Slow Dão with wines from Portugal’s answer to Burgundy

For some Dão is Portugal’s finest wine region, yet few wine drinkers have a clear picture of what the wines are like. It is often mentioned as Portugal’s answer to Burgundy. There are certain similarities; both produce lighter wines with good acidity, low in tannin, and sometimes low in alcohol too. Both wines seduce gently with perfume, finesse and elegance rather than power. But whereas Pinot Noir often tastes sweet (although it is bone dry) to me Dão is more savoury and often spicy with damson fruits – more like a Syrah from the Northern Rhône if you want a comparison.

Either way, Dão certainly deserves much more of our attention. Not only does it offer some great red wines at reasonably prices, it also produces some excellent dry white wines too. Both red and white wines (it is 80 per cent red) are made from Portuguese grape varieties.

Dão is a largish region in central northern Portugal. Circled by mountains, and therefore protected from both the Atlantic rains and the blasting heat of the interior, it has relatively dry, warm summers, perfect for the slow ripening of grapes. The granitic soils give good acidity, and the altitude (200-600m) keeps things cool too.

Winemaking skills

For many years, the region, although well-known, was held back by a bizarre law that obliged growers to sell their grapes to the local co-op, which often lacked the necessary winemaking skills. The result was large quantities of very dull tannic wines. But in recent years, there has been a blossoming of local talent, as well as an influx of other Portuguese winemakers. Not only are the wines far better, they are very reasonably priced too.

Two red grapes are worth special mention. This is the home of touriga macional, one of Portugal’s greatest grape varieties. You will also come across jaen, known as mencía in Galicia, a variety with huge potential. Then there is tinta roriz (Tempranillo) and alfrocheiro. For white wines, there is encruzado, possibly Portugal’s greatest white variety. It all adds up to an area that offers real excitement. At the less expensive end, the wines can be fabulously perfumed and lightly fruity. If you like less heavy wines, there are some real bargains, but the more expensive wines are great value too.

There is a limited range on offer in our shops, but it includes some great wines. I have already featured Touriga Nacional Rui Reguinga 2013 (€24.50, Terroirs,  Donnybrook) and Jardim da Estrela 2014, an amazing €13 from Quintessential Wines. Both are well worth trying, as are the excellent FP wines from Filipa Pato in next-door Bairrada. If you travel to Portugal on holiday, I suspect there might be greater availability over there.

dscf7265Paço dos Cunhas de Santar Nature 2012 (organic), Dão


Wonderful smooth elegant dark fruits with light tannins on the finish.

McHugh’s; Martins; Baggot St Wines; Corkscrew; Donnybrook Fair; Morton’s Galway; Sweeney’s.






niepoort-rotuloDâo Rótulo 2015, Niepoort, Portugal



Delicious refreshing light red with a savoury edge to the clean damson fruits.

Stockists: Grapevine; Morton’s Ranelagh; Drinkstore; Redmonds; Baggot St Wines; Martins.





encruzado_169x430Quinta dos Carvalhais Encruzado 2015



Softly spicy with vibrant citrus and pear fruits. Engaging and sophisticated wine.


Stockists: Baggot St. Wines; Redmonds; Corkscrew.




dscf7265Bargain Wine

Ribeiro Santos 2014 Dão



Harmonious pure damson and dark cherry fruits. Perfect with duck breast or pork. Excellent value.

Stockists: Fresh Outlets, La Touche, The Coachouse; Power & Co; D Six; Nectar; McGuinness Wines; Green Man Wines, Corkscrew.


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A Suitcase of Claret



½ bottles can be very useful if dining à deux. However they are not easy to find and you will usually be charged a hefty premium. From tomorrow until the 19th April, select Centra stores nationwide will offer a six-pack of ½ bottles of Bordeaux, in a handy wooden suitcase, for a reasonable €30. I haven’t tasted all the wines yet, but the first two, Chants de Faizeau 2015, Montage St.-Emilion and Ch. de Courteillac 2015 Bordeaux, were very decent wines and good value for money at €5 each. The pack would also make a very nice gift for someone.



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Côtes de Bourg

I have been enjoying the wines of Ch. Falfas for a few years now, and was delighted to receive an email from Terroirs in Donnybrook, mentioning that proprietor and winemaker Véronique Cochran would be showing her wines in their shop.

Véronique is originally from Saumur in the Loire, where her father Francois Bouchet, was the very first biodynamic grower. Given her upbringing it is not surprising all of her wines are biodynamic as well. ‘I could never do it another way’, she says. Their 20-hectare holding is split into two holdings, the largest part surrounding the very attractive Château. She is based in the Côtes de Bourg on the right bank of Bordeaux, and an area that can offer excellent value for money. They have around 55% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon co-planted with 10% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Malbec, all traditional in the area.

I tasted each of her three separate cuvées. The wines were of a very high quality, and well-priced too. Véronique was both charming and knowledgeable. A great way to get the weekend started.

Les Demoiselles de Falfas 2015 €23.50

Made with very little maceration, this is a delicious forward, extrovert wine with bright fresh ripe dark fruits and a good easy finish. Lovely wine and very good value. Vêronique suggests trying it with lighter foods, including tomato-based dishes. This is named in honour of her two daughters.


Ch. Falfas 2012 €29.50

Light elegant nose, refined blackcurrant and plum fruits, good acidity and a lightly tannic finish. Classic Bordeaux just starting to drink very well.


Ch. Falfas 2010 €39

Excellent maturing nose and palate with leafiness, developing sweet red and black fruits, good concentration and finish. Nice wine.


Ch. Falfas 1995 No longer available.

Made by her late husband in a more extracted style, this had a lighter nose, showing real development, a minty, herbal character, and light red fruits. Drinking nicely now, but unlikely to improve further.


Le Chevalier de Ch. Falfas 2011 €59

Made from 750-780 year old vines. Super wine, with everything you look for in a young Bordeaux. Concentrated blackcurrant fruits, a lovely backbone of acidity, structured and firm with excellent length. You could drink this now, preferably decanted, but I would love to try it again in another five years.


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St. Patrick’s Day wine weekend

Nothing green here, but a few nice wines.

dscf7402Clos Windsbuhl Gewurztraminer 2000, Domaine Zind Humbrecht

This had been languishing in my stash for a long time, probably because I am not a huge fan of gewurz, nor of white wines that are 15% alcohol (unless its sherry of course). I took a coravined glass, and it was just as I imagined it would be; big, rich textured and sweetish, with plenty of length.

Alpha Zeta Corvina 2015

Light easy refreshing glugger, with dark cherry fruits.

Anthill Farms Tina Marie Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River, California

A present from my sister who lives in California. This might be part of the new wave of lighter more elegant Californian wines we read about. It was very good; light slightly candied ripe cherries, but with a good acidic core, and nice length. Opened out beautifully to reveal a good depth of damson fruit. 13%.

Crozes- Hermitage 2015 Yann Chave

One of my favourite wines for many years, and one that ages very well too. A bit riper and rounder than usual, probably the vintage, but very stylish elegant dark cherry and damson fruits. Will improve with time. €27.95 – will feature in the Irish Times soon.

Quinta dos Carvalhais Encruzado 2015 Dao, Portugal

An oaked aged Encruzado? It works really well, with subtle oak, lovely refreshing acidity and plenty of fruit. Not cheap at €29.99 but very nice wine.


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Ten Places to find a Decent Glass of Wine in Ireland

First published in the Irish Times Saturday 18th March, 2017

A few years ago, I got in touch with wine distributors around the country and asked them to name a few of their favourite haunts, places where they could order a glass of decent wine. It didn’t seem a big ask, just half a dozen or more interesting wines served in a proper wine glass, but privately the majority expressed a deep frustration with their local offering. Things have changed for the better.

Many hotels continue to serve industrial quality Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and other standard names at exorbitant prices, but it seems that some pubs at least are starting to see the light, and are now serving a small rotating range of interesting wines at reasonable prices. The big move over the last few years has come from wine shops. A number of them now morph into wine bars in the early evening, or have a separate mini-wine bar attached. It is all about the wine and not the food, which is usually pretty basic (cold meats or cheese) and mark-ups are a fraction of those in a full-blown restaurant.

Corkage fee

As well as having plenty of wines by the glass, many allow you to choose any wine from the shelves, adding a corkage fee of €5-€10. This makes it worthwhile buying a bottle of something really good. For the moment, most seem to be in the greater Dublin area, and include Grapevine in Dalkey, Green Man, Terenure, Baggot Street Wines, La Touche in Greystones, 64 Wine and Mitchell & Son in Glasthule, Whelehan’s in Loughlinstown and Fallon & Byrne on Exchequer Street. All of these are well worth trying out if you like wine.

My top 10 is regionally balanced. I haven’t been to every one of these, but I have fairly reliable spies in most corners of the country. Ely wine bars can claim to be daddy of them all, now celebrating 15 years of trading, offering a superb selection of 80 wines by the glass. They have now teamed up with 64 Wine in Glasthule; the outcome is awaited with interest.

Of the newer establishments in Dublin, Piglet, on Cows Lane in Temple Bar, is a wine bar or osteria. They offer a great range of wines by the glass, alongside some amazingly good food, and Green Man Wines in Terenure would be a regular haunt if I lived slightly nearer.

The place to go

Moving southwards, I hear great things about the wine selection in The Tannery wine bar in Dungarvan. L’Atitude51 is the place to go in Cork city. Lively and fun, there is always a great range of wines open. Likewise, The Black Pig in Kinsale. Galway has Cava Bodega and Martine’s but I love the fascinating wines offered by Sheridan’s Wine Bar– and of course the cheeses. Westport has the eclectic Gallery Wine Bar, although if you prefer a more traditional atmosphere, McGings offers five wines by the glass, alongside excellent pints and local beers. I have yet to make it to Hargadons in Sligo, but everyone tells me I should make the trip. In Belfast, Cave, part of the excellent Ox restaurant, is a lovely pared-down wine bar with an eclectic list of wines, and, as you might expect, some very nice nibbles too.

I have missed anyone out, feel free to send me an email.

The first readers to email/tweet me regarding omissions were fans of Stanley’s excellent wine bar & restaurant on Andrew Street in Dublin 2. It certainly has one of the best, most eclectic lists in the country, plus a great range of interesting sherry by the glass.

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The young and the old made the trip up from Midleton Distillery to launch four new whiskies in Dublin last week, all under the banner of Method & Madness. The old guard was made up of Ger Buckley (Master Cooper), Brian Nation (Master Distiller), Kevin O’Gorman (Master of Maturation) , Billy Leighton (Master Blender), David Quinn (Master of Whiskey Science). Lots of Masters. The new team included David McCabe (Apprentice blender), Karen Cotter (Apprentice Distiller), and Katherine Condon (Apprentice distiller).


Irish Distillers cannot be accused of resting on their laurels, having launched several new or revamped ranges of whiskey over the last few years. The Method & Madness series allows the team to experiment with limited releases of more exciting styles of whiskey. As they have just taken delivery of a new micro-distillery, currently being installed in Midleton, we can expect more in the future. This is a genuinely fascinating range of whiskeys.

Single Grain Irish Whiskey Finished in Virgin Spanish oak casks.

This single grain whiskey forms the base for all Jameson whiskies. It has been aged for 12 months in toasted virgin Spanish oak casks. Lightly aromatic, it has a smooth texture with a real spiciness (cloves?) and plenty of toasty oak. 46% €49

Single Malt Whiskey Enhanced with French Limousin Oak Casks

This single malt was made from a batch of whiskey distilled in Bushmills in 2002, when both Dave Quinn and Billy Leighton were working there. When Bushmills was sold, it came with them to Midleton. The influence of the French Limousin oak was so marked they only used it in part of the blend. Beautifully perfumed and elegant, with a lovely sweet palate of biscuits, toasted nuts, and a lingering finish. 46% €79

Single Pot Still finished in French Chestnut

‘The Irish Whiskey Act allows us to push the boat out’, says Billy Leighton, as it doesn’t limit ageing to oak casks. They used sweet chestnut or Spanish chestnut, unrelated to Horse Chestnut, for this whiskey, and the result is spectacular. Ger is delighted with how it turned out. This is an amazing whiskey with a warm spicy rounded nose, a big powerful palate, with plenty of wood character, sweet spices, honey and golden syrup. 46% €69.

Single Grain 31 year old single cask Cask Whiskey

Just three casks of this were made, and all bottled separately. It was distilled in 1985. We tasted cask 21614 which yielded 105 bottles. A wonderful delicate nose, sweetish but more precise, elegant and incredibly long, with honeyed fruits and spice on the finish. 52.5% €1,500 a bottle!


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Clos Lapeyre 2012 Vitatge Vielh, Jurançon Sec

Clos Lapeyre 2012 Vitatge Vielh, Jurançon Sec

vv-clos-lapeyreClos Lapeyre 2012 Vitatge Vielh, Jurançon Sec

Stunning, slightly funky wine with rich honey, orange peel and pineapple fruits, a strong mineral seam, and a long bone dry finish.

It being St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow, I would try this alongside sautéed salmon with a lemony sauce of some kind.

I am a big fan of the wines of Jurançon, from the south-west of France, in the foothills of the Pyrenees. The sweet wines have a glorious purity of rich pineapple fruit set off by a vibrant acidity. They are allowed to dry on the vine for long periods, a process known as passerillage, but are not affected by noble rot. The sweet Moelleux from Clos Lapeyre is a textbook example. The wine above however is a dry version. Vitatge Vielh pronounced ‘bitatje bieiy’ according to their website, is a single vineyard planted in 1945 with Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng and Courbu. All three are local grape varieties; the sweet wines are generally 100% Petit Manseng, the dry wines a blend or simply form the higher yielding Gros Manseng. This wine is made from 60% Gros Manseng, 30% Petit Manseng and 10% Courbu, and is aged for year on it’s lees with regular stirring.

€22 from 64wine, Glasthule and Green Man Wines, Terenure.


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Rafael López de Heredia, Viña Bosconia 2005 Rioja Reserva

Rafael López de Heredia, Viña Bosconia 2005 Rioja Reserva



Rafael López de Heredia, Viña Bosconia 2005 Rioja Reserva

Subtle ripe strawberry and red cherry fruits, with an appealing earthiness, and a powerful mineral backbone. Impeccably balanced, arresting and quite magnificent.

I would sip this gently with a roast shoulder or leg of lamb.

You either like them or you don’t. The wines of López de Heredia are unique, traditional and uncompromising. The company has four separate distinct vineyards (Bosconia, Cubillo, Tondonia & Gravonia) totaling 170 hectares, their own cooperage, and a respect for history. The wines are aged for lengthy periods in oak casks, yet remain fresh, lively, sometimes a little funky, with a minerality and elegance that make them completely different from all other Rioja. These are wines that make you think when you drink.

Viña Bosconia comes from the El Bosque vineyard. Made from a blend of 40 year-old vines, primarily Tempranillo, with some Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano. It spends five years in large American oak barrels before being bottled.

€31 from World Wide Wines, Waterford; Blackrock Cellars; Green Man Wines, Terenure, and 64wine, Glasthule.


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The delicious white wines of Rafael Palacios


Regular readers will know that I am a fan of both the Godello grape and Valdeorras, the region where most of it is grown. The white wines are amongst the best, if not the best being produced in Spain at the moment (with the obvious exception of sherry). In style, with their mouth-filling fruit and excellent acidity, they have a certain resemblance to Burgundy, although usually without the oak-ageing. The quality of the wines has been recognized over the last few years, and they are now starting to take their place alongside Rías Baixas on discerning wine lists in Ireland. Yet back in the 1970’s, the grape had almost disappeared, replaced by Palomino and Alicante Bouschet. It was largely thanks to a small number of local activists, and two men from Rioja, that Godello was saved from extinction. One of those was Rafael Palacios.

Rafael Palacios is youngest of nine children. Most of the Palacios Remondo family are based in the Rioja region where they run an eponymous wine company, a restaurant and a hotel. Brother Alvaro Palacios is famous for being part of the quintet that revived the Priorat region in Catalunya, and now produces Finca Dofi and l’Ermita, two of Spain’s most revered (and expensive) wines. A nephew runs a joint venture with Alvaro in Bierzo close to Valdeorras. Rafael Palacios was always interested in white wine. On the family estate in Rioja, he pestered his father to allow him produce one; ‘I was young, I was insistent, says Rafale, ‘My father eventually allowed me to do Placet’. The white wine of Bodegas Palacios Remondo quickly became one of the most admired in Spain. ‘Then’, says Rafael, ‘In 1997 or 1998 a bottle of Godello passed my mouth. I found it completely unique as a Galician wine, a balance of Atlantic influences and richness, glycerol and body. With an altimeter in my hand I looked for the highest vineyards in Valdeorras.’

Valdeorras means Valley of Gold – the Romans mined gold here. They planted grapes when they had exhausted the mines. Over the last decade, the area has been completely revived. New plantings and new wineries abound. There are now some 2,000 growers, and 45 wineries. 90% of the wine is consumed in Spain. The climate is mainly continental but does have some Atlantic influences. The best vineyards are high up on the slopes at 500 metres, where the soils are granite and slate. The Palacios vineyards are largely in the granitic soils of Val do Bibei, one of three valleys in the D.O. They now own or farm over 100 separate parcels of vines.


All three Palacios wines are aged in oak barrels, usually 500 litres, but any oak influence is very much in the background. Louro has some Treixadura (another local grape with real potential) blended in. Sadly the entry-level Bolo which sold for a bargain €17, is no more. Reading between the lines of what Palacios said, prices are rising and growers are increasing yields as Valdeorras becomes more popular. It is difficult for him to source good quality grapes (Bolo was partly made from bought-in grapes) at a reasonable price. The 2016 Sorte Antiga is the first vintage of this wine.

Louro 2016, Valdeorras

(tank sample) Made from 17 parcels of vines, vinified separately. Nicely aromatic, with a delicious balance of fresh, lively citrus acidity and fat pure green fruits. Lovely wine. Around €22.


Sorte Antiga 2016, Valdeorras (Cask Sample)

Made from a small plot of ungrafted, gobelet-trained vines planted in 1920. It took Palacios ten years to bring the vineyard back to production –‘a very emotional wine for me’ he says. There was some skin contact in the winemaking. A quite stunning wine, with grippy, slightly pithy skins, a very saline intense mineral backbone and amazing length.



As Sortes 201, Valdeorras

Ripe rich melon and peach fruits, subtle grilled nuts, with a lovely elegant minerality and nice grip on the finish. Around €50


As Sortes 201, Valdeorras

The current vintage, and one of the stars. It has a brisker, more mineral feel than the 2015 at the moment, but still has plenty of voluptuous melon and stone fruits to back up the vibrant acidity. A great wine. Around €50


Sorte O Soro 2015, Valdeorras

A single-vineyard wine, north-facing and very windy, with vines planted in 1978. A herbal nose, hugely concentrated rich succulent fruit, backed up by that minerality finishing with a real flourish. Exceptional wine.


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My wine weekend – Babette’s Feast and more

Two bottles at home over the weekend, but scroll down for the wines we consumed at my mother-in-law’s version of Babette’s Feast.



Occitania Mauzac Blanc 2015, Limoux, Ch. Rives-Blanques is made by a very nice Dutch-English couple, the Panmans, who have now been joined by their son. The wines were shipped by Febvre & Co for years, and James Nicholson I think. Now it is with Alken Brothers, a firm set up by Anthony & Gregory Alken. Not sure of price yet, but a delicious wine and quite unusual to see a pure Mauzac. Most of it goes into blends or the local fizz, Blanquette de Limoux. Floral, herbal nose, quite rich tropical fruits with yellow apples too, and some peach. All held together very nicely by good acidity.

La Bruja de Rozas is made by Commando G,  three young winemakers who each work in different wineries, but come together to produce a series of wines. They argue that Garnacha, as traditionally grown in the Vinos de Madrid region, south of the capital, can have something of the perfume and elegance of Pinot Nojr. It does, with plenty of alcohol and body too. This is a single village wine, from granite soils at 850 metres. Lovely wine, violet aromas, strawberry fruit, excellent mineral backbone and good tannic length. 14.5% Around €25 I think.

Babette’s Feast – in the late 1980’s, my mother-in-law, who is Danish, entertained guests to a re-creation of the menu of Babette’s Feast, a short story by Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen). It was made into an Academy Award winning film in 1988; if you haven’t seen it, it is well worth doing so, especially if you like food. My mother-in-law recently offered to cook the menu once more, and I volunteered to provide the wines. It was a hugely enjoyable evening, with excellent food. I’ll do a full blog on it shortly, but the menu runs as follows: Mock turtle soup with Amontillado sherry, blinis Demidoff (with caviar and sour cream) served with vintage Veuve Cliquot; quail en sarcophage (stuffed with foie gras, and encased in puff pastry with a truffle sauce) accompanied by Clos Vougeot. Then follows Baba au Rhum with Sauternes, and fruit and cheeses with port. It all finishes with coffee and Hine Grande Champagne Cognac. As you can see from the lineup below, I allowed myself a certain latitude with the wines, Clos Vougeot Louis Latour 1845 being scarce on the ground, but we were served excellent renditions of every dish on the menu.


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