Posts Tagged The Irish Times

The problem with Dry January

First published in The Irish Times, January 14th, 2017

I have given up giving up. I don’t avoid alcohol in January or November. Throughout the year, I try not to drink on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. I dismiss most research showing the positive effects of alcohol, but reckon that wine and beer have been around for more than 5,000 years, so a moderate consumption is unlikely to harm me.

I post my consumption online every week, and it usually consists of six bottles, enjoyed by two or more of us over four nights. Not all are empty either, but under current HSE guidelines, I am still probably drinking too much. The HSE advises no more than 11 standard drinks a week for women and 17 for men. For wine, a standard drink is 100ml. (35.5ml for spirits, and half-pint for beer), much smaller than the average serving in a pub, restaurant or at home. A measure often contains two or more standard drinks. Ely Wine Bars are one of the few establishments to provide a marking on the glass. Their 187.5 ml serving is a ¼ bottle of wine.

The HSE guidelines are for wines with 12.5 per cent alcohol; most wines contain more, and it can be challenging to work out how many units you are drinking. One (industry-sponsored) website explained that multiplying the alcoholic volume of a wine by 0.8 (the alcoholic density of wine) gives you the grams of alcohol. So 12.5 multiplied by .8 = 10 grams of alcohol in a 100ml serving which represents one unit. A 15 per cent bottle of wine (12 grams of alcohol per 100ml) has nine units, while a lighter German Riesling Kabinett might contain 6.5.

Three pints

Binge-drinking is defined as six units or more at one sitting. If, over the course of an evening meal, you have an aperitif, followed by a glass of white wine with your starter and two generous glasses of red wine with your main course, you are a binge drinker. Or if you consume more than three pints of beer or three glasses of wine on a night out. This probably includes a sizeable portion of the Irish population.

We already have the highest tax on wine in Europe, so pricing may have a limited influence, although alcohol consumption has actually fallen 20 per cent since 2002. What we need urgently is a change of attitude. Twice recently I heard radio presenters laughing about how we drink ourselves into oblivion on stag weekends and at staff Christmas parties. It was the usual boasts of “if you can remember it, you didn’t have a good time” and “how bad was your hangover”. I also heard a friend dismiss her teenage son’s binge drinking with a shrug and a “sure what can you do?” If we continue to think like this, no legislation or minimum pricing is going to make any difference.

DSCF7124Torres Natureo Delcoholised wine 2015

0.0% (0 Units)


An alcohol-free Muscat that is the closest I have tasted to the real thing. A refreshing enjoyable drink.

Stockists: Very widely available.




Image 1Domaine de la Pépière, Muscadet de Sèvre & Maine, Organic

12% (less than a unit per 100ml serving)


Light and refreshing apple fruits, with a wonderful zestiness.

Stockists: O Learys, Cootehill; Clontarf Wines; Hole in the Wall; O’Driscoll, Ballinlough, Quintessential Wines, Drogheda.




DSCF7152Vale de Capucha 2011, VR Lisboa, Portugal

15% (1.2 units per 100ml serve)


Seemingly restrained with damson fruits, good acidity and a very attractive mineral core. Great wine with real character.

Stockists: Corkscrew; Gibney’s, Malahide; Redmond’s, Ranelagh; Corkscrew, Chatham Street, Dublin 2; Blackrock Cellar.

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Specialist Retailers at risk

The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill currently working its way through the Oireachtas could have profound effects on the way we drink. Minimum pricing makes some sense to me, although a ban on below-cost selling might be more effective. However, we already have some of the most expensive alcohol in Europe, so obviously price alone will not curb excessive drinking. Many of those creating mayhem in our urban centres every weekend will have paid very high prices for their late-night drinks and it certainly hasn’t prevented them bingeing.

The Bill does not propose to limit the number of outlets that can sell alcohol. I am uneasy that my local garage sells a range of wine, beer and spirits alongside petrol. If alcohol is so dangerous, surely its sale should be limited, or confined to specialists? If it works, I would certainly welcome the proposed restrictions on the constant barrage of dubious special offers on alcohol in our supermarkets.

The proposal to have a label on the back listing the alcoholic strength in grams as well as the calorie content, alongside other health warnings may sound good but actually could severely restrict the import of quality wine while leaving the cheaper stuff untouched.

Big producers typically ship a large consignment of a single wine so it should be relatively easy for them to affix a unique back label for the Irish market. For small artisan producers who make tiny quantities of multiple wines, and small quality importers who import these wines, it would be a nightmare. For instance, medium-sized importer Tindal & Co import 1,070 different wines from 125 producers. Imagine trying to deal with a small 100 case delivery of 10 different wines, opening each case, removing every bottle to attach a unique back label depending on the alcoholic strength and calories of the wine. Multiply this by a hundred and it simply isn’t possible. This could mean the disappearance of the most interesting wines from this country, and possibly a few importers too.

Under the legislation, retailers will be required to separate alcohol from all other products. Again, this seems a sensible idea, and should be relatively easy for large supermarkets with plenty of space. But many of the small specialist off-licences and wine shops also offer cheeses, charcuterie, and other foods alongside their wines. As things stand, they will have to cordon their wine off so that it cannot be seen from the food section. Our specialist retailers, already under severe pressure from the multiples, and hardly the cause of our alcohol problems, will be put under huge additional pressure.

I continue to believe that most of us consume alcohol in a way that does not seriously damage our health. I am in favour of anything that encourages us to drink sensibly, and to think differently about alcohol.  It remains to be seen whether this bill will do that, or simply demonise the intelligent drinker.

Image 2Vin Rouge, Vin de France



A lovely light juicy Gamay from natural winemaker Clos de Tue-Boeuf in the Loire valley.

Stockists: Bradley’s, Cork; Le Caveau, Kilkenny; Green Man; Corkscrew.





DSCF7174Syrah d’Ogier 2014, Vin de France



Truly satisfying elegant savoury dark cherry fruits;

Stockists: Searsons, Monkstown; McCambridges, Galway; 64wine, Glasthule; Donnybrook Fair.





DSCF7049Dâo 201 Rui Reguinga, Portugal



Absolutely delicious wine. Elegant supple dark cherry fruits, concentrated and rounded with good acidity. Loved it.

Stockists: Terroirs, Donnybrook







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The Green Fairy – Absinthe and Pastis

The Green Fairy – Absinthe and Pastis

First published in the Irish Times, Saturday 8th October, 2016

Absinthe can claim to have the worst reputation of all alcoholic drinks, quite an achievement. Held responsible for many of the ills that plagued society in continental Europe, it was banned in many countries for most of the 20th century. Yet its lighter cousin, pastis, brings forth benign images of happy Provencales playing pétanque in the square.

Absinthe came before pastis. It was first produced in Switzerland in the late 18th century, but it is generally accepted that Henri-Louis Pernod was the first to make it commercially. It became the favourite tipple of many artists and writers, from Van Gogh to Hemingway, in Europe at the end of the 19th and early 20th century, gaining an unsavoury reputation, accused of being a hallucinogenic, or causing convulsions.

Absinthe is traditionally made with wormwood, anise or star anise, and other herbs, but it usually tastes strongly of anise. The herbs give absinthe its green colour, and its nickname La Fée Verte, or Green Fairy, although today it comes in all sorts of colours.

Wormwood contains a chemical compound called thujone, which in very high doses can be toxic, and cause convulsions. There is only a small amount in absinthe, as in many other foods, so you would probably die of alcohol poisoning long before the thujone could take effect. More likely the problem was alcohol abuse. Absinthe was very popular in France and very strong – it can be anything from 55 per cent to a whopping 75 per cent abv.It is not intended to be drunk neat. These days it often appears as an ingredient in cocktails dreamt up by mixologists, but traditionally it was diluted with water, or louched, an elaborate procedure whereby the drinker slowly drips water through a cube of sugar balanced on special spoon into the absinthe below, clouding the clear drink.

Absinthe was never actually banned here or in the UK, but as it was prohibited in the main producer countries of France and Switzerland, supply was always going to be a problem. Retailers I spoke to talked of a niche interest.

Pastis began when absinthe was banned; it is lighter and consumed diluted with water, classically one part pastis to five of water. It is a refreshing aniseed-flavoured drink, drunk chilled, preferably outdoors in a cafe somewhere in the south of France. Therein lies its problem; the cold European north has never quite taken to pastis. The same retailers reported a healthy trade though, mainly with ex-pats, but also a number of Francophiles. Pastis is also very useful as an ingredient in sauces with fish. Ricard, Pernod and Henri Bardouin are the three biggest brands, the first two being readily available if you fancy reliving that holiday in the sun.

Image 6Pernod Pastis

Pure anise and liquorice on nose and palate. An attractive refreshing drink with cold water or ice.

Stockists: Dunnes; Tesco; SuperValu; O’Briens, Next Door and off-licences.

Image 7Ricard Pastis

More complex herbal nose, richer on the palate with more body; all herbs and anise. Again, a lovely drink.

Stockists: O’Briens, SuperValu and off-licences.

DSCF7026Hapsburg Classic Absinthe
€52.99 for a 50cl bottle

Drunk neat, an almighty explosion of alcohol and aniseed with a bitter edge. Louching essential.

Stockists: Celtic Whiskey Shop; Redmonds, Ranelagh; Bradley’s, Cork.

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Take Four Sommeliers


A good sommelier can be a lifesaver, effortlessly guiding diners to that perfect bottle of wine at an affordable price. Of course there is also a minority who like to sneer at every customer they serve. As the 2012 movie Somm showed us, being a good sommelier requires a high degree of skill and knowledge. It is an important position for the restaurant proprietor too. As one leading sommelier pointed out to me, he brought in half of his restaurant’s profits, while a huge battery of chefs, waiters and other employees were responsible for the other half. But what do sommeliers like to drink off-duty? I asked four from around the country to divulge their favourite wine within a budget, and a dish to accompany it. The only restrictions were price – €25 (€15 in the case of Aniar), and availability. Coincidentally, three of the four wines have featured as wines of the week on these pages – obviously these somms know a thing or two!

Julie Dupouy of the Greenhouse restaurant on Dawson Street was placed third in the World Sommelier Championships, one of the most difficult and prestigious competitions. She now also runs Down2wine, a wine consultancy service. She chose the Rosso Piceno. “I love it for the balance between sweet dark fruits and savouriness, and the smooth and seductive texture. A great option at the table especially with venison and some sweet earthy ingredients such as beetroot and mushrooms.”

Nicolas Faujours works at Knockranny House in Westport. With his Bourgogne Rouge, Faujours chose duck, and not just any duck; see online for the Knockranny pan-seared breast of Gressingham duck with various accompaniments. “It is such a versatile wine and I love it,” he says. “It is light bodied and great with many foods including the duck as well as sea bass. In staff tastings, it always comes out on top.”

I gave Zsolt Lukacs of Aniar in Galway the harder task; a wine under €15. This Philippe Michel Crémant, a favourite of mine as well, is, he says, “a heavyweight champion in bantam costume. A fantastic wine on its own or with oysters, squid and chorizo or light pork dishes. Thanks to its great acidity, it can easily cope with some cheeses, too”. Samuel Chantoiseau is head sommelier at Ballymaloe House in Cork. “I love Chenin Blanc from the Loire valley. With wine this good I would eat some seared Irish scallops, maybe with quinoa and roast vegetables and a little spice. I love Savennières, but it is quite expensive. This Vouvray is delicious; if I had an older vintage such as 2012, it would be even better.”

Image 1Vouvray Sec 2014, La Dilettante

Fascinating, delightful wine. Light yet full of rich honey and peaches.

Stockists: Le Caveau; Baggot St. Wines; Clontarf Wines; Corkscrew;
Green Man; Listons; Fallon & Byrne; MacGuinness, Dundalk; Avoca, Rathcoole.

Bourgogne Rouge Domaine Guillot-Broux 2014

Juicy fragrant light redcurrant and red cherry fruits.

Cabot and Co, Westport; Poppy Seed, Clarinbridge; Grapevine, Dalkey;
Mortons, Galway.

no 2 rosso-piceno-di-gino-fattoria-san-lorenzo-2013Rosso Piceno “Vigna di Gino”, Fattoria San Lorenzo 2014

Lovely elegant dark cherry fruits with a savoury edge and a very attractive freshness.

Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, Dublin, Galway and Meath.

Phillippe Michel ChardonnayBargain Wine

Philippe Michel Crémant de Jura NV

Crisp zippy refreshing green apples and lemon zest. Amazing value for money.

Stockists: Aldi

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Wines to go with Vegetarian Food

First published in the Irish Times Saturday 10th September 2016

I am not vegetarian but would be quite happy to forget about meat three or four days a week. Possibly I live too close to the Happy Pear. However, when children depart the coop and diet fads cease (if only) I look forward to changing my own regime. This is the high season for many fruits and vegetables, so this week we look at how to pair vegetarian foods with wine.

There is still a tendency to categorise all vegetarian food as light and salady or very heavy and worthy. It is of course much more complex than that. All meat dishes are based around protein, and wine-drinkers usually try to match this to a particular style of wine. In fact, often it is the spices and flavourings, as well as the accompanying sauce, that should determine what wine to drink. Matching vegetarian food to wine follows similar principles and should not lead to any loss of pleasure. To start off, match lighter foods with lighter wines, and more acidic dishes with crisp white wines.

Rich white wines often partner best with sweeter vegetables, such as peppers, butternut squash, sweet potato and carrots, especially if they have been roasted, as well as beans, bean purées, and creamy dishes. Lighter whites go well with fresh cheeses – goat’s cheese and Sauvignon Blanc being just one example, but also Labneh, Mozzarella and Ricotta, as well as fresh herbs. Leafy salads and raw tomatoes also go well with lower alcohol, fruity whites.

One of my favourite comfort foods is mushroom risotto; a lovely big rich warming plate of happiness. I know many vegetarian friends are sick and tired of it, as it seems to be the standard veggie option in just about every restaurant – whatever happened to the once ubiquitous nut roast? However mushrooms in general are very wine friendly, usually red wine, and around this time of year, we even have wild mushrooms to consider. If you do like a nut roast, those rich caramelised flavours go best with red wines – a robust Languedoc, Côtes du Rhône, or a New World Cabernet would all do nicely. A few other pointers; beans are generally really wine friendly, happily providing the richness of meat as a background to the other flavours. With stir fries, soy sauce and fish sauce generally it is better to go with red wine.

I am a dab hand at knocking up a frittata/tortilla, invariably vegetarian, from whatever is in the fridge or garden. With this and other egg dishes, I enjoy a glass of light, inexpensive red. My most recent lesson came with a tomato tarte tatin (from last week’s Guardian); those intense, lightly caramelised flavours were great with both a rich white wine and a young Cabernet Sauvignon.

DSCF6871Terras do Cigarrón 2013, Monterrei

A pleasant light wine with plump pear fruits to pair with salads and fresh cheese.

Stockists: La Touche, Greystones; Jus de Vine; Whelehan’s.

DSCF6955Les Deux Cols Cuvée Zephyr 2015, Côtes du Rhône


A lovely rich Roussanne, filled with honey and peaches. With roast root vegetables.

Stockists; Searsons, Monkstown.

Image 8Palataia Pinot Noir 2014, Pfalz, Germany


Light perfumed red cherry and plum fruits, to partner mushrooms.

Stockists: Marks & Spencer.

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Šipon & Slovenia

Šipon & Slovenia

IMG_2591First published in the Irish Times, Saturday 16th July, 2016

The south-east corner of Slovenia is one of the prettiest wine regions I have ever visited; rolling green hills covered in vines, forest, fields of pumpkin and maize, dotted with substantial prosperous well-maintained farmhouses, each with its own immaculate kitchen garden. The hills provide some excellent and varied sites to grow vines. The people are very friendly and open. It was a joy to walk around the narrow roads on a bright sunny June morning and very hard to leave. The default language is German. We are a twenty-minute drive from Austria and Hungary, and two minutes from Croatia; the recently erected barbed wire fence along the border lies unmanned, as the politics of refugee’s changes. In the past, the people of this area would have considered the city of Graz as their capital rather than Ljubljana.

The names are long and a bit confusing. The three main towns are Ljutomer (remember Lutomer Riesling?), Jeruzalem and Ormož. They tried calling their wine Jeruzalem, but people thought it was Israeli. Today most of the wines are labeled Štajerska, Slovenian for Styria, a much larger region. Grape varieties do not respect political borders. Many of those grown here can also be found in the neighboring countries. The majority of wines are white, although Blaufränkisch is growing in popularity and can be very good.

Šipon (pronounced Sheepon or Shipon) is better known by its Hungarian name, Furmint. It deserves far greater recognition as one of the world’s great grape varieties, responsible for Hungary’s glorious sweet Tokaji, as well as some delicious dry white wines in Austria and Slovenia as well as Hungary. Under other names, you will also find it in Croatia, Romania, and Slovakia. Mitchell & Son even have a (very good) sparkling Furmint from Ch. Dereszla in Tokaji. Dry Furmint is lightly aromatic, with wonderful bracing acidity, and attractive fruits whose flavours I find difficult to describe. It can take a bit of oak ageing, and matures very well too. It certainly goes very well with the pork dishes popular in this part of Slovenia.

I tend to run away from Gewürztraminer most of the time; it takes a skilled winemaker to balance the rich exotic honey-laden aromas and fruit with the all-important balancing acidity. The Traminer grape is a forbearer of Gewürz. Less aromatic, with succulent fruits and a lively acidity, the wines are worth looking out for, especially the Miro below. The western part of Slovenia also produces some fascinating, but very different wines, often with a distinctly Italian style. Sadly very few are available here for the moment. Slovenia is not a big producer, and their wines are in demand locally, so prices are rarely cheap. They do however offer very good value.

DSCF6718Verus Furmint (Šipon) 2014, Stajerska, Slovenia

Delicious light refreshing wine with plump honey and melon fruits.

Stockists: Cabot and Co, Westport; Grapevine,

Image 1Miro Traminec 2013, Stajerska, Slovenia

Gentle aromas of honeysuckle, dripping with honeyed ripe peach fruits.

Stockists: Cabot and Co, Westport; Grapevine, Dalkey

DSCF6715Dveri Pax Šipon Ilovic 2011, Stajerska Sloven

Aromatic, lightly smoky with delicious maturing exotic fruits, finishing dry.

Stockists: Wines on the Green, Dawson St.

Image 2Bargain Wine
1139 Dveri Pax 2015, Stajerska, Slovenia


A blend of four grapes come together to produce a vibrant fruit-filled wine. Perfect summer drinking.

Stockists: Marks & Spencer

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Three women wine writers

Three women wine writers
Alice Feiring at Litfest 2015

Alice Feiring at Litfest 2015

First published in the Irish Times, Saturday 2nd July, 2016

This week we veer right off the beaten track and celebrate three female authors who have each published a well-written book on an obscure wine region. Books on nebbiolo, vin jaune and Georgian qvevri wine are unlikely to climb the best-sellers lists. But each is a lovely read.

Alice Feiring was a fascinating and provocative speaker on natural wine at the Ballymaloe Litfest 2015. She has gone on to write a wonderful, emotional book, For the Love of Wine, about traditional winemaking in Georgia, one of the oldest wine-producing countries in the world. She explores the ancient culture of making wine in qvevri, clay amphorae, and meets up with some of the most remarkable characters making wines that sound intriguing. I would love to have included the amazing Pheasant’s Tears Saperavi as a wine of the week. The wine is macerated and fermented with stems, skins and pips in clay amphorae lined with beeswax and buried in the ground for months on end. Sadly, it has sold out completely.

The Jura has been the trendiest region in the wine bars of London and New York for several years. It produces some of the most unusual and least known (until recently) wines of France. Even the most hardened wine anorak will find it difficult to recall savagnin, poulsard and trousseau. And nowhere else in France will you find a vin jaune, the country’s answer to sherry, as well as the most extraordinary chardonnay and pinot noir. Wink Lorch, author of Jura Wine, has spent part of the year in the French Alps for two decades. Her enthusiasm and knowledge is infectious; this book really makes you want to travel there, drink the wine and eat the food too.

Jancis Robinson calls growing nebbiolo an exercise in precision engineering. In Barolo and Barbaresco: the King and Queen of Italian Wine, Kerin O’Keefe writes that, for her, barolo “was like a Fellini film; with the first sip I wasn’t quite sure what was going on but I knew I liked it, by the next sip it was starting to make sense, and by the time I finished the glass I was hooked”. Not everyone finds it so easy to love nebbiolo, which can have very high levels of tannins and acidity. It has a haunting bouquet. All are agreed that it hates to travel outside of Piedmont, and that it reaches its apogee in two small towns; Barolo and Barbaresco.

Like Feiring, O’Keefe pulls no punches, and is quite happy to criticise where she feels it is required. She has an obvious love and understanding of her subject. Her book is the definitive guide to the soils, the grapes and the growers producing these great wines.

IMG_1923Didimi Krakhuna 2013., Imereti, Georgia


Bone-dry with invigorating crisp sparky minerals and cool yellow fruits.

Stockists: Blackrock Cellar: The Corkscrew; Green Man Wines; Fallon & Byrne.

DSCF6303Barolo Le Coste di Monforte 2011, ‎Guidobono

Fragrant floral aromas with liquorice, raspberries and firm dry tannins.

Stockists: Mitchell & Son; Sheridans Cheesemongers; Grapevine; Donnybrook Fair.

ImageVin Jaune 2006, Arbois, Domaine Rolet
€51 for a 620ml bottle

Astonishing wine with tangy almonds and walnuts, cumin and a long bone dry finish. Serve lightly chilled with a good Comté.

Stockists: 64Wine, Green Man Wines, Clontarf Wines.

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South African White Wines

South African White Wines

First published in The Irish Times Saturday 28th May, 2016

Over the last decade, South African wine has gone through something of a revolution. There is a new generation of younger winemakers. These men and women are now producing some of the most exciting wines in the New World (we think of South Africa as “New World” yet the wine industry here goes back 350 years).

The quality of reds has improved greatly, but it is the white wines that has everybody in the wine world talking. South Africa now makes world-beating Chardonnay. It can also offer excellent Sauvignon Blanc, especially from cooler areas such as Elgin, Overberg and Darling. Others are experimenting with Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier.

Often it is blends of these and other varieties that provide the most excitement. An article on South African white wines cannot leave out Chenin Blanc, so long the workhorse grape variety of wine production here. There are now seriously good and uniquely South African wines made from this variety.

Many will be familiar with Stellenbosch, Paarl, Constantia and Franschhoek, but often these days it is areas such as Swartland, Elgin, Cape Point and Malgas that are producing the greatest excitement. Swartland, and the Swartland Independent Growers in particular, deserve an article all to themselves. The most influential figures in the South African wine scene are probably Charles Back, producer of good value Rhône-style wines and Spice Route, as well as Eben Sadie of Sadie Family wines, and viticulturist Rosa Kruger.

Lismore sounds Irish, as does the proprietor Samantha O’Keefe, and there is a distant connection, but O’Keefe is actually from California. In a short time she has made herself one of the most respected wine producers in South Africa. I tasted her Chardonnay (below) alongside an excellent Viognier.

Recently founded Keermont is an example of how good South African blends can be, and chef and Master of Wine Richard Kershaw is another rising star. Sadly all are expensive.

We haven’t always had a great range of South African wines in this country, but recently I tasted some of South Africa’s finest white wines courtesy of two importers.

Dr Éilís Cryan of Kinnegar Wines has a mouth-watering list. Wine Masons also has a smaller well-chosen range, including the Keermont below, Ghost Corner, Cederberg and DeMorgenzon. Look out too for wines from Mullineux, De Trafford, Alheit, Chamonix, Morgenster, alongside familiar names such as Paul Cluver, Kanonkop, Neil Ellis and Rust en Vrede.

Image 2Cape Peninsula Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Cape Point

Made by rising star Duncan Savage, a lovely clean precise aromatic dry Sauvignon that compares very favourably with many from Marlborough.

Stockist: Marks & Spencer

Image 1Kershaw Clonal Selection Chardonnay 201, Elgin

A very good imitation of a top Burgundy at a similar price. Racy green fruit and subtle toasted hazelnuts. Delicious.

Stockists:; Mitchell& Son; Redmond’s; 64wine.

ImageKeermont Terrasse 2013, Stellenbosch

Complex and textured blend with layers of flavour; honey, peaches, grilled nuts and spice.

Stockists: Corkscrew.; Redmond’s.

ImageLismore Chardonnay 2013, Greyton

A superb Chardonnay, subtly spiced and fresh with luscious fruits. But most of all impeccably balanced.

Stockists:; Mitchell & Son; Redmond’s; 64wine.

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Islands in the Sun

Islands in the Sun

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 21st May, 2016

From its probable birth over 8,000 years ago in the Caucasus, vine growing and wine drinking was spread, by the Phoenicians, and later the Greeks and Romans, around the entire Mediterranean. Wine sustained empires and provided its inhabitants with something safe to drink.

By the time you read this column, I will be down at the Ballymaloe Litfest 2016, the third year of this excellent event. On Sunday lunchtime I will be giving a talk and tasting entitled Islands in the Sun.Since a visit to Pantelleria a decade ago, I have been fascinated by the island wines of the Mediterranean. Wine was produced on virtually every island of any size, many of them volcanic. Despite being surrounded and ruled by various competing powers, many have developed a separate identity, with undiscovered indigenous grape varieties producing unique wines.

Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean. Once a source of cheap bulk wine, it is now home to some of the most exciting producers, on the slopes of Mount Etna in particular. Sardinia was ruled for four centuries by the Spanish kingdom of Aragon (as was Corsica). As a result, Sardinia’s most famous red wines are made from Cannonau, the local clone of the Spanish Garnacha.
The best white wines comes from the Vermentino (known as Rolle in France) grape, a variety that retains acidity in warm climates, and is showing great potential both here and in Corsica as well as mainland France and Italy. The wines of Corsica are less easy to find. The lesser wines go under the wonderful title of Ile de Beauté. The more expensive wines tend to stay on the island, or can be found on mainland France.

Moving to Greece, the island of Santorini once supplied Eucharistic wines to the Russian Orthodox church. Today, this arid windy volcanic outcrop produces some unique fresh, crisp mineral dry white wines from the indigenous Assyrtiko grape. The vines are formed into basket-like circles that stay close to the ground.

Pantelleria is a small volcanic island that is closer to the coast of Africa than Sicily. Here the ancient practice was to shield vines from constant wind by digging small craters in the volcanic rocks. The Muscat grapes, called Zibibbo here, are dried in the sun, before being fermented into a luscious sweet wine.

This is only scraping the surface. There are so many more. For the tasting I have sourced wines from Corsica, Malta, the Canaries, as well as those below. Space does not permit me to cover them all here, but if you are free this Sunday, why not come along?

DSCF6559Pinot Noir Réserve 2015, Ile de Beauté, Barton & Guestier
€11.99 (sometimes offered at €9.99)

Light juicy easy red fruits with a refreshing acidity. Perfect summer drinking.

Tesco; C&T Supermarkets; Carpenters, Castleknock; Amber,Fermoy; Joyce’s, Galway.

Image 3Gaia Wild Ferment Assyrtiko , Santorini 2015

Fresh floral and mineral, Chablis-like with crisp fruits and a lingering dry finish.

Stockists: O’Briens

Image 4Tenute Dettori Vino Renosu Rosso NV, Sardinia

Delicious welcoming warm herb-scented wine with soft red fruits.

Stockists: 64wine, Glasthule.

DSCF6556Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico 200, Azienda COS, Sicily

Soft smooth strawberry and plum fruits overlaid with dark chocolate. Wonderful wine.

Stockists:; No. 1 Pery Sq.; Market 57; Grapevine, Dalkey; Corkscrew; Red Island; Listons.

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Glug and Grill – Barbecue Wines

Glug and Grill – Barbecue Wines

First published in the Irish Times, Saturday April 30th

I had my first barbecue of the year a month ago; a whole chicken stuffed with garlic and lemon. It was simple but delicious, the skin crisp and burnished. You can cook on the barbecue throughout the year (I know people who use it for the Christmas turkey) but once the sun comes out it becomes a much more attractive method of cooking. The Irish barbie is no longer a few sausages and burgers incinerated on a grill. Not only do we cook everything from fish to vegetables, many now have proper smokers or at least woodchips to add smoky flavours to a charcoal-powered covered cooker.

I divide my barbecue wines into three categories. There is no getting away from the idea of matching a big, powerful red with barbecued red meat. Smoked or heavily marinated and spicy meat probably demands the biggest wines of all. For inspiration, look to sunny countries and how they match their wine and food. Shiraz from Australia, malbec from Argentina and zinfandel from California are all classic partners.

With fish and chicken a rich white wine or a rosé is called for. I probably do not pay rosés enough attention in this column. I could blame the weather but I have to admit I am not a big fan generally. There are some very pricey pinks from Provence and elsewhere, but I am not convinced they are worth the money.

However, rosés can be great with grilled or barbecued shellfish, fish and chicken, especially if those with an Asian or Middle-Eastern marinade or rub. They also go very well with all sorts of salads, so they are a good catch-all summer wine. If you want to stick with white wine, a chardonnay (lightly oaked wines and smoke) or a rich viognier are probably the best options. You could serve a light, chilled red wine, such as a pinot noir, with grilled salmon or tuna.

My final barbecue wine does not go with any of the food; it is the aperitif! Charcoal always takes far longer to get ready than you think, and some foods, chicken in particular, must be thoroughly cooked (my best friend is a digital thermometer), so make sure you have something to drink while waiting for the food to be ready.

Avoid big, alcoholic wines, or you and your guests will be sprawling long before the food is ready. A light, well-chilled refreshing white wine is ideal; a Mosel riesling Kabinett, if you are having nibbles, or you could think about a lightly chilled beaujolais or Loire cabernet, or again a rosé, as they tend to be light in alcohol. This week’s wines are not expensive. I save my best wines for other occasions.

DSCF6516Borsao Campo de Borja Selección 2014, Spain

A delicious fruit bomb of a wine; supple, juicy, ripe and very gluggable.

Stockists: Searsons, Monkstown

DSCF6499Exquisite Pinot Noir Rosé 2015, Marlborough, New Zealand

Light summery strawberry fruits with a dry finish. With fish and white meats.

Stockist: Aldi

DSCF6519Espigueiro Vinho Verde 2015, Portugal

Perfect summer sipping wine; light, crisp, and sprizty.

Stockists: Wilde & Green, Milltown; John Doyle, Gorey; Mitchell & Son, chq, Sandycove & Avoca Kilmacanogue.

Posted in: Irish Times

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