Tag Archives: French wine

THE WINE BUNCH – Bumper tasting – Mart ‘n’ Me do Southern Rhône

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SOUTHERN RHONE REDS Week One

 Part of the purpose of commissioning this tasting was to try and assess whether the various cru and village wines could hack it when put up against the big boys from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, writes Ernie Whalley. The answer proved to be ‘yes, they can’ but au fond the best Châteauneufs retained that extra edge with greater complexity, power and purpose. At around the €40 mark they seem expensive but if you compare them to equivalently priced wines from Burgundy and Bordeaux  they punch well above their weight. Red Châteauneuf tends to be big, beefy and not for the faint of heart. In a year when the grapes ripen to permit maximum extraction the alcohol levels can be fatiguing. In dry years the tannins can sometimes overwhelm. Grenache is the key grape, with the modern tendency being to up the percentage of Syrah is the blend in order to round out the wine. In matching terms, Châteauneuf-du-Pape works best with robust food – beef, game, duck and rustic casseroles spring to mind immediately. 14 tasted, here are our top picks.

 Domaine La Roubine Vacqueras 2010 €21 www.quintessentialwines.ie and independents nationwide. SILVER

 EW: A characterful big mulberry and plum fruited wine, with an intriguing lick of black pepper at the back end (cinsault in the blend?). Concentrated but not jammy. 
 
MM: Quite Châteauneuf-du-Pape like with rich, plum, prune and liquorice but also lively perfume and savoury notes.
 
17.5/20 
 
La Cote Sauvage 2009 Cairanne around €17.99, selected independents. SILVER
 
EW: Smartly-made populist wine from the ‘most likely to be upgraded’ village, with enjoyable toast, liquorice, tobacco and black tea notes in among the dense plum and blackberry fruit. Huge drinkability. 
 
MM: Very more-ish with great drinkability as its plum and red berry fruit is yet never heavy, tannins are soft and it has a refreshing finish.
 
17.5/20
 
Chateau de Vaudieu Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010 €40.99  World Wide Wines, The Parting Glass, Fallon & Byrne, thewineshop.ie, Wine Well Off Licence GOLD
 
EW: Power and subtlety, broad-shouldered as Paul O’Connell but with the dancing feet of a classy out-half. The pot-pourri nose, with violets and sandalwood in there, is almost worth the price of the bottle. 
 
MM: A bit of an elephant in a tutu. It has complex perfumed nose showing violets and finesse and elegant acid but in between it’s intense, epic even with rich plummy, pruney fruit.
 
18.5/20 
 
Clos de L’Oratoire des Papes Chateauneuf du Pape 2010 €45 The Parting Glass, Enniskerry, Co Wicklow; Callans, Louth; selected independents SILVER
 
EW: Intense, weighty, serious, brooding wine that maintains your interest down to the last drop in the glass. Serious kit from a fine producer.
 
MM: A classic of the appellation with a complex array of soft rich fruit including plum, prune and raisin
 
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SOUTHERN RHONE REDS Week Two

“Why buy Rhône”, I’m often asked, writes Ernie Whalley. Okay, here we go. First off you get great bang for your buck. The Southern Rhone is the region of France’s most user friendly reds and they are available for easy money. To get equivalent quality from Bordeaux, you’d be paying at least a fiver more. Better yet, because of the southerly latitude the grapes are rarely underripe, even in a modest year. The result is rich, rounded wine, taylor-made for drinking in a cooler climate like ours. The stoney soil and moderate rainfall keeps yields relatively low, giving a further boost to quality. Some Côtes du Rhône is made using the carbonic maceration process (akin to Beaujolais). This produces jolly, fresh-tasting uncomplicated wines made, mostly for immediate drinking. However, there are in the region, many producers with aspirations and the four wines we’ve chosen from our 16 tasted would certainly not suffer from being kept for 3-4 years. Not that this will happen, of course, given the Irish predilection for drinking wines within hours of getting them home!

 Domaine Goisbault 2010 Approach Trade  €15.50 Dalys, Gorey, Co Wexford; The Kingdom, Tralee, Co Kerry; Nectar Wines, Sandyford, Co Dublin; Next Door Myles Creek, Kilkee, Co Clare. SILVER

EW: Supple, quite complex, with a hint of white pepper on the nose. Pluperfect fruit/acid balance distinguished this organic, extremely appealing wine.
 
MM: Fascinating and very different complex organic wine, intriguingly perfumed with peppery notes, dark fruits and fresh acidity. Lovely.
 
17.5/20
 
Les Deux Cols 2012 Cuvée d’Alizé €14.50 www.winestore.iewww.donnybrookfair.ie, D4; www.jusdevine.ie, Portmarnock, Co Dublin. BRONZE
 
EW: Lovely ripe, soft, rounded, predominantly grenache fruit makes this wine a pleasure to drink. A lot of class for the money.
 
MM: More concentration than you’ve a right to expect for this level with plenty of soft scented rich dark berry and plum fruit.
 
16/20
 
Domaine Didier Charavin Lou Paris 2011  €15.65 www.winesdirect.ie SILVER
 
EW: A strong syrah component makes this grippy, dramatic,impactful seem more Northern than Southern Rhône. Lashings of plum and dark berry fruit and considerable complexity.
 
MM: Almost Crôzes-Hermitage like as the syrah in this comes through strongly with pepper and bacon notes plus soft black fruit.
 
17/20
 
Château Mont Redon 2011 €16.50 Mortons D6; Savages, Swords, Co Dublin; Fresh stores;  D-Six Off-Licence, D6; Whelans, Wexford Street, D8 BRONZE
 
EW: Entry level wine from a Châteauneuf-du-Pape estate of repute. Rich plum, berry and figgy fruit makes for enjoyable drinking.
 
MM: A mini-me from a famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape estate with rich slightly raisiny fruit and good length.
 
16/20 

 Read Martin Moran and Ernie Whalley every week in The Sunday Times IRL ‘Sunday’ Magazine

THE WINE BUNCH Tasting: BORDEAUX REDS under €25 May 2012

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BORDEAUX REDS under €25 Week One

The charms of Bordeaux red wines are not lost on the Irish wine drinker, writes Ernie Whalley. ‘Claret’ has long been our  tipple of choice when the occasion causes for a wine de luxe. A birthday, an anniversary, the boss coming to dinner, away go the Chilean cabernet and the Aussie shiraz and in come the St.Emilion, the Pomerol, the Margaux, etc.

It’s worth remembering that Bordeaux’s blandishments are very vintage specific. Talking it through, Martin and I decided that the best advice we could dish out is “If Bordeaux’s had a bad year, go south.” Frequently a good way south, to warmer parts of Europe and to the New World.

As with pinot noir, we are splitting the results of this tasting – 38 wines in total – over three weeks. 25 of these were priced in the sub-€25 band, of which we have selected eight. Here are the first four. I’m sure it won’t escape your notice that the wines below are all from the stellar 2010 vintage.

Mademoiselle L 2010 Haut Medoc €24, The Vintry, Rathgar D6 and selected independents SILVER

EW: Beautiful wine, soft and polished yet with a well-structured tannic backbone  making it ‘a keeper’. Absolutely unblemished with most of the things I’d expect from Haut Medoc in a great vintage.

MM:  I could sniff this for ages with its classic Medoc aromas of graphite and black fruits. It’s still got some firm tannin so aerate it if drinking now. 

17/20

Château des Laurets Puisseguin Saint-Emilion 2010 €23.99 www.mitchellandson.com  SILVER

EW: More classical in style, the merlot shining through the steely cabernet. There’s a Baron Edmond de Rothschild family restraint about this well-structured, stately wine.

MM: A wine that takes itself very seriously. Quite closed and tannic at first but air softens it to reveal damson, redcurrant and floral notes. Will become more complex as it ages.

17/20

Château Bauduc Clos des Quinze 2010 Côtes de Bordeaux €16.99 www.curiouswines.ie, Cork;  www.rednosewine.com, Tipperary  BRONZE

EW: Developing beautifully and thanks to the effulgent 2010 vintage, good enough to squirrel away for a year or three. Supple and quite elegant.

MM: A wine to watch under the guidance of clever winemaker Gavin Quinney with enough attractive fruit and spice to drink now and structure to age if you prefer.

16.5/20 

Château Haut Rian 2010 Côtes de Bordeaux www.winesdirect.ie €14.50 BRONZE

EW: Good quality spicy Cabernet fruit backing up the Merlot makes this a real hit for the modest ask. Luscious, liquorice, cinnamon, cloves amid nicely resolving tannins.

MM: A basic quality level wine but a good year, 2010, means it’s punching above its weight and shows interesting floral aromas mingling with spiced plum, supple tannin and elegant acidity giving finesse.

16/20

BORDEAUX REDS UNDER €25 Week Two

The hinterland of Bordeaux, France’s fourth largest city, is the country’s largest delineated wine growing region (AOC), writes Ernie Whalley. Located in the southwest corner of France, adjacent to the Atlantic, the region benefits from the coastal maritime influence, typically enjoying wet springs, fairly gentle summers and mild winters. The Gulf Stream exerts a warming influence on the region. However, summer weather can be fickle, making for interesting issues when it comes to getting grapes to ripen. In any given decade the wines of Bordeaux personify not so much The Good, The Bad and The Ugly but The Great, The Good and The Indifferent. Well-ripened grapes represent the building blocks for the classic vintages – 2000, 2005, 2009 and 2010 are examples – and wines from these vintages are crafted for the long haul. There is, however, a bonus involved in guying a vintage merely fêted as ‘good’. The wines will be more affordable and ready to drink earlier. This week we continue the ‘sub €25’ theme and here are four more recommendations from the 38 tasted.

Ch.Peychaud Maisonneuve 2006 € 20.50 Brechin Watchorn, D6 BRONZE

EW: 2006 was a vintage that started with high hopes and ended up plagued with problems. Some minor wines escaped the general mediocrity and this is one of them. Savoury and complex but just a tad short of ‘elegant’.

MM: Age has added spicy, savoury leathery notes to rich damson fruit and there’s still a rake of tannin, so give it some air to soften it.

16/20

Chateau Mouras 2007 Graves Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Co Dublin; www.64wine.ie; www.fallonandbyrne.com, D2 €19.99 SILVER

EW: Totally typical Graves with abundant redcurrant fruit, cinnamon and clove hints and the give-away powdery ‘afterfeel’ high up on the roof of the mouth. Savvy winemaking. 

MM: Very successful for a difficult year like 2007 with attractive and characteristic Graves style showing redcurrant fruit rather than black and gentle spice with a little tannin.

17/20

Ch.Mahon Laville 2010 €17.99 www.drinkstore.ie, D7 BRONZE

EW: Almost hypermodern. A massive chunk of blackcurrant and brambly ripe fruit. The thought struck – could this be the Bordeaux that could lead lovers of Chilean wine back to the source? 

MM: A very modern style with shiny black fruit pastille like fruit and distinctive vanillin oak character.

16/20

Mitchells Claret 2009 €12.50 www.mitchellandson.com, IFSC and Glasthule, Co Dublin BRONZE

EW: Well made wine from a really good vintage. Decent weight of rich fruit with the tannins kept in check. Just about as good an introduction to red Bordeaux as you could get.

MM: A great vintage like 2009 means even on the lower rungs of the quality ladder you ret rich smooth plumy fruit enlivened by a dash of spice.

16/20

READ ERNIE WHALLEY AND MARTIN MORAN EVERY SUNDAY IN ‘SUNDAY’ IN

THE SUNDAY TIMES (IE)

GLEESONS-GILBEYS PORTFOLIO TASTING Feb 2011

"Stuck in an appellation" Saint Emilion

A day in a wine writer’s life. I get up, dress, eat my porridge then phone the Guinness Storehouse to see if they have a wheelchair. Oh dear, apparently they don’t. I should maybe make it clear that my request stems not from the previous night’s over indulgence but from a knee operation. The Storehouse is The Land That God Forgot for us D4, southside wine scribes – can’t get there by public transport, there’s no parking and a cab costs a fortune. Ah, well, needs must…

I grab my crutches and limp up the road towards the taxi rank. Three traffic jams later I arrive at the Gleesons Incorporating Gilbey’s Portfoilio Tasting, bit of a mouthful? No, it’s a lot of mouthfuls, 41 tables, groaning with wines from all over the world as well as ports, sherries, brandies and beers. Here’s a flavour.

Before I kick off I’ll issue the usual caveat. This is a personal view of a tasting on a particular day. Other folk may love wines I hated or hate wines I loved. Make of it what you will.

Scanning the catalogue I find lots of old familiars, known quantities. This saves me time. For instance, while I know that, say, Les Charmes de Magnol Medoc 2008 is going to be of merchantable quality it won’t excite or surprise so I pass. The Cheval Noir Grand Vin de St.Emilion 2005 (€18.50, selected independents) on did surprise and pleasantly so, good budget claret.

Louis Latour, as usual, have quite a presence but, as ever, I find you have to get into the upper echelons of their list before thye start to charm. Louis Latour Montagny (Super Valu €19.99) is much more inviting than their Chablis. Simmonet-Febre’s Chablis (€18.99, O’Brien’s) was nicer, less steely.

On the Chateau de Sours stand I re-encounter owner Martin Krajewski, nice man. His Petit Cantenac St.Emilion 2008 (€22.50) has plenty of potential. The Bordeaux Rosé,  as always, was well up to the mark (€14.99, independents).

I’m a massive fan of the wines of JCP Malthus as people who read my Herald and the old Sunday Independent columns may have noticed! Bordeaux, Barossa, wherever there’s a roundness, a loveliness, a warmth about them and something that just shouts “Hey, this is bloody good winemaking”.  Area Manager Myriam Carrere tempts me to a vertical – 2006/7/8 – of Ch.Teyssier St.Emilion – I seem stuck in this appellation at the minute – the 2008 promises much but if you can find it, buy the ’06, it’s simply stunning. Entry level Pezat was good as ever. Seems to be some confusion as to whether this and Ch.Lacroix are the same thing. I came away none the wiser.

Can’t help thinking that Jaboulet Ainé have lost their way.Though Caroline Frey has expunged the bad winemaking of Jabs from ‘90s days the newer wines still seem to be struggling to find a house style. Maybe I just liked the big ruggery-buggery wines I remember from the 1980s? Anyhopw, I think they’ve lost something in power, shape and robustness while recovering the finesse that  went missing for so many years.

The delightful Anne Trimbach is in Dublin to present the wines of this brilliant house. Unlike some of their Alsace rivals I can’t think of one wine in their portfolio that doesn’t hack it. Everything is ‘sorted’. Trimbach Alsace Riesling 2009 (€15.99, SuperValu, O’Brien’s, independents) is a classic of the genre.  As for the Cuvée Frederick Emile 2004 (€34.99) every wine lover should have at least one bottle squirreled away for a joyous occasion.

Next table, Gruner Veltiner, Austria’s signature from ex-hippy Laurenz Moser. Named ‘Singing’, ‘Sunny’ and ‘Charming’ (€15.99-€24.99, Donnybrook Fair and independents) the wines are as beguiling as the titles. German wines, happily, are back up and bouncing, after a rocky couple of decades.

Lingenfelder’s German riesling and gewürztraminer (€13.99, independents) with their engaging bird and hare labels should be sought out and bought.

Black Tower roll on, now with added varietal choice. Stick with the Riesling, honest wine for the €9.35 ask. The sylvaner is a bit grim.

Moving up the price scale, if you can still find Lo Zoccolaio’s Barolo 2001 for the stated €37.49 (McHugh’s had some) grab the merchant’s hand off, this is classic kit.

The Dalmau Reserva Rioja 1985 at €85 is daft money, considering you could have, as alternative, 4 bottles of the very quaffable Marques de Murieta Reserva 2005 (O’Briens, Dunnes, Molloys) and a taxi home. This wine, for me, wiped the floor with the popular Faustino equivalent.

The Bodegas Portia Prima Ribero del Duero 2007 (€25, selected independents) is currently dead sexy. Baby brother Ebeia Roble 2009, almost half the price, is good too.

Simonassi Malbec 2006 was decent for the money (€9.99).

Vergelegen Cabernet 2004 was good kit but at €29.45 I can think of a couple of dozen reds I’d rather drink or lay down. The better South African wines still impress, rather than charm.As a ‘how to’ they should look at the complexity St.Hallet are cramming into St.Hallet Old Block Shiraz 2005 (€34.95) , the 2004 of which I remember from a big Aussie seminar last year where it kicked sand in the eyes of a good few more expensive shirazes. The ’05 has all the poke of  a traditional Barossa red with lots of other nice things revolving round the glass.

Chileans Terra Andina gave us a well-priced Reserva Pinot Noir from Leyda (€10.99, Donnybrook Fair, Centra) and an electrifying, invigorating Sauvignon Blanc (€9.99) that carried more than a hint of old-style Marlborough before the Kiwis started shining it up.

More? Luscious the Lane ‘The Gathering’ Semillon-Sauvignon from Adelaide Hills (€22, independents); Hunter Estates Chardonnay from NZ, always class; and St.Hallett Old Block Shiraz 2005 (€35, O’Briens, Tesco) up there with the Barossa’s biggies.

Best of the budgets? No question. I give you False Bay Chardonnay, from South Africa’s Western Cape – classy stuff at ridiculous (€9.80, Londis, independents) money from Paul Boutinot, the Manchester maverick behind, among others, Chat en Oeuf (€9.10, Superquinn, Centra), one I’m always plugging for value. The 2010 False Bay Chardonnay is clean, non-cloying, more European than New World and altogther a worthy example of the sort of Chardy that should put noisy chavs like Pinot Grigio back in their box.

Can’t quit without mentioning the wonderful Julia Kennedy, whose organisation, as usual, was pluperfect. Great ideas of hers to get Fingal Ferguson there with mum Giana’s cheeses and his own salami, a huge quantum leap from when he started a few years back. The new mortadella, in particular, was a wondrous product.

Julia is off now to pastures new, Gleeson’s loss is Dillon’s gain.

WINE TRIP TO LANGUEDOC-ROUSSILLON

On my travels again. This time in Languedoc-Roussillon, following in the footsteps of Louis XIII by staying in an immense historic edifice, Chateau de Pennautier. The chateau is but a short car ride away from the famous walled city of Carcassonne. I’m there as a guest of Nicolas whose family have inhabited the chateau since 1620 and his wife, Miren. Now lovingly restored, Chateau de Pennautier is available for corporate functions and also occasionally houses guests like myself who are there to taste and assess the quality of Lorgeril’s wines.

The Lorgeril company is in the forefront of the movement to revive the fortunes of Languedoc-Roussillon by upgrading its wine production. Geographically, the area is huge, producing around a third of France’s wine but it used to be a byword for mediocrity. Now things are changing and changing fast, for appellations within the region such as Faugeres, Saint-Chinian, Minervois, Cabardes, Fitou, Boutenac, Cotes de Roussillon-Villages and Limoux are producing clean, classy, modern wines that fully reflect the terroir – that word again – in which the grapes are grown. It’s maybe worth re-emphasising that ‘terroir’ is more than just the soil; other components include the sub-strata, the micro-climate, the alignment of the vineyard, even the altitude. I find it helps to think of ‘terroir’ as ‘a sense of place’, a bolt-on goodie that helps take wine far beyond being fermented grape juice, enabling the imbiber to get maximum enjoyment out of the glass.

Though Lorgeril’s export manager, the convivial Frank Flugge, might deny it, the company’s approach struck me as remarkably antipodean. “No, we don’t grow the viognier here. We bring it over from one of our other estates” might have come from a winemaker in Marlborough or McLaren Vale. At any rate, it’s far removed from the rigidity of the old guard up in Bordeaux and shows the open-mindedness and flexibility of the Languedoc-Roussillon wine people in the quest to upscale the wines.

The ones I tasted paid tribute to their efforts. Cabardes, the appellation in which Chateau de Pennautier is located has devised a set of interesting rules. Traditionally the grapes grown were an assortment of both Bordeaux and Rhone varietals – cabernet sauvignon often stood next to syrah; merlot to grenache; cot (malbec to you) to cabernet franc. What was grown where, the philosophical locals didn’t much care. When the appellation was formalized the stipulation became that a wine could consist of a minimum 40% of either Bordeaux or Rhone and 50/50 became a commonality.  Again, akin to the Aussie approach where they see no heresy in mixing, say, cab sauv and syrah/shiraz in one bottle. Lots of parallels here.

Dunnes Stores retail Pennautier wines here. The unoaked Ch. De Pennautier “Classic” Cabardes Rouge is  a well upfront mélange of dark fruits – plums, damsons, blackcurrants – easy drinking, without the big alcohol wham that all-too-often accompanies new world reds. I’d almost defy anyone not to like it.

Grading by the altitude at which the fruit is grown is not an original idea – the coffee people did it many years ago, separating plants into Arabica and Robusta – but Lorgeril’s decision to label their superior wines, made from selected grapes from more elevated sites, “Terroirs d’Altitude” has something to commend it. The sensitively oaked Château Pennautier AOC Cabardès Terroir d’Altitude red took silver at the International Wine Challenge last year. I’m not a fan of ‘stickering’ as you’ve probably realised but I can say that this wine is as good as it gets for the €11.34 ask and when, as you occasionally do, you find it ‘on special’ for just of €9, I’d regard it as a ‘must buy’. Other wines that impressed were the clean, understated Marquis de Pennautier “Terroir d’Altitude”, Vin de Pays D’Oc Chardonnay (€11.39) and the beguiling AOC Cabardès rosé (€9.95).

Lorgeril have a number of other properties, including Château de Ciffre which straddles the appellations of Faugeres (my nomination for ‘one to watch’) and St.Chinian. Traditional wine merchants Mitchell & Son stock, among other Lorgeril wines, the genuinely exciting Château de Ciffre “Terroir d’Altitude”, AOC Faugères, red (€16.95) and the warm, uncomplicated user-friendly Rhone-like Mas des Montagnes Classique, AOC Côtes Roussillon Villages, (€11.95).

One the last morning we killed time in Carcassonne, not the World Heritage hilltop site but the working town down in the valley. Locals are apt to be rather scathing about it but we thought it a decent place in which to spend a few hours, with a large food market, a more than adequate supply of bars and a very fine deli.

So it Goes…. this week's decent drinking

I am indebted to fellow wine writer Paul Kiernan who, via his Twitter monicker @grapesofsloth, gave me the heads up on a letter to Decanter magazine in which a reader asked “What planet are your tasters on when they describe wines as ‘high wired’ and ‘coiled with purpose’?” What indeed. “Uranus, as in ‘talking through…” would have been my response.
Once more the vexed subject of descriptive and pseudo-scientific language in a wine context raises its head. In order to justify our meagre stipend we wine scribes have to do a bit better than “You should buy the Quinta de Pancas Touriga Nacional Reserve 2007, it’s really good” (it is though – try Corkscrew, Chatham St or The Wine Boutique, Ringsend). And, to keep ahead or at least abreast of those who’ve been processed through the WSET exam system we have to come up with something more original than “aromas of bergamot, mandarins, figs and forest floor”.
Following a bit of banter with Paul I decided it was time for action. With the aid of a willing accomplice, a two-volume Shorter Oxford English Dictionary and an A4 notepad I devised the initial (analogue) version of WRADEC – Whalley’s Random Adjective and Descriptor Compiler. First I wrote down a list of a wine’s components – nose, palate, body, aftertaste, finish etc. Then I got my acolyte to select a page of the SOED at random. Next I eeny-meeny-miney-moed up and down the page, settling on a descriptor, which I wrote down. After a few passes of this kind , I sorted out the jumble into something approaching a coherent and hopefully, plausible sentence.
The random inclusion of ‘swinging’ in my first effort gained me a clatter of undesirable followers on Twitter. But eventually I had a whole heap of new things to say, I mean, “A shog of a wine, almost fescenine on the nose; brusquely effulgent of palate with a longiloquent finish”, how good is that? I have someone working on the software as I write.
Meanwhile, the stream of bargains coming out of the supermarkets continues. A couple of years ago we couldn’t get anything drinkable for €8. I hope you all took Martin Moran at his word (Evening Herald HQ) and bought shedloads of the gorgeous Jacobs Creek Reserve Riesling while it was €6.50 at Tesco. Staying in the cut-price category the same outlet also has another couple of cracking whites. There’s a glut of NZ sauvignon around at the minute and Fern Bay 2009 is drinking well for the money. And I particularly liked the Macon Villages Blanc 2008, well-structured chardonnay. Marks & Spencer also have a decent Macon Villages of the same vintage, as well as a 2008 single estate Orvieto with a snappy herb-and-spice nose and apple and pear fruit on the palate. Unless you are really into that tropical fruit vibe (and many people are) I’d take either of the Macons before the SQ Classic Collection chardonnay but SQ’s Semillon-sauvignon blanc is simply in a different league. Tipping the scales at a reasonable 12 per cent ABV it would be great for casual drinking in the garden; it’s incredibly food-friendly; and could be regarded as a bit of a keeper if you wish – ‘Mr.Versatility’, for daft money. All these wines retail for less than €8.

Restaurant Review – Chapter One

“Mister Whalley; how delighted, honoured, gratified, enraptured we are to have you here tonight.”

Why, thank you, Martin. In your inimitable way you’ve just made me and my guests, Sibella and Calluna, our niece, feel like The Most Important People in the Universe. The maestro of maitre d’s, the PT Barnum of meeters’n’greeters, has worked his magic yet again. Once inside Chapter One, the trick is to commandeer a table as far as possible  from the front door, so there’s no possibility of overhearing Martin reprise “Ah, Mister Ryan how delighted…” as the next party arrives. I had booked, unusually, in my own name. They know me here so there’s no point in attempting subterfuge. I thought of donning a wig, dark glasses and acquiring a white stick and a labrador. Rent-a-Dog’s website was down, so I abandoned the plan.

The two tasteful and comfortable dining rooms, plus the cosy bar area where you can doss down on plush stools for a pre-prandial, augment the welcome, as do the staff who spring into action as soon as Martin has let you through the portal. He has cast them in his own image. Not that they go rushing round squealing “how delighted…”; just that they attend to your needs in an attentive yet dignified manner redolent of the good hotels of yesteryear.

I’d be surprised if Chapter One’s ‘pre-theatre’ menu wasn’t the prototype for all the value offerings that have sprung up since we reverted to banana republic status. It’s still the benchmark by which I judge the rest. I’m a massive fan of Ross Lewis’ cooking, combining, as it does, modern and classical elements in the manner of French masters like Robuchon and Guy Savoy, guys who, back in the ’80s, hammered a stake through the heart of nouvelle cusine. Ross’s plates are pretty but not fussy. He has a huge regard for quality ingredients, which he treats in a sympathetic manner. Though there are novelties – the pea and asparagus soup that comes adorned with an egg poached in red wine, for example – they are always sensible, with flavours contrasting but harmonious. There’s a substance and, at the same time, a lightness of touch – here, I’d instance the slow cooked shoulder of  lamb, combined with celeriac purée, and a dusting of fragrant gremolata, enjoyed by both Sibs and Calluna. There’s a deal of Irish about, including the indigenous charcuterie trolley, instituted some years ago. We wondered at the time whether there was enough Irish charcuterie to cover an espresso saucer but Ross, sourcing impeccable, managed to procure enough variety to make up a decorous plateful. Calluna’s starter, the escabeche of red pepper and oven dried plum tomato jelly, smoked Ardsallagh goats cheese, asparagus and basil was all the above, shaped into one stylish presentation.

The three course dinner, available between 6 and 7pm, costs €37.50. Double this up, add a brace of coffees and you’ve spent €78. You could blow more than this on chicken liver paté/rib eye/banoffi pie with paper napkins and crude glassware at a run-of-the mill Dublin steakhouse. This modest pricing leaves you scope to select an amicable bottle of wine from the genuinely exciting list. If you want to keep things frugal the house wine, thanks to Ian Breslin, currently Ireland’s sommelier of the year, is particularly well chosen. Going just a tad upscale I grabbed a single (luckily, Calluna is not yet of drinking age, ha ha) bottle of Pezat, made from grapes grown within welly-chucking distance of some of the finest plots in St.Emilion by a genius called Jonathan Malthus. (I’ll take this opportunity to apologise to readers of our sister publication for boring their butts off about this gem.)

Word had reached Sibella via the feminine bush telegraph that the warm chocolate mousse was the dessert of choice and so it was voted by both her and the fair Calluna. Me, I wimped out and opted for the less calorific lime parfait. It’s good to be able to report that the espresso here has vastly improved since my last visit, too.

Abandoning my usual excessive modesty, I shall reveal that I was hollering for the Michelin men to acknowledge the worth of Chapter One long before most of my southside neighbours had even heard of its existence; a feat akin to picking a Triple Crown winner at a yearling sale. Each time I go back I see no reason to change this opinion. No disrespect to Messrs Guilbaud, Thornton and Dublin’s other great restaurateurs and chefs but I believe it is Chapter One who hold most of the high cards when it omes to providing what I’d call ‘the complete dining-out experience’. I’ll head off any criticism that, being known, I got special treatment. Everyone in the restaurant, without exception, looked as happy as we did. I’ll leave the verdict to our fifteen year-old gourmet, who is as I write, prising the lid off her piggy bank to see if she has enough for a return trip.

Verdict: In Calluna’s words – “Amazing”.

Rating *****

Chapter One, Basement of Writers Museum, 18/19 Parnell Square, Dublin 1 Tel: 353 1 8732266

3 x 3-course Pre-theatre dinner 112.50

2 x coffee 3.00

1 bottle Pezat red 40.00

TOTAL 155.50

No more Mr.Nice Guy…

Martin barrelBe warned! The most urbane of meeters’n’greeters, the maitre d’ so silver-tongued he’d make Nat King Cole sound like Johnny Rotten, is a changed man since he got his hands on that bloody big sharp adze.

No more “Ah Mr. Simpkins, how honoured…” – instead a quick flash of the blade and there’s another bit of meat for Ross’ s stockpot.

I found this gem in a collection of pictures featuring notables from the Irish wine and hospitality biz (plus a couple of journalistic hangers-on) during a spot of barrel-making in Hennessy’s caves.  Might be a good idea to avoid any Cognac that includes eau de vie from the 2008 vintage in case they used the barrel we made!

One thing  is for sure, though. The only way to travel is via the LVMH jet. LVMH lunch

Cognac company

So it goes… This week's decent drinking

Sibella is out to dinner with her golfing chums. Which is why I’m tucking into bacon ribs, cannellini beans (no butter beans down the local deli) and Savoy cabbage, the sort of fare I always find for myself when milady is absent as she’s far too ‘refeened’ to partake of that good ole peasanty grub. That or it reminds her of school!

Anyhow, to accompany same I hauled up a bottle of D’Arenberg ‘The Custodian’ Grenache, 2002. This was one I mislaid from a limited edition trio produced by Chester – same grapes,  different soils – I reviewed them in F&W some years ago. This particular wine was fettled from grapes grown on ‘sand on clay’ soil – I remember at the time that it was by far the most tannic of the three. Now the tannins had resolved nicely, pointing up the dark sweet fruit that came through in abundance. The influence of oak was not particularly overt (2nd and 3rd fill American and French barrels were used) though some vanilla and spice came through.

All in all, pretty impressive and aging gracefully.

Otherwise than that it was Dom Perignon week, starting with a tasting at the Abbey of  Hautvillers where the good monk perfected the techniques that turned Champagne into a world beater. I liked the 2000 very much, totally different in character to the rich, rumbustious 1995 that gave up its charms to the accompaniment of a fanfare of trumpets. The 2000 was fragrant, delicate, almost an ‘I can’t believe it’s…’ sort of wine with less of a family resemblance than the others in the tasting. In Proustian terms this was the beautiful sister, home for the holidays, sat quiet but serene amid the big, noisy huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ siblings.

The event culminated with a night on the 1976 in Louis XIV’s dining room at Versailles (about which, more anon). This wine impressed with its freshness – still light in colour and spicy and zesty on the nose. A more substantial body than I remembered from that vintage too. What a good food wine  – although I would have killed for a Cornas or a Cote Rotie with the pheasant and hare dishes half way through the 20-courser. Where’s Simon Tyrell when you need him?

So it Goes… this week's decent drinking

SQ French Wine Sale shows they’re back on track

sq-botts-0909When I saw the press release (it was some time ago) proclaiming that Richard Moriarty was installed as the new wine buyer for Superquinn I was wholly euphoric. “Yes!” I said, “strange appointment, but the man does have his own winery, I suppose that’s the connection.” Imagine my chagrin when I realised that what was Ireland’s most niche supermarket (until the Celtic Tiger ushered in the like of Fallon & Byrne and Donnybrook Fair) had appointed as their new vinous supremo, not the Newport Beach, CA-based bon viveur, the guy responsible for the notorious ‘Pimps, Hookers, Drug Dealers and Lawyers Ball’ and other bacchanalian affairs, not the man who nailed a whole Lamborghini to his living room wall but some other Richard Moriarty. Dammit, I was looking forward to the press gigs!

Superquinn made a bright start with wine back in the late eighties, exhibiting a representative selection from Europe that extended beyond the classic regions – they were probably the first people to tell us that there was a world of Spanish wines beyond Rioja. An initial aversion to centralised buying brought some personality to the wine shelves of individual branches. Their French collection was, for a long time, impeccable.

Then, as happens, they lost their way. Around the turn of the millennium the other supermarkets had caught up good style. Superquinn, always a little tardy in latching on to the excitement coming out of newer regions, seemed to retrench and get stuck in a time-warp. About five years ago you’d find their shelves stuffed to glory with the produce of minor French chateaux, frequently from dodgy vintages. Every day you opened your mail Superquinn were holding a French sale to clear stocks. Untrue, of course, but that’s what it seemed like.

It’s heartening to be able to report that, since the appointment of the other Monsieur Moriarty, a young wine trade professional, the Superquinn star is on the ascent again. Indeed, the impact made by this guy could hardly have been exceeded by his Californian namesake, except maybe the press tastings would have been a tad hairier and maybe more fun.

Last week I received five samples. Four of them spoke of the new SQ. Starting with the cheapest, the Superquinn Cotes du Rhone 2007 is a complete and utter steal for €7, as my good buddy Martin Moran has already mentioned elsewhere. Les Vignerons des Esterzargues are one of the better co-ops and here, to order, they’ve produced a syrah/grenache blend with a vibrancy and a full-on fruit flavour that would skittle an assortment of New Worlders at nearly twice the price. At the same time they are bang in the idiom – this is a Rhone wine.

Even nicer, for another euro, to my mind is the (dreadful pun) ‘Chat en Oeuf’ 2007, €8, zippy and mellifluous at the same time, with a deal of joyous Grenache and a wee top-up of Syrah for backbone. Chateauneuf it’s not – quite. But, like it’s Syrah-based cousin it’s right on the money and a smidge more. I wasn’t surprised to glom the back label and see the steady hand of my old Mancunian mucker Paul Boutinot. We have a mutual friend, Paul Rook, last seen flogging dog food from a market stall, alas. In his wine trade days he had a spectacularly sharp palate and a vinous vocabulary that extended to only four words. Wine, he avowed, was either “crap; sound; or fucking sound” and if Rooky said a wine was “fucking sound” you could order a case in the certainty that it would delight. Well, Chat en Oeuf is fucking sound.

The third and fourth wines were both whites, again French. Ch. Cabannieux 2007 is a Graves, a Semillon/Sauvignon blend, a style currently about as fashionable as a denim boiler suit. God only knows why. This wine has been knocked down to nine euro in Superquinn’s sale and for that price would see off any of the tarnished pennies I tasted at the Chilean extravaganza the week before last. Decent gooseberry and citrus fruit and a total absence of horrid green pepper. Good, easy drinking and greaty value at €9, sale price..

The other white, a Pouilly-Fuissé (ah, there’s the bloody acute key combo!) is, for me, a bit of a star. Just to show you that France isn’t all 80 Gauloises-a-day horny-handed sons of toil, the savvy producers of Domaine du Roure du Paulin have hung a natty label round the bottle’s neck; this tells you the grape is Chardonnay, in fact it says CHARDONNAY – traditionally produced and partially matured in oak barrels’, all the buzzwords. Rounded, surprisingly sophisticated, this sample stayed to dinner. €14 in the Sale, steal!

The last wine, alas, seemed in contrast, a bit of a lemon. I have a soft spot for red Graves, or Pessac-Leognan as you must call it these days. Ch Haut Brion was the first first growth I tasted and I have fond memories of rescuing bottles of Smith Haut-Lafite from the river that was, only the day before, the high street during the East Molesey floods in 1968. So shame that Ch.Haut Lagrange 2004 doesn’t cut the mustard. The essence of this region is that, at best, it produces wines that are extravagantly perfumed, that have the schnozz quivering with anticipation. On the palate, you trade off a little body for a lot of elegance. The aftertaste remains with you, powder dry in the mouth, with a hint of rose petal. That’s what I get, anyhow. The 2004 vintage was uneven in quality and even the best wines I found lean, ‘interesting’ rather than ‘opulent’. This one was thin on fruit, not particularly tannic but… what’s the word? Ah, yes, “boring”? Not quite. ”Joyless, then”. Spot on. If Sibella has to wrestle the sample off me in case I drink the whole bottle it’s good wine. Here I wasn’t even tempted.

Call me a conspiracy theorist but this wine is bog standard yesteryear Superquinn. Do they have a deal of it still to shift? Ah yes, it’s half price in their sale, €25.99 down to €13. I’d warrant the well-made Medoc, Pey du Pont 2006, is nicer for €12.

Still, four out of five ain’t bad. In fact it’s very good. Young Mr.Moriarty’s sophisticated palate and obviously smart buying skills have put SQ back on track. And in their French Wine Sale Catalogue I spied a whole heap of further goodies. A really tasty Cairanne for €9, The SQ Sancerre, €13, if you favour  this style it can’t be beaten for the money. The Alain Grangeon Chateauneuf… now that is a wine.

SQ Autumn French Wine Sale runs from Sep 16th – Oct 13th.

Boeuf a la Bourguignonne

bb-ingredsIn response to an inquiry on the forum, I’ve dragged up an article I wrote some years ago and a recipe, in fact, MY recipe, for this classic dish.  Enjoy!

The Culinary History

Burgundy, thanks to its inhabitants having an all-consuming devotion to colouring matters (plus a skilled publicity campaign conducted by the mediaeval dukes who ruled the province), has come to be regarded as the epicentre of French and astronomy. Strange then, that the dish that has become such a worldwide flag waver for the region should be a rustic peasant a thing.

The food writer Elizabeth David described Boeuf a la Bourguignonne as “a favourite among those carefully composed slowly cooked dishes which are the domain of French housewives and owner cooks of modest restaurants rather than of professional chefs.”

although Burgundian origin, it is now regarded as a quintessentially French dish, found on the bill of fare in restaurants as far apart as Paris and Marseilles, not to mention bistros from Manchester to Sydney.

In France itself you often find it written down on menus simply as ‘Bourguignonne’ and, what’s more, in French butchers shops you’ll often see a slab of meat marked out for its culinary purpose, i.e. ‘bourguignonne’ rather than “topside” or “shoulder”.

Simon Hopkinson and Lindsay Bareham have an excellent recipe in their entertaining review of retro cuisine, ‘The Prawn Cocktail Years’. I think it’s out of print but if you do come across a second-hand copy, it’s a joy. Paul Bocuse has a recipe in his maius opus, something you would hardly expect from the arch moderniser.

The first English-language edition of the ‘Larousse Gastronomique’ segregates ‘Boeuf Bourguignon’ and ‘Boeuf a la Bourguignonne’. The recipe for the former the mushrooms are omitted. This seems to be the sole difference. The “female version” must be the simplest recipe ever presented, if not exactly the cheapest containing the instructions just “lard the meat and marinate in brandy. Then braise in red wine.” Committing a bottle of cognac plus a bottle of Burgundy to a humble stew would give both  my wife and my bank manager palpitations so I feel I’ll never make this version!

Most culinary experts agree that it is de rigueur to incorporate a pig’s trotter or a calf’s foot to yield a nourishing, rib-sticking gravy. At the same time opinions are divided as to whether to marinate the meat or not.

What you include – according to the experts

The ingredients in this list are, by consensus, the common ones.

1. Well hung, sinewy beef- chuck, topside, shoulder and shin have all been mentioned by various chefs and writers. The beef should be sliced into large pieces, weighing-some recommend-up to 150 grams per piece. From this it will be evident that the miserable cubes adopted by the pub lunch trade clearly have no place in this dish.

2. Red wine – the general consensus is that the wine used should be Burgundy. Obviously, you don’t go rooting down the cellar for a bottle of your finest Domaine de la Romanee-Conti!

3. Pig’s trotter, split lengthways, or a calf”s foot. I can’t recommend this addition  highly enough. It makes the sauce rich, silky, and even more flavoursome.

4. Streaky bacon, cut into thick match length strips.

5. Onions. Around two dozen small round onions, peeled and left whole, seems to be the consensus. I tend to use shallots when I can get them.

6. Mushrooms. Again, around two dozen.

7. Bouquet garni. Parsley, thyme and a bay leaf are the favoured constituents.

8. Brandy. For the sake of authenticity, you would have to use marc de Bourgogne but, considering the small quantity involved, cognac, armagnac,  Greek or Spanish brandy would be fine. Almost every recipe I’ve ever read involves chucking in a glass of brandy and setting it on fire. The addition really does make a difference to the dish and the flames are welcome, alleviating the boredom that comes from slicing 2.5 kg of beef and peeling a mountain of shallots.

9. Garlic. When it comes to garlic, the pundits diverge on the subject of its quantity and even desirability, ranging from nought (Paul Bocuse) to 8 cloves (Simon Hopkinson). I’m somewhere in between.

The Recipe

Ingredients

One bottle of Burgundy, or other red wine

1 large onion, chopped

2 celery ribs, chopped

4 cloves of garlic

bouquet garni – 2 dtdp parsley, 3 sprigs thyme, 2 bay leaves

2 – 2.5kg sinewy beef, chuck, shoulder or shin, approximately 15-20 mm thick

sea salt and freshly milled black pepper

2 to 3 tbsp plain flour

one calf’s foot or a pig’s trotter, sliced lengthways

120 g thick cut streaky bacon, cut into match length strips

1 glass of marc de Bourgogne, cognac or other brandy

500 ml stock

two tablespoons olive oil

200 g unsalted butter

24 shallots, peeled

24 button or small chestnut mushrooms

2 dessert spoons chopped parsley for garnish

Step-by-step

1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C.

Put the wine, chopped onion, celery, garlic and bouquet garni into a non-reactive (stainless steel) saucepan and bring to the boil. Ignite the wine and allow the flavours to subside. Turn down the heat and simmer for approximately 30 minutes or until the wine is reduced by half. Season the beef and roll it in the flour.

Melt the oil and butter in a large frying pan or saucepan on top of the stove.

2. Put in the bacon and fry until  brown, stopping shorty of crisp. Remove and reserve. Brown the beef, cooking only a few pieces at a time. Colour well on both sides, remove and reserve.

3. Put the pig’s trotter or calf’s foot into the pan and fry on both sides until well coloured. If there is a good deal of fat in the pot, remove most of it by skimming with a kitchen spoon. Turn up the heat, toss  in the brandy and ignite. Strain the reduced wine and pour into the pan. Add the stock. Return the rest of the meat to the pan.  Cover the pot and braise the meat for two hours. Remove and skim off any scum from the surface.

4. Add the shallots and mushrooms and braise for another half-hour or until the meat is tender. Added at this late stage they won’t shrink to nothing. Remove the trotter or calf’s foot. Check the seasoning.

Serve with plain boiled or mashed potatoes and a plain green salad to refresh the palate.

To drink… Burgundy?????