Posts Tagged The Irish Times

Bordeaux superieur: fruitful trips to wine-producing chateaux The new Cité du Vin gives another good reason to visit the French city

IMG_3635First Published in the Irish Times Saturday 6th March, 2016

A deputation of Bordelais officials travelled to Dublin recently to present the Irish press corps with some compelling reasons to visit their city. I am not sure we need convincing. It seems Bordeaux is going to be a very busy place this summer. As every football fan will be aware, Ireland face Belgium here at Euro 2016 on June 18th.

The Stade de Bordeaux has a capacity of 42,000, so tickets will not be easy to come across. The massive Parc des Quinconces will be turned into a fan zone. If the match isn’t going well, you could always meander down to the nearby river, a Unesco Heritage site, and enjoy the wonderful scenery.

The soccer doesn’t end there. On June 21st, Croatia take on Spain and one of the quarter finals will take place here on July 2nd.

In addition to football there are plenty of wine-related activities. From June 23rd-26th, the city will host the annual Fête le Vin, a lively festival that takes place in tents and pavilions along the waterfront.

I really enjoyed the event a few years ago, a great mix of tastings, food and culture. At around the same time, the brand new Cité du Vin will open its doors. This impressive wine cultural centre and museum covers wine from around the world, and promises something for all the family, including children.

It would be shame to visit Bordeaux without paying a visit to a few of the wine producers. At one time, the châteaux of Bordeaux were reluctant to open their doors to the public, but happily this has all changed in recent years.From the offices of the CIVB (Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux) in the city centre, a string of buses leave every morning to visit various regions of Bordeaux and their châteaux. There will also be a jetty beside the Cité du Vin, where you can take boat trips to the vineyards.Given the city is going to be very busy, I strongly suggest you look at or the more general and make arrangements before travelling.

However, you don’t really need an excuse to go to Bordeaux; the city was rejuvenated under former mayor Alain Juppé and is a wonderful place to visit (although if you are travelling by car the traffic is never great). Many of the fine old buildings along the waterfront have been renovated, the old town is buzzing with activity, and has plenty of food and wine shops, restaurants and other ways to spend your money.If you tire of the city, and of wineries, take a relaxing a trip to the amazing beaches of Arcachon or the nearby oyster beds.


And so to the wines; Bordeaux continues to produce some of the world’s finest. The Grands Crus Classés may be beyond the reach of many, but this is one of the largest wine regions in France, so there will always be plenty of less expensive wines. Don’t worry if you don’t make it to Bordeaux; most retailers here have a decent selection.O’Briens starts its Bordeaux sale on March 1st; I can recommend the seductive, supple Château Sainte Marie (€14.35), and the excellent Château Marsau Arpège 2010 for €15.95, a very keen price.I also really enjoyed the Château Pey-Bonhomme Les Tours 2012 (€20) from 64wine recently. Lidl should still have some wines left from its French wine sale, including the Fiefs de Lagrange below.I would also recommend the elegant plummy Château de Francs 2011 and the ripe juicy Château Clos Fontaine 2010, both good value at €12.99. Greenacres in Wexford has one of the finest selections of Bordeaux in the country, with prices to fit every budget. Mitchell & Son welcomes back Château de Lamarque to its portfolio after a gap of a few years; it also has a mouth-watering selection of good Bordeaux.

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Stone Barrel Oatmeal & Coffee Stout

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The Rotation Series Episode 4 Oatmeal & Coffee Stout
Stone Barrel Brewing Company

First published in the online Irish Times Wednesday 17th February, 2016

What do bankers do when they tire of taking our money? Make beer if Stone Barrel is anything to go by. Niall FitzGerald and Kevin McKinney had been friends for a long time. “We both worked in financial services in the glory days. We were low level though” stresses Kevin, “if we had been real bankers we have a really fancy brewery by now.” For the moment they brew in Craftworks, the brewing facility in Broombridge. However, they have now bought their own kit and hope to set up their own operation in the next eight to ten weeks.

“We were home brewers for a long time and like a lot of people, always wanted to have our own brewery.” Their first beer, Boom, was released in November 2013. “We made a conscious decision to develop one product and push it as much as possible. We are hugely proud of the result; it is our bread and butter.” The oatmeal and coffee is the fourth in their rotational series. “Whenever we have a bit of spare capacity we try a once off to keep us and the beer drinkers interested,” says Kevin.

The label is not the easiest to read. “We had a mishap with the printers and the label came out a lot darker than we anticipated”, says Kevin. “But we needed to get the beer out there before Christmas so we went ahead. Label aside, this is a very nice beer, with plenty of dark roasted coffee and dark chocolate too, alongside some hoppy fruit. All of this darkness matched my mood, as I watched Ireland go under in Paris.

Posted in: Beer, Beer & Whiskey, Irish Times

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An Irish favourite: Rioja reigns from Spain

First published in the Irish Times 13th February, 2016

In the weeks before Christmas I spent a great deal of time standing in wine shops, inveigling customers into buying a copy of my wine book. One store I visited had two giant piles of rioja reserva on offer at a discounted price. There were other wines on promotion too, but it was the two riojas that flew out with the greatest speed. Both stacks were severely depleted by the time I departed a few hours later. Rioja, and rioja reserva in particular, has long been one of our favourite wine styles and shows no sign of losing popularity.

Most of us would be unaware that rioja has been going through a huge personality change over the last decade, redefining itself several times over. You could now argue that there are three categories of rioja, with some crossover, but generally very different in style. Yet despite this upheaval, rioja has managed to retain its position as Spain’s favourite quality wine.

Until the late 1990s every bottle of rioja was classified according to how long it had been aged in oak barrel and bottle prior to release. Under this system, there is a specified a minimum period of ageing in oak: six months for crianza, a year for reserva, and two years for gran reserva wines, At one stage the required period of ageing was even longer in each category. Some, such as López de Heredia, still age wines for 10 or more years in barrel.

Old barrels were generally used to avoid oak flavours while allowing the wine to soften and develop delicate mushroomy, leathery, earthy flavours. Nowadays, a portion of newer barrels is sometimes included to add vanilla and spice.

Classic examples of the traditional style (López de Heredia, Muga Prado Enea and La Rioja Alta 904 spring to mind) can be superb, complex wines that last forever. The only exception to ageing in oak was up north in Alava, the Basque part of Rioja, where the tradition has been to drink young, unoaked wines often made partly or completely by whole-berry fermentation. These light, acidic fruity wines went perfectly with those tapas the Basques love to eat in bars and restaurants.

Rioja expanded massively in the 1990s and at times the quality of the wine decreased. There was a downward pressure on price in Spain (where most rioja is sold) and elsewhere. It lead to some very cheap and uninspiring reservas and gran reservas. During the prolonged period of economic success in the years preceding the millennium and after, many producers started to produce a new, modern style of rioja: full-bodied wines with high levels of new oak, alcohol, ripeness and extraction. They were also very expensive.

These fruit bombs were rapturously received by much of the media and a sector of the public. They were generally categorised as simply cosecha (meaning vintage or harvest) and ignored the traditional system of classification.

More recently there has been a move among smaller, younger producers towards much lighter, more elegant wines with little or no oak ageing. Again these are simply labeled cosecha. They often come from a single vineyard, some are made by whole- berry fermentation, others simply fermented and matured for very short periods in stainless steel or cement.

While I enjoy rioja reserva, I have always been a fan of the less oaky style as well. Tempranillo has such wonderful clean, delicate fruit it is a pity to mask it with too much oak. Having said that, the best of the traditional style are unique wines.

I received a number of excellent samples from the trade for this tasting. Sadly I couldn’t find space for the wonderful LZ de Lanziego (about €20). I also tasted the fine GA2 Graciano from Curious Wines (€17.49), and the excellent Artuke Pies Negros 2014, a wine that features in my book. See for full details of the tasting.


IMG_0005Artuke 2014, Rioja

Seductive wine; supple easy sweet ripe strawberry and red cherry fruit, with surprising concentration and depth.

Stockists: Listons, Camden St; 64wine, Glasthule; Clontarf Wines

DSCF6385Cantos de Valpiedra 2012,Rioja,
€18.50/£12.50 This was an excellent cultured modern Rioja, with smooth supple cassis and subtle spice. A real crowd pleaser at a very fair price.


Image 26Señorío de Cuzcurrita 2008, Rioja

A lovely mature wine with ripe sweet strawberry and dark fruits laced with a soft, dusty earthiness, a little oak, and a fine minerality.

Stockists: Wines on the Green

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