Posts Tagged Wine Masons

Austrian wine: A little bit of everything

A little bit of everything probably describes Austria best; or maybe small but perfectly formed. Austrian wine production is minuscule in world terms, but varied and of a very high standard. Most of us are familiar with Grüner Veltliner, Austria’s calling card, but there is so much more to discover and enjoy. On the downside you won’t find much cheap wine, although both Aldi and Lidl have had the occasional bargain, and O’Briens sometimes promotes the wonderfully named Zull Lust in red and white. But the country is just too small to compete on price. The good news is that most of Austria’s wines – sparkling, white, red or sweet – are consistently of a very high quality. They are also unique.

A visit earlier this year served as a welcome reminder of just how great the wines are. The vineyards, all on the eastern end of the country, are very accessible (in Vienna you can even visit some by tram or boat), often ridiculously pretty and usually very welcoming, too.

So what to look out for? Grüner Veltliner is always unoaked, usually low to medium in alcohol, with good acidity and plump, slightly spicy, green fruits. It is ideal for Sauvignon and Pinot Grigio drinkers who want to experiment a little, or simply as a wine to sip on its own. Riesling, again always dry, is more like Alsace than German – medium-bodied and racy. You will also find excellent Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, usually from Styria down on the Slovenian border. The Pinot Blancs from Prieler (see below) are as good as any I have tasted. That is the whites; with red wines, Blaufrankisch is winning all the praise at the moment, but Zweigelt and Sankt Laurent can also produce impressive wines. These days, most Austrian reds are light in alcohol, fresh, vibrant and full of refreshing fruit.

Austrian cuisine may not have a great reputation here, but the wines, white and red, go really well with a wide variety of dishes from around the world, making them great restaurant wines. More forward-thinking establishments now list a Grüner Veltliner (and sometimes a Riesling too) from Austria.

Less easy to find are the great wines of Austria. The aforementioned While Grüner Veltliner, Riesling and other varieties are capable of reaching great heights. Erste Lagen, roughly similar to a Burgundian premier cru – is a serious effort by quality-minded Austrian producers to define their greatest vineyards. They are not cheap but can offer value for money compared with white Burgundy of a similar quality. We may not see many of the top wines here in Ireland, but the lesser wines from great producers – Malat, Bründlmayer, Ott, Schloss Gobelsburg, Hirsh, Birgit Eichinger – are available here. This week, four different grape varieties, all producing uniquely Austrian wine.

Grüner Veltliner Domaene 2016, Schloss Gobelsburg, Kamptal

12.5%, €17.95
Racy green apple fruits with sparky ginger spice and lemon zest. Free-flowing, fresh and dry. Lovely on its own, or with lighter seafood dishes.
From Green Man Wines, Terenure,; Redmonds, Ranelagh,; 1601 Off-licence, Kinsale; 64 Wine, Glasthule,;  Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock,; Donnybrook Fair,; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock,; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3,; McHughs, Kilbarrack Road & Malahide Rd.,; Mitchell & Son, CHQ, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue & Dunboyne,; Morton’s of Galway,; Wicklow Wine Co, Wicklow,;

Pinot Blanc Seeberg 2017, Weingut Prieler, Burgenland

13%, €26
Ripe peaches, beeswax and meadow flowers in a distinctive, gloriously textured, lightly creamy, dry wine. Fish in a creamy pie.
From Blackrock Cellar,; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street,; Green Man Wines, Terenure,

Zweigelt Heideboden 2017, Pittnauer, Burgenland

12.5%, €20.95 
Biodynamic. Mouthwatering, juicy, brambly dark fruits with a lightly tannic, dry finish. There is a lightly spicy, earthy touch, but this wine is all about the crunchy fresh fruits. Perfect with pork dishes, terrines and pâtés. Or keep it Austrian with a schnitzel.
From 1601 Off-licence, Kinsale; Bradley’s Off-licence, Cork,; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street,; Green Man Wines, Terenure,; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3,;

Meinklang Blaufrankisch 2017, Burgenland

12%, €22
Lightly spicy wine with juicy pure refreshing tart damson and blackberry fruits. Biodynamic. Drink with something fatty – barbecued ribs or a pork pie.
From Green Man Wines, Terenure,; Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, Kells, Co Meath, and Galway;


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Two of the best from Bordeaux


First published in The Irish Times, September 9th, 2017

Two Bordelaises visited Dublin recently, and each provided welcome proof that it is still possible to find very good traditional Bordeaux. Many in the region have become obsessed with making ever bigger and more powerful wines. But for me true Bordeaux is graceful and elegant, refreshing and balanced – the polar opposite of full bodied. Good claret should invite you to take another sip, and slowly seduce as it reveals hidden depths. Bordeaux is not a wine to drink on its own. It needs food to show off its finest attributes. Traditionally, it is accompanied by a roast of lamb or beef, although roast chicken, duck or a steak are fine too. If you want to keep things simple a hunk of decent Parmesan also works well.

Château Phélan Ségur

Château Phélan Ségur has been popular in Ireland for many years. The Irish connection – the Phelan family – died out in 1917. The property has always outperformed its status as a Cru Bourgeois, producing classic Saint-Estèphe: meaty, four-square wines that repay ageing.

I tasted a series of vintages going back to 1990 with the chateau’s managing director, Véronique Dausse, in Dublin. All were in fine fettle. The 2008 and 2006 were fully mature, with tobacco leaf, cool, elegant blackcurrant fruits and firm, drying tannins. The 2009 was riper, the 2010 firm and unyielding. I would give it a few more years. All were classic Bordeaux. Château Phélan Ségur costs anything from €70 to €100 a bottle; the estate’s second wine, Frank Phélan, available in independents, can offer good value at €35-€40.

Château le Puy

Emeline Arbeau works for Château le Puy, a unique property located just beside the vineyards of Pomerol and Saint-Émilion. The 100-hectare estate has 46 under vine; the rest is forest and lake. It has been in the hands of the Amoreau family since 1656, and has always been organic, if not biodynamic, although they are only now in the process of being certified. Uniquely, the chateau releases the wine only when it considers it ready to drink. It has a remarkable collection of older vintages stretching back to 1917. A selection of these is released each year.

The wines are wonderful: stimulating, refreshing and elegant, the epitome of traditional Bordeaux, with toothsome brambly red fruits and blackcurrants, developing mushrooms with age – “Bordeaux as it used to taste,” says Emeline, and I can only agree.

The wines of Château le Puy are not cheap: the Emilien is €40 and Barthélemy, the top cuvee, about €120. If this seems expensive, remember that wine from neighbouring properties are about the same price but don’t always deliver the same quality.

Bottles of the Week

Château le Puy Emilien 2014, Côtes de Bordeaux 13%, €40
Restrained blackcurrants and blackberries with a fine acidity and an elegant, lightly tannic finish. From Green Man Wines, Dublin 6; Redmonds of Ranelagh, Dublin 6; the Corkscrew, Dublin 2; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3; Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin

Frank Phélan 2012, Saint-Estèphe 13%, €34.95
Light, earthy tobacco and black fruits with a soft finish. Ready now. From branches of O’Briens, in Dublin, Carlow, Cork, Galway, Kildare, Limerick, Louth, Meath, Waterford, Westmeath and Wicklow; and other independents

Château Phélan Ségur 2009, Cru Bourgeois, Saint-Estèphe 13.5%, €95
Relatively full-bodied, with ripe blackcurrants and spice, and a long, dry finish. From O’Briens (as above) and other independents

This week’s bargain

Château Cilorn 2015, Bordeaux Supérieur 13.5%, €14.95, down from €19.95
Elegant cherry fruits underpinned by a fine acidity and light tannins on the finish. From O’Briens (as above)

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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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Breaking Booze – its wine o’clock but there is a shortage!

Dire predictions of future wine shortages make for good copy. The media needs a constant stream of stories and tales of hailstorms, late frosts, flooding and other random acts of nature help fill pages, online and off. A year or so ago, it was northeast Italy. I certainly haven’t noticed a great Prosecco shortage in our wine bars, or any massive price increases. If anything the opposite seems the case. As well as providing news, such scaremongering may help producers push their prices up a little. Generally I ignore these tales of alarm. If there is a genuine shortage of one wine, we are lucky to have plenty of alternatives from other regions, although when the stories are genuine, naturally I do feel sorry for the unfortunate producers who may have lost an entire year’s income in a few short hours.

 However, it does now seem possible that we are facing into a worldwide shortage of wine. World consumption has been increasing steadily over the past decade or more, particularly in the US and China, two of the largest markets. At the same time, production has declined, mainly in Europe, where growers have been paid to grub up vines. To make matters worse, France and Italy, the two largest producers, have suffered a series of small harvests. Further afield, Argentina, Chile and South Africa are all looking at a reduced harvest in 2016. Australia and New Zealand both saw increases, and are reporting high quality too, but this is unlikely to make up for the shortfall elsewhere. As it takes several years for a vine to become productive, and a decade or more to yield high quality grapes, it could take time to address the shortage.

In 2016, well-known names such as Sancerre and Chablis suffered from late frosts in April and early May, and parts of Beaujolais from hail. We will probably see shortages of these over next year. The harvest in Burgundy overall is 20 per cent down on 2015 with some areas suffering far more. The finest region of Burgundy, the Côte d’Or, has experienced a series of smaller and smaller vintages, affected by frost, hailstorms and floods. Prices for the top wines have rocketed as demand has increased dramatically in the same period.

More worrying in the long-term is the increased demand worldwide for the finest wines. Consumers in China, Hong Kong and elsewhere are happy to pay large sums for the very best labels. In the most sought-after areas, the scope for increased production is very limited. It is likely that the great wines of the world will continue to increase in price, and we will have to look elsewhere for our wine.  I will return to this subject again in the near future.

ImageViré-Clessé Vieilles Vignes 2014, Florent Rouve



Sophisticated textured green fruits, underpinned by subtle hazelnuts, with real depth.

Stockists: Marks & Spencer




DSCF7121Johann Geil Pinot Noir 2015, Rheinhessen



Charming free-flowing light supple cherry fruits. By itself, with salmon, tuna or pork.

Stockists: Mortons, Sweeneys, Redmonds, Wicklow Wine: Mitchells, Listons, Jus de Vine, Drinkstore, Corkscrew, Blackrock Cellar, 64Wine; Grapevine.





Image 2Langhe Nebbiolo 2014 G.D. Vajra



The friendly face of Nebbiolo? Floral and elegant with very approachable red fruits.

Stockists: Baggot St. Wines; Clontarf Wines; Fallon & Byrne; Green Man; Jus de Vine; Searsons; The Corkscrew; World Wide Wines.

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Bairrada 2012, Lagar de Baixo, Niepoort

<strong>Bairrada 2012, Lagar de Baixo, Niepoort</strong>

IMG_4467Bairrada 2012, Lagar de Baixo, Niepoort
€23.95 from Baggot Street Wines; Whelehans Wines, Loughlinstown; Corkscrew; Chatham St; Hole in the Wall, D7; Redmond’s, Ranelagh; Martin’s, Fairview.

Lovely cool wild dark fruits, all damsons and brambles, with a fine mineral acidity and firm tannins on the finish. Perfect with a fatty roast of pork.

Winemakers have been trying to tame Baga & Bairrada’s fierce tannins for years now with some success. Having worked there for several years, Douro producer Dirk Niepoort took over this estate in 2012. Here he believes the limestone soils and cool Atlantic climate make for more refined and elegant wines.

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