regions that produce wines high in acidity and low in alcohol.

The natural wine movement has gathered momentum over the last five years and generated huge in interest in wine amongst younger consumers who may have been put off by a perceived (or real) stuffiness in wine drinking. It has also brought focus back to genuine artisanal growers. I believe that generally, the best, most interesting wines come from small producers who care for their vineyards and often work organically or biodynamically. They also use as few treatments as possible in the cellar. Some may describe themselves as natural, but others clearly are not. Pascal Rossignol of specialist importer Le Caveau probably got it right when he argued it is not just about levels of sulphur. ‘Honest wine is about trust; wine that is made by good growers, working with good importers and sold to wine drinkers who care’. ‘Natural wine is not the aim’, says Puzelat. ‘It is not enough. We have to make good wine naturally’. Few could disagree with that.

Soave Colli Scaligieri Castelcerino 2015 Filippi
12.5%, €18.65
A delicious light Soave with a waxy touch, some peach and yellow apple fruits mixing in with marzipan and a lively streak of mineral acidity. Made from biodynamically grown grapes with minimal sulphur, it has a pleasant leesy touch too. Drink by itself or with lighter seafood dishes.

Stockists: Le Caveau, Kilkenny lecaveau.ie;  64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street, thecorkscrew.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, grenmanwines.ie; Bradley’s, Cork, Bradleysofflicence.ie

Thierry Puzelat Le P’tit Blanc du Clos Tue-Bouef 2016, Vin de France
13%, €22
Sauvignon with a difference. Organic, low-sulphur wine, lightly aromatic with clean apple and quince fruits, a refreshing texture, finishing dry. By itself or with creamy goat’s cheese salad.

Stockists: Le Caveau, Kilkenny, lecaveau.ie; The Corkscrew, Chatham St, thecorkscrew.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie.

Laderas del Valle Malbec 2015, Barbarians, Tupungato, Argentina
13%, €15
Malbec with a difference; light, vivid, mouth-watering dark fruits with hardly a tannin in sight. Instead of steak, go for lightly spicy pork or lamb kebabs. 

Stockists: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; Deveneys, Dundrum; Redmonds, Ranelagh, Redmonds.ie

Morgon ‘Le Classique’ 2016 Foillard
13%, €25
Superb fresh crunchy red fruits, all cherries and blueberries, with a cleansing backbone of acidity. Drink now or keep for five years. Perfect with all manner of charcuterie or a grilled pork chop.

Stockists: Le Caveau, Kilkenny, lecaveau.ie; Bradleys, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie; The Corkscrew, Chatham St, thecorkscrew.ie; Baggot St. Wines, baggotstwines.com; Blackrock Cellar, blackrockcellar.com; MacGuinness Wines, Dundalk, Dundalkwines.com; Green Man Wines, Terenure, Greenmanwines.ie; Fallon & Byrne, Exchequer St, D2, fallonandbyrne.com; Mitchell & Son, IFSC, Glasthule & Avoca Kilmacanogue and Dunboyne, mitchellandson.com; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie;  World Wide Wines, Waterford, worldwidewines.ie

l'air-innocentL’Air Innocent 2015, Vin Nature, Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine sur Lie, Domaine de la Fessardière

12%

€18.60

A sulphur-free wine. Light and fruity with a slight fuzziness that did not detract from the freshness or the stewed green fruits. A lovely summer glass.

Stockists: Mary Pawle Wines, marypawlewines.com

 

 

verdicVerdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Saltatempo 2017, La Marca di San Michele

12.5%

€22.95

An amazing full-on floral nose, rich vibrant fruit cut through perfectly with a streak of citrus acidity. Wow! Biodynamic, low sulphur.

Stockists: SIYPS.com; Sheridan’s Cheesemongers.

 

 

 

chima-integraleMalvasia Istriana ‘Chioma Integrale’ 2016, Vignai da Duline

13.5%

€32.25

 

A fascinating truly exciting wine with floral spicy aromas, funky marzipan and luscious ripe peaches finishing on a saline note. Low sulphur, Organic.

 

Stockists: SIYPS.com; Sheridan’s Cheesemongers.

 

 

mas-perieMas del Perie 2016, Les Escures, Cahors, Fabien Jouves

13.5%

€22.50

No added Sulphur. Concentrated dark plums with real depth and length. It has a lovely lightness and freshness that make it dangerously easy to drink.

 

Stockists: Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; Quintessential Wines, Drogheda quintessentialwines.ie

 

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Wine: Something from the ‘new old’ Spain

Wine: Something from the ‘new old’ Spain

This is a longer version of an article first published in The Irish Times, Saturday 19th May, 2018. It includes four ‘bonus’ wines at the end.

Spain is on something of a hot streak at the moment, with wine sales in Ireland and elsewhere increasing every year. The country excels at less expensive red wine. The vast vineyards of La Mancha produce huge quantities of Tempranillo (called Cencibel here). The best wines are both cheap and attractive with pure light elegant fruit, perfect for everyday drinking. I frequently prefer them to the more ambitious, and more expensive oaked wines. If your tastes run to more full-bodied red wine, you can find plenty of hearty Garnacha from the Campo de Borja and Calatayud regions. All of the above wines are relatively inexpensive, and available in most of our supermarkets.

 Rioja is Spain’s flagship wine region, responsible for 31 per cent of all quality wine exports (and a whopping 40 per cent in value). It is hugely popular in Ireland. More recently Rioja has been joined by two other wines; the powerful full-bodied reds of Ribera del Duero and plump refreshing white Albariño from Rías Baixas.

 These three regions all produce some great wines, but the real excitement is happening elsewhere in Spain. Over the past decade, a quiet revolution has been taking place, with producers literally returning to their roots, using long-forgotten varieties or simply starting to treat local traditional grapes with respect. The results have been astonishing; a steady stream of fascinating wines with real character, reflecting the diverse history, climates, soils and people of Spain. I call it the “new old” Spain, as most see themselves as returning to the traditions of the past.

This piece is to short to cover every “new” wine of Spain. Personal favourites include Mencía, Godello and other varieties from the North-west of Spain, and Garnacha from D.O. Madrid and surrounding areas, but every part of Spain, including the Canaries and Balearic Islands, seems to have its own new generation of winemakers. It is not just red wines either; there are some superb white wines, sometimes from regions previously considered to warm.

Readers looking to discover more should buy a copy of an excellent new book, The New Vignerons by Luis Gutiérrez (Planeta Gastro, available from a few independent wine shops). It is more of a story book, mercifully free of scores and long-winded tasting notes. Instead, it takes an in-depth look at fourteen on the best, most innovative ‘new’ Spanish producers, alongside some of the local dishes. Gutiérrez, an intelligent and inspiring figure, visited Ireland recently, and anyone who met him cannot fail to have been converted to the ‘new old’ Spain.

Several wine importers expressed a frustration that some retailers and sommeliers don’t always make the extra effort required to sell these wines. It is very easy to sell Rioja Reserva, less so a Mencía from Ribera Sacra.  “Once people taste them, they get it,” said one importer. “They love the lighter fruit, the less oak, the less alcohol and the interesting flavours. And they are quite happy to pay €20 because they know they are enjoying a genuine hand-made wine.” I would argue that many of these producers are the future superstars of wine, and offer great value for money. It won’t last; I am willing to bet that many will be twice the price in five years time, as the world discovers how good they are. Now is the time to buy them.

 Given that Portugal is also producing some thrilling red and white wines, the smart wine buyer should head to the Iberian peninsula for both value and excitement. As these wines are often made in small quantities, it can be difficult to find them in supermarkets. So this weekend take yourself off to a real wine shop, and ask for an interesting “new” Spanish wine.

Bottles of the Week

Canforrales Tempranillo Clásico 2016, Campo Reales, La Mancha 14%, €13.50
A medium to full-bodied rounded supple red, loaded with ripe juicy dark fruits. A real crowd-pleaser and excellent value for money. Try it with all sorts of grilled or roast red meat.
From Fallon & Byrne, Dublin 2; 64 Wine, Glasthule; Clontarf Wines; Liston’s, Dublin 2

Vermell 201, Celler del Roure, Valencia 14.5%, €16.50
Full-bodied yet elegant with concentrated savoury dark fruits and liquorice. A very food-friendly wine; serve with roast chicken or pork, but big enough to stand up to red meats too.
From Clontarf Wines; Baggot Street Wines; 64 Wine, Glasthule; Green Man Wines, Terenure; World Wide Wines, Waterford; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Searsons, Monkstown; Blackrock Cellar; Power and Smullen, Lucan

Malayeto 2015, Viña Zorzal, Navarra 14%, €21
Wonderful medium to full-bodied wine bursting with supple fresh ripe blackcurrant and dark cherry fruits. Try it with grilled lamb.
From Clontarf Wines; Green Man Wines, Terenure; 64 Wine, Glasthule; Deveney’s Dundrum; Michael’s, Mount Merrion; Kelly’s, Clontarf

T Amarela 2016, Parcela Valdemel, Envínate, Vino de Mesa 13.5%, €24.99
Made by one of the most exciting new producers, this is a complex intriguing wine, with floral aromas, subtle ripe dark fruits, and a lovely freshness.
From Clontarf Wines; Green Man Wines, Terenure; 64 Wine, Glasthule; Little Green Grocer, Kilkenny; Crafted, Bennettsbridge, Co Kilkenny; Michael’s, Mount Merrion; Deveney’s, Dundrum

 

clospepinClos Pepin 2016, Casa Aurora, Vino de Pueblo, Villa de Albares

12.5%

€21.00

A very lovely light juicy wine with just ripe damson fruits, and a cool texture- it works really well, and was even better with a roast shoulder of new season lamb. Made from a blend of Garnacha Tintorera, Mencía, Portuguesa (Trousseau) Palomino.

Stockists: La Touche Wines, Greystones; Green Man Wines, Terenure; 64 Wine, Glasthule; Redmonds of Ranelagh; Martins, Fairview.

 

 

flower-and-the-beeThe Flower and the Bee 2016, Ribeiro

13%

€19-20

The white version of this wine, made from Treixadura is delicious; the red, made from Sousón (Souzâo in Portugal) is a very attractive light juicy wine with crisp raspberry and red cherry fruits. Good acidity and very refreshing.

Stockists: Green Man Wines, Terenure; Kelly’s, Clontarf; Deveney’s, Dundrum; Michael’s, Mount Merrion; Clontarf Wines; 64 Wine, Glasthule.

 

 

bastardaBastarda 2016, Fedellos do Couto, Ribeira Sacra

12.5%

€44.50

This is an enchanting wine, brimming with fresh racy dark fruits, underpinned by a strong mineral streak. Light but with real depth and excitement. More expensive but certainly superior to the Cortezada from the same producer. Bastarda is known as Merenzao in Valdeorras and Trousseau in its native Jura in France.

Stockists: Green Man Wines, Terenure; 64 Wine, Glasthule; Alex Findlater, Limerick.

 

Comado-G-Bruja-NVLas Bruja de Rozas 2016, Commando G, D.O. Viños de Madrid

€24

14.5%

Pale in colour with a beautifully lifted perfumed nose; ripe strawberry fruits with a powerful mineral core and good grainy tannins on the finish. Great wine.

Stockists: Clontarf Wines;  64wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; Baggot Street Wines, Baggotstreetwines.com; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; Redmonds of Ranelagh; Fallon & Byrne, Exchequer St.; Kelly’s, Clontarf; Power and Smullen, Lucan.

 

 

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Great Portuguese white wines

Portuguese white wines: most are still relatively inexpensive and fit modern tastes perfectly

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 5th May, 2018

Spring, if not summer, started this morning as I put pen to paper. Met Éireann promises temperatures today of 15 to 19 degrees – possibly even 20 – and a warm, sunny weekend. Time to break out the white wines, then.

I suspect many of us think of Portugal as hot and sunny, and therefore more suited to making red wine rather than white. But regular visitors will be aware that it produces plenty of white wines – and that they have improved out of all recognition over the past decade. Most are still relatively inexpensive and fit modern tastes perfectly: they are light to medium bodied, with plenty of fresh fruit and usually no new oak. They make great summer wines, drunk solo or with all kinds of seafood, white meats and lighter salads.

Most are made from fascinating local grape varieties, which also means Portuguese wines have a unique set of flavours, guaranteed to please the most jaded of palates, while still remaining accessible to the rest of us.

Grape varieties do not respect international boundaries, so this part of the world shares many grapes with Galicia, just over the border with Spain

Northern Portugal is cooler than the south of the country, and the wines’ lightness and freshness reflect that. Vinho verde, or green wine, is the best-known type. It is named after the verdant countryside, not the colour of the wine. (You can find red vinho verde.) Grape varieties do not respect international boundaries, so this part of the world shares many grapes with Galicia, just over the border with Spain. Albariño, best known as the grape behind Rías Baixas, becomes Alvarinho in Portugal, Treixadura changes to Trajadura, and Godello to Gouveio. This is only the start; there are plenty of other interesting varieties, both red and white. Either side of the border, all of these grapes make for mouth-watering wines. (I would avoid the really cheap vinhos verdes, which can be lightly fizzy and fairly sweet.)

Farther south other grapes are exclusively Portuguese. Encruzado, grown in the Dão region, produces superb wine, often compared to white Burgundy, with structure, minerality and an ability to age. Lisboa, Tejo and the hot Alentejo have cooler subregions, or grape varieties that retain acidity in the heat. Look out for wines made from Antão Vaz, Arinto or Roupeiro. Even the baking Douro is producing some superb whites.

I tasted a range of exciting, refreshing dry white wines. I could have included another six here. Only one cost less than €10, but all offered great value for money. So this summer, whether in Ireland or Portugal, instead of Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc, go for Alvarinho, Arinto, Fernão Pires, Loureiro or Encruzado. You will be very pleasantly surprised.

Bottles of the Week

Julia Florista 2016, Portugal, Vidigal Wines 12% €7.95 (down from €9.95)
A multiregional blend of grape varieties. Light, soft and very pleasantly fruity. Drink solo or with summer salads.
From O’Briens

Dão Branco 2016, Casa da Passarella A Descoberta 13%, €18
Impeccably balanced, refreshing wine with flowing light green fruits, a touch of orange peel and a lovely long, clean finish.
From Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4; Grapevine, Dalkey, Co Dublin

Aphros Loureiro Vinho Verde 2016 12%, €21.95
A vibrant, crisp dry wine with a beautifully textured palate of orange peel and juicy pears. Perfect with seafood salads or as an aperitif.
From Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4; Lilac Wines, Marino, Dublin 3; 64 Wine, Glasthule, Co Dublin; the Corkscrew, Chatham Street, Dublin 2; Green Man Wines, Terenure, Dublin 6; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, Co Dublin

Xisto Ilimitado 2016, Douro Branco 12.5%, €22.50
A stunning, utterly enjoyable wine, with complex but delicate saline green and yellow fruits that slowly unfurl.
From Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3; 64 Wine, Glasthule, Co Dublin; Green Man Wines, Terenure, Dublin 6; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4; Redmonds of Ranelagh, Dublin 6; Fallon & Byrne, Exchequer Street, Dublin 2

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The sun is shining, why not try a Chenin Blanc?

This is a longer version of an article printed in he Irish Times, Saturday 21st April, 2018.

 

The shelves in my local wine shop said it all; the Loire section carried one Muscadet (Melon de Bourgogne), two Chenin Blancs – and twenty two Sauvignon Blancs. When are we going to rid ourselves of this Sauvignon obsession? This is not a criticism of the retailer, who was only meeting customer demand. Nor do I have a problem with Sauvignon, but the world of wine is full of so many interesting grapes and those two other above-mentioned varieties offer some of the greatest treasures of the Loire Valley. I will return to Muscadet later in the summer, but we should really be drinking a lot more Chenin Blanc. Chenin Blanc is to be found in two places; South Africa, where it produces excellent wines, and in it’s home territory of the Loire Valley.

Loire Chenin comes in various guises, from cheap to expensive, but generally very good value, and from dry to sweet (and even sparkling too). In the right hands, it produces one of the world’s greatest and most long-lived wines. It deserves to be far better known.

Dry Chenin Blanc from a lesser vintage used to be fairly challenging, with very high levels of acidity. Nowadays it is typically made into sparkling wine, usually sold as Crémant de Loire, or sometimes as Vouvray. The best, usually aged for a few years to develop, can be really good. You can find some excellent dry white wines from better vintages, still bracing and best served with food, but full of fantastic fruit. Off-dry Chenin is very popular and widely available in the multiples. Marks & Spencer has the very tasty Ch. Moncontour (€15), SuperValu the La Vigne du Sablon (€14.95) and O’Briens the Les Dimes (€15.95. All are worth trying. I haven’t tried the Tesco Anjou for €7.89. Locally they would favour chicken in a creamy sauce with the demi-sec style, but I find it goes really well with pork dishes –(including barbequed pork belly) and mild creamy curries. Dry Chenin is a great partner for soft goat’s cheeses, and white fish.

The most famous Chenin is Vouvray. You will find it in all of the above mentioned styles; sparkling, dry, off-dry or sweet. Confusingly they don’t always let you know which style on the label. These days, much of the excitement centres on Montlouis, a region that lies across the river from Vouvray, which can rival it in quality, but at a lower price. The other big name for dry Chenin Blanc is Savennières. Here the wines tend to be softer, with more fruit. Domaine des Baumard is probably the best producer; Clos de la Coulée de Serrant, run by the irrepressible Nicolas Joly, has it’s own appellation within Savennières. Joly is a passionate believer in biodynamics and has published a book on the subject. The wines are very natural.

Sweet Chenin Blanc is certainly worth seeking out; Vouvray, Bonnezeaux, Quarts de Chaume and Coteaux du Layon all produce stunning wines, comparable with the greatest sweet wines of all, and usually at a fraction of the price.

All that acidity means the wines last for decades, and retain a wonderful freshness. The sweet wines in particular, develop hauntingly beautiful complex flavours of grilled nuts, honey and quince. I recently tasted a range of exquisite mature Chenin Blancs from Domaine des Baumard (Searsons have an offer running in their shop at the moment) going back to 1967. A 2008 Quarts de Chaume was exquisite. The dry and sweet wines of wines of legendary Vouvray producer Gaston Huet are excellent, but sadly very expensive nowadays.

In this longer online version, I include several extra wines, including a brilliant wine from La Taille aux Loups, priced at around 30, from winesdirect.ie. and a few recent discoveries, a wine from Domaine de Belliviere in Coteaux du Loir (as opposed to Loire), imported by Nomad Wines, and two new Chenin Blancs from Tindal & Co

Bottles of the Week

Chenin Blanc Les Hauts Lieux 2015, Vin de France, Famille Bourgier 12%, €13.95
Fresh, aromatic and dry with soft pear fruits. Drink solo or with white meats. Hake baked in foil with dill and lemon.
Stockists: O’Briens Wines, obrienswine.ie

Vouvray Cuvée de Silex 2016, Domaine des Aubisières 12.5%, €14.85
Beautifully crafted lively dry Vouvray with mouth-watering peach fruits, edged with ginger and citrus. Drink with soy-glazed salmon steaks.
Stockists: Jnwine.com

Vouvray Sec La Coulée d’Argent 2015, Bourillon Dorléans, Vieilles Vignes 13%, €21.50
Quite delicious; light, fresh lightly honeyed with peaches and quince, grilled nuts, with a richness and texture that marry perfectly with the acidity. Mild chicken curries.
Stockists: Karwig Wines, Carrigaline, Karwigwines.ie; J.J. O’Driscoll, Ballinlough, Cork, jjodriscoll.ie

Savennières Clos du Papillon 2013, Domaine des Baumard 13.5%
Glorious, sumptuous wine with expansive waxy fruits – melons and ginger spice, rich but impeccably balanced finish long and dry. Turbot with brown butter and capers.
Stockists: Searsons, Monkstown, searsons.com; Whelehan’s, Loughlinstown; One Pery Square, Limerick, oneperysquare.com;  World Wide Wines, Waterford, worldwidewines.ie

chenin

Touraine Chenin Blanc 2016, Domaine a Deux

13%

€16.95

Relatively rich concentrated quince and pears, finishing dry. Lovely fresh fruit-filled wine, for drinking solo or with white fish.

Stockists: Searsons, Monkstown, searsons.com

montlouis

Montlouis Claire de Lune 216, Les Complices de Loire

12.5%

€21.95

Beguiling, limpid soft elegant yellow fruits with a lovely mineral edge. Delicious delicate wine.

Stockists: Searsons, Monkstown, searsons.com.

 

la tailliDomaine de la Taille aux Loups 2015, Remus, Montlouis

12.5%

€29.90

A glorious wine; a rich creamy texture, balanced by very brisk, well-integrated acidity, and masses of mouth-watering quince and white peach fruits, finishing long and dry.

Stockists: Wines Direct, Mullingar & Arnott’s, Dublin, winesdirect.ie

 

eparses

Coteaux du Loir ‘VV Eparses’ 2015, Domaine de Bellivière

12.5%

€47.95

Delicate with floral aromas, a wonderful palate of honey, beeswax and dried fruits. Clean and precise finishing dry. Exquisite wine.

 

Stockists: SIYPS. com

 

 

 

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Two corkers: Dublin wine shops, new and old

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 14th April, 2018

Tommy Cullen of Jus de Vine in Portmarnock, Co Dublin: 'I love the area, we have a great set of customers and I am very happy at it.' Photograph: Aidan CrawleyTommy Cullen of Jus de Vine in Portmarnock, Co Dublin: ‘I love the area, we have a great set of customers and I am very happy at it.’ Photograph: Aidan Crawley

The northside of Dublin is very well served with wine shops. This year one of the finest, Jus de Vine in Portmarnock, celebrated its 20th anniversary by winning the Noffla National Off-Licence of the Year title for the third time.

Tommy Cullen will be 77 years old this July, but has no intention of retiring. Cullen sold Kelly’s off-licence on the Malahide Road after 18 years, thinking he would retire. It didn’t last.

“I got bored and wanted something to do,” he says. His daughter Julie, recently returned from America, was looking to get back into the wine business. They approached Paul McKenna, who ran a small shop in Portmarnock, and the three formed a team. Today, they run one of the biggest – and best – independent off-licences, winning a wine specialist of the year award 10 times in 14 years.

All three love their work. “Dad had me working weekends polishing bottles from a very young age,” says Julie. “It is all I know and I love it. We get to know the story and to meet the people that are behind the wine.”

Tommy says: “I get to do what I want to do. I love the area, we have a great set of customers and I am very happy at it.”

McKenna also mentions their customers. “After nearly 30 years, I still enjoy going to work. This is a great community and we get nice people coming in.”

Green Man Wines in Terenure recently celebrated its third anniversary. David Gallagher and his wife Claire O’Boyle both worked in various wine shops before going it alone in 2015, although O’Boyle also works for a wine importer.

“We felt that there was an opportunity to offer a different style of wine in a different shopping environment. We had been to wine fairs in the south of France and tasted some stunning ’natural wines’, made with minimal intervention and different than anything available here. We visited Terroirs in London which serves natural wines alongside well-sourced food and were convinced this could work in Ireland. We wanted to offer something very different to the multiples.”

“The wine bar element was crucial; we have a space where you can enjoy wine at a reasonable price alongside some tasty food.”

They have space for wine-tasting evenings, vital for gaining customer loyalty and trust. “We want a shop that is fun, exciting and constantly evolving.”

The couple looked at the city centre but found that rents and rates were too high; and most suburbs were already well served. It was a customer in Fallon & Byrne, now a neighbour, Kevin Byrne of Mayfield Restaurant who first suggested Terenure. “It has a great community feel and we’ve been very much welcomed and now feel very much part of it. Our customer base is well-travelled, educated and enjoy their food and wine.”

Ciello Bianco 2016, Catarratto, Cantine Rallo, IGT Terre Siciliane
12%, €12.95
Organically grown and neither fined nor filtered. Vibrant and bright with juicy peaches and almonds, balanced nicely by lemon zest acidity, finishing dry. Before dinner, or with a wide variety of lighter seafood dishes or salads.
Stockists: Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; Baggot St Wines, baggotstwines.ie; Clontarf Wines; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; Redmonds, Ranelagh; Blackrock Cellar, blackrockcellar.ie; MacGuinness Wines, Dundalk, dundalkwines.ie; Bradley’s Off-Licence, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie; Le Caveau, Kilkenny, lecaveau.ie.

De Combel-La-Serre, Le pur fruit du Causse 2016, Cahors
12.5%, €17.95
Made from organically grown grapes with minimal sulphur at bottling. Forward and aromatic with pure, fresh, supple dark fruits and a dry finish.
Stockists: Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; Donnybrook Fair, donnybrookfair.ie; Bradley’s Off-licence, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie

Château Bauduc Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Bordeaux
12%, €16
Crisp, dry and refreshing, with subtle yellow fruits and apples. A great all-purpose wine to drink solo, with white fish, soft goat’s cheese or chicken salads.
Stockists: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; The Vintry, Rathgar, vintry.ie; Curious Wines, Cork, curiouswines.ie; Redmond’s, Ranelagh; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street, corkscrew.ie; Callan’s, Dundalk, callans.ie; Dwan’s, Ballycullen; Blackrock Cellar, blackrockcellar.ie; Martins Off-Licence, Clontarf, martinsofflicence.ie

Les Trois Terroirs 2015, Cairanne 2015, Domaine Boisson
14%, €18.99
Medium to full-bodied with ripe plum and cherry fruits and a savoury edge, balanced nicely by a refreshing streak of acidity. Serve with roast pork or pork chops.
Stockists: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; Searson’s, Monkstown, searsons.ie; The Parting Glass, Enniskerry, thepartingglass.ie; Morton’s of Galway, mortonsofgalway.ie;  Cinnamon Cottage, Cork, cinnamoncottage.ie

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What’s the big deal with sake?

Sake

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 7th April, 2018

Sake opens you up to a different world of tastes and flavours. It is a drink quite like no other, subtle, sometimes fragrant and fruity, at other times rich and almost funky. It has been made in Japan for millennia. Interest outside of Japan has exploded over the last decade, especially in the top restaurants of London, New York and elsewhere. Here in Ireland, we began to show interest during the Celtic Tiger years, but it is only recently that wine importer Colly Murray set up Retrosake (sake.ie), and began to import quality sake. He now has a portfolio of more than 40. He treated me to a fascinating tasting in Dylan McGrath’s Taste, where diners can chose from a huge selection.

The word “sake” means alcohol in Japanese; rice wine is called nihonshu, but is labelled as seishu. Made by brewing a special strain of rice, it is technically closer to beer than wine. The rice is steamed and injected with a special fermentation culture known as koji. It reaches 14-20 per cent alcohol, but is usually diluted with water to about 15 per cent alcohol. It can be dry or sweet; the nihonshu-do on the label gives an indicator of sweetness. Sake does not mature with age (although Koshu sake has been aged in a tank prior to bottling). The classification system is complicated; it makes wine nomenclature look like child’s play. Cheap sake (futsuchu), which makes up 70 per cent of the market, contains additives, including alcohol and sugar. Junmai meaning “pure rice”, is sake made from polished fermented rice. Honjozo has a little brewer’s alcohol added to the fermenting rice.

Rice polished

With premium sake, the rice is first polished to remove the outer bran and proteins, losing 30 per cent or more of its original size. Daiginjo sake has had 50 per cent removed through polishing. The more you polish, the more elegant and refined the sake becomes (and more expensive too!). All premium sake is vegan, free of lactic acid and contains no additives.

Sake can be served warm, cold or at room temperature. It depends on your preference, although heating inferior sake can be a way of masking the flavours. Many aficionados will drink it warm in winter, cold in summer, and their finest at room temperature or very lightly chilled. An opened bottle will keep in the fridge, but should really be drunk within a few weeks.

Restaurants in the West (including Chapter One and The Greenhouse in Dublin) often serve sake during a meal. The Japanese prefer to drink it as an aperitif, with sashimi and lighter canapes or with starters. As many sakes have plenty of umami, they open up opportunities for all kinds of food. If all of the above seems a little confusing, take heart; the best way to learn is to drink it. The following sakes are not cheap, but they are fascinating, complex drinks and well worth trying.

URAKASUMI JUNMAI 300ML

(15%, €22.15)

A sake of great finesse, textured and fruity – lychees and pears. Refreshing and completely charming.

Stockists: Drinkstore, Stoneybatter, drinkstore.ie; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street, thecorkscrew.ie; Baggot Street Wines, Baggot Street, baggotstreetwines.com.

ENTER.SAKE BLACK HONJOZO

(15%, €42)

Enter.sake is a collection of sakes from techno musician and DJ Richie Hawtin, something of a sake fanatic. This is very concentrated, with a velvety texture, and full of savoury umami and pineapple fruits.

Stockists: Mitchell & Son, chq, Sandycove and Avoca, Kilmacanogue and Dunboyne, mitchellandson.com; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com.

FUKUJU KOBE CLASSIC JUNMAI GINJO

(15%, €49)

Deliciously fruity aromas, full-bodied and richly textured, with grilled nuts,  and a lovely fruity finish.

Stockists: Drinkstore, Stoneybatter, drinkstore.ie; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street, thecorkscrew.ie; Baggot Street Wines, Baggot Street, baggotstreetwines.com.

DASSAI 50 JUNMAI DAIGINJO

(15%, €55)

Superb sake. Lifted and fragrant, complex and long with savoury notes accompanied by subtle stone fruits.

Stockists: 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; Whelehans Wines, Loughlinstown, whelehanswines.ie; Drinkstore, Stoneybatter, drinkstore.ie; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com.

 

 

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The best red wines to go with your Easter lamb

Easter may not be accompanied by quite the same ballyhoo as Christmas, but for most people it is one of the great family celebrations of the year. Certainly the weather is better, with the promise of spring warmth and sunshine. Eating lamb at Easter is a Christian tradition going back centuries. As far as I can see, every wine-producing country in Europe celebrates with the paschal lamb, although Greece and other Orthodox countries celebrate a week or so later.

For wine lovers Easter also offers much more opportunity than Christmas, as a roast of lamb is one of the best partners for almost any red wine. This is the time to bring out your finest. I suspect most of us are guilty of keeping our special bottles for far too long, waiting for that perfect occasion, until they are way past their best, so prevaricate no longer: bring out that bottle you were given as a thank you all those years ago and share it with people you love. If you don’t have a cellar full of mature wine don’t worry: virtually any medium- to full-bodied red wine will do perfectly. In fact it will taste a lot better alongside the lamb.

Francophiles will head straight for Bordeaux and the finest claret they can afford. But a fine Cabernet Sauvignon from Australia, California or Chile will do equally well. In Spain, Rioja would be the traditional choice, especially if you prefer more elegant wines, but a full-bodied Ribera del Duero is one of the great matches for lamb flavoured with rosemary and garlic.

Moving on to Italy, a good Chianti Classico would be my first choice, although the Barbera d’Alba that is one of today’s Bottles of the Week would also be pretty good. If you intend to barbecue your leg or shoulder of lamb, the more robust flavours and structure of a Malbec from Argentina might be called for.

We are likely to have a vegetarian at our table this Easter, so I intend to roast some Mediterranean vegetables and serve them with a black-olive-tapenade-style dressing. This, I suspect, would go nicely with today’s Chianti Classico, as would any pasta bake or dish based on pulses and beans – the Tuscans, after all, are known as Mangiafagioli, or Bean Eaters.

As this is a celebration take a little care. Even the most modest wine will taste far better when served with a bit of style. Pour your wine into your finest decanter and get out your best glasses. If you are bringing out an elderly bottle it may have thrown some sediment, so stand it upright for 24 hours before decanting.

Bottles of the Week

Château Turcaud 2015, Bordeaux 13%, €15.95
Ripe, rounded blackcurrant fruits brought to life by a subtle acidity. Elegant and refined, with light tannins on the dry finish. A perfect partner for your roast lamb.
From Le Caveau, Kilkenny; 64 Wine, Glenageary, Co Dublin; Martins, Clontarf, Dublin 3; Green Man, Terenure, Dublin 6; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3; World Wide Wines, Waterford; Fallon and Byrne, Dublin 2; Blackrock Cellars, Co Dublin; the Corkscrew, Dublin 2

Barbera d’Alba Fontanelle 2015, Ascheri 14.5%, €16.95 (down from €18.95)
Fragrant and refreshing, this exudes delicious ripe blackcurrant and cherry fruits, offset by a tangy acidity and just enough tannin to cut through the lamb.
From branches of O’Briens

Chianti Classico 2015, Casa Emma 13.5%, €19.95
Gorgeous, svelte ripe cherry and blackcurrant fruits with a savoury touch on the finish. A smooth, medium-bodied wine with good concentration of fruit. Perfect with Carmel Somers’s Ottoman lamb.
From Donnybrook Fair, Dublin 4

Martinez Lacuesta Rioja Crianza 13.5%, €20
A seductive wine, aromatic, harmonious and smooth, with ample red fruits overlaid with spice. Classic Rioja, medium-bodied, with all the components singing in unison. Heavenly with lamb.
From Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4; 64 Wine, Glasthule, Co Dublin

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Vegan and vegetarian wine: does it really matter to the wine consumer?

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 24th March, 2018

 

Given the surge of interest in vegetarian and vegan food, it is surprising that there hasn’t been more interest in meat and dairy-free wines (and beers too). This could be for two reasons; either wine drinkers (incorrectly) assume that all wines are not only vegetarian but vegan too, or vegans don’t drink wine.

 While your glass of wine is very unlikely to contain any animal parts, there are two fairly common non-vegan methods of clarifying wine. Traditionally, a great many wines were routinely fined with egg whites to remove unwanted tannins. (In areas such as Jerez, a number of delicious sweet delicacies are based on egg yolks, as a means of using up the leftovers). These days powdered dried egg white is more common. Isinglass, made from dried fish bladders, is also frequently used (it is used in beer as well).

Gelatin (animal parts) or casein (milk protein) are sometimes added for juice clarification prior to fermentation.

Producers argue that all of the fining agents are removed before bottling, but vegan website Peta suggests tiny amounts may remain. There are plenty of vegan options, usually products based on clay or charcoal, and these are being increasingly used. Natural and other non-interventionist wines are sometimes bottled unfiltered and unfined, and will therefore be vegan. However, an organic or biodynamic wine is not necessarily vegetarian or vegan. (I wonder are organic wine producers obliged to use organic eggs whites?)

Labeling

As far as I could see from my research, nowadays the majority of wines are vegan, but it can be very difficult to know by looking at the bottle, as very few give details on the label. Marks & Spencer is an exception; all of its wines have a back label noting whether the wine is vegetarian or vegan. Most are vegan. Both O’Briens and Wines Direct indicate it on their websites. Own label Tesco wines carry a vegetarian but not a vegan symbol on the back label.

Does it really matter to the wine consumer? Last year, SuperValu did some consumer research and vegan registered as being of less importance, with only 1 per cent of its wine customers showing interest (as opposed to 13 per cent for organic). However, wine buyer Kevin O’Callaghan suspects that the actual number could be higher, as many consumers may be unaware that wine is not always vegan-friendly.

Gerard Maguire of 64 Wine in Glasthule says, “Only a handful of customers seem bothered. We are asked about it less than 10 times a year.”

We will return to wine labels, additives and treatments again in a week or two. In future, as producers will be obliged by law to carry back labels with health warnings, maybe more will also include this information? This week, four wines, all 100 per cent vegetarian and vegan.

Mayne de Beauregard 2016, Bergerac Rouge

13.5%, €11.80

A Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that offers supple easy plum fruits and a soft finish. A good all-purpose wine to pair with most red or white meats – my bottle went down well with stir-fried chicken and red peppers.

Stockists: Marks & Spencer

San Simone Rondover Rosso 2015, IGT della Venezie

13%, €14.50

Mouth-watering tangy, sweet-sour damsons and morello cherries with an earthy touch. Enjoy with charcuterie, or grilled pork chops with sage.

Stockists: Wines Direct, Mullingar; Arnott’s; winesdirect.ie

Leeuwenkuil Bushvine Cinsault 2017, Swartland

12.5%, €15

Light and refreshing with very moreish crunchy red cherry fruits, and a smooth finish. Roast Mediterranean vegetables or pasta with a fresh herby tomato sauce.

Stockists: Marks & Spencer

Yalumba Organic Shiraz 2016, South Australia

14%, €15.95

A more elegant style of Shiraz, wonderfully perfumed with medium-bodied dark forest fruits and a twist of spice. Try it with a gourmet burger and chips.

Stockists: O’Briens; Dunnes Stores; Joyce’s; No21 Off-licences.

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A fantastic four Irish whiskeys from among our very finest

Four of the best from the treasure trove that is our national spirit.

 

As Irish whiskey came back to life over the last decade, a small group of enthusiasts began meeting in the Celtic Whiskey Shop in Dawson Street, tasting talking and unravelling the secrets of our ancient national spirit.

Together they formed the Irish Whiskey Society. More recently, core members of the group began publishing a new quarterly Irish Whiskey Magazine. I talked to editor Serghios Florides (an Irish man of Greek ancestry).

“It came out of  frustration that we weren’t getting a voice and the true story of Irish whiskey wasn’t being told. We are a  group of grass-roots enthusiasts who have a passion and expert knowledge. We wanted to share both. There is true camaraderie among whiskey-lovers, a real willingness to share information, although there is always a competitive streak too.”

 Florides is excited about the rapid changes that have taken place in recent years. “The last decade has been the most exiting and the most significant since the late 1800s. As all the new distilleries come on line we will see the real styles developing; for the moment, the process of finishing allows a distiller to say something different. I do think we have some very innovative distillers, with the potential to do interesting things.”

For the moment, he sees government legislation as the most serious problem facing the nascent business.

“The Alcohol Bill is the single biggest threat. A distiller really needs to be strong in his home market. Other countries don’t have the same limitations as us and I do worry about the effect it will have.”

 I asked the team at Irish Whiskey Magazine to choose their four favourite Irish varieties, including one less expensive blended whiskey.

“The Irishman 17-year-old is a limited edition whiskey from Walsh Distillery. Matured in Oloroso sherry hogsheads, we love its rich sherry finish and the quality of the whiskey used. It is smooth enough to be taken neat, although adding a drop of water opens up the fruit notes. Powers Johns Lane 12-year-old is the epitome of a traditional Irish Pot Still whiskey. It has a superb creamy mouthwatering taste and is incredible value for money. Teelings is responsible for some of the most innovative finishes and have been leaders in the new generation of distilleries opening up around the country. We chose the Brabazon 2 for the more unusual port cask maturation. A hefty 49.5 per cent, this really opens up nicely with a drop of water.”

As for the less expensive tipple, Florides had difficulty making a final decision.

“I would probably go for the Jameson Black Barrel or the standard Jameson. I like the sweetness. It is uncompromising, but heart warming. I also like Bushmills White Label and the Black Bush too.”

Plenty of choice if you intend raising a glass on St Patrick’s Day.

Jameson Irish Whiskey

40%, €25-30

A great go-to, consistent, versatile whiskey. Enjoyable neat, with a mixer and in cocktails. Light, clean and crisp, and well balanced. Fruity notes, sweet, pepper, spice, hints of sherry, vanilla and wood.
Stockists: very widely available.

Powers Johns Lane release 12-year-old Pot Still

46%, €63.99

The nose has a beautiful balance of cocoa, dried apricots and orange zest with a touch of candyfloss sweetness; at 46% this feels incredibly soft, yet crisp and mouth-watering. The pot still spice notes come through with hints of marmalade, apples and toffee, leading to a soft musky finish with dark chocolate.
Stockists: Widely available from off-licences.

Teeling Brabazon Single Malt Batch Series 2

49.5%, €78

Aromas of cinnamon, honey, and ripe dark berry fruits. In the mouth, the Port influence comes through in a beautifully balanced way. Fruits become softer such as raspberry, dried figs and stewed pears, finishing nicely with dark nutty chocolate notes.
Stockists: Teeling Whiskey Distillery; Celtic Whiskey Shop; Dublin Airport and other specialist off-licences.

The Irishman 17-year-old Single Cask

56%, €110

Aromas of ripe soft fruit and dark chocolate. Toasted oak on the palate with  juicy sultanas, dark brown sugar and lingering Oloroso sherry on the long finish. Stockists: Celtic Whiskey; L Mulligan Whiskey Shop; Dublin Airport.

irishwhiskeymagazine.com

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