Tag Archives: Riesling

RECIPE – Hake and scallops with a red pepper and fennel purée and grilled aubergines


Last night, herself brought home glistening fresh hake and “some scallops, for a treat”. Four whacking great kings, as it happened. Treat indeed.

Foraging in the fridge for potential accompaniments I came across a bulb of fennel, complete with fronds that looked like it could do with eating up. From the fruit bowl, a pristine red pepper winked at me. Improvisation, something I do a lot of, became the buzzword. I chopped both into small pieces, added a teaspoon of fennel seeds to get more oomph – a good tip, this – and boiled them in a light stock. Then, out with the stick blender, whizz them into a purée and back on a low heat. Taste. Add a little salt, must have been a very light stock. More blending, needs to be smoother. Taste again. Hmmm… not quite there. “Cooking on my feet”, I added a tiny splash of Cognac and a slight swirl of cream. Oh yes, joy.

While this was going on I was fettling aubergines on the ridged griddle. I always cut them on the bias into slices, looks pretty and, after experimenting, I’m convinced it gives a nicer texture and better flavour. Got the griddle raging hot. Put the slices on and sprinkled some cumin and some truffle salt on the topside, gave them a minute or so then drizzled a little olive oil over. When the underneath showed dark brown char-lines (3-4 mins) I turned them over and anointed the slices with more cumin, salt and oil. Turn them back and forth a couple of times, you can get a nice lattice effect with the charring if you want. As soon as they were cooked through I put the slices into a low oven to keep warm.

Meanwhile the matchstick chips were pirouetting nicely in the Actifry (see review http://forkncork.com/on-test-tefal-actifry/ here), aided and abetted by a tablespoon of goose fat.

The hake was lightly floured and then pan-fried 2-3 mins per side. The griddle sorted the scallops a treat, lovely caramelisation, two minutes tops. Re-heated the purée, brought it altogether and plated up.

What’s that? Oh yes, there are peas in the piccy. Yes, petit pois (frozen) with a heap of chopped garden mint, a little butter and a grind of black pepper. Because I thought the palette would be improved by a touch of green and surprise, surprise, I didn’t have any ‘samfer’ to hand.


This repast was accompanied a treat by Jeffrey Grosset’s Polish Hill Riesling 2008, a Clare Valley superstar and one of my favourite wines.


4 hake fillets

4 king scallops

flour, pepper and salt to dust hake

oil for frying (olive, sunflower, corn, rapeseed to choice)


1 large aubergine cut on the bias into 20mm slices

truffle or sea salt

powdered cumin

extra virgin olive oil for the purée (which can be made in advance)


1 large bulb fennel, finely chopped

1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped

1 tsp fennel seeds

dash of cognac

1 tbsp single cream

2 cupfuls water or light stock


Something green!

Serves 4. Instructions in the text above.


"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.

So it goes….

This week’s decent drinking

mime1Ask any wine buff what the name Henschke means to them and it’s odds on that they’ll come up with the words “Hill of Grace”. This top dollar shiraz is truly an Australian icon, one of the few that gets mentioned in the same breath as Penfold’s Grange. ‘Hill of Grace’ is a fabulous Barossa shiraz made from vines nearly a hundred years old; complex, powerful, elegant and fully deserving of the hype. Another Henschke notable is ‘Mount Edelstone’ shiraz, named for a hill in the Barossa originally christened ‘Edelstein’ – precious stone – by the German immigrants, including Stephen Henschke’s ancestors, who populated the valley five generations ago. It’s long been a particular favourite of mine.

We tasted these classics, along with other Henschke wines at L’Ecrivain in the company of the amiable Stephen Henschke and his wife Prue, winemaker and viticulturist. Though Henschke is best known for it reds, initially it was the whites that dazzled. The 2007 ‘Coralinga’ sauvignon blanc from Lenswood in the Adelaide Hills was as complex as this essentially workaday grape can get, kept fresh with brisk though not overwhelming acidity. Better still was the 2006 ‘Julius’ riesling with all the bracing minerality and lime refreshment you find in Eden Valley wines. There was also a pinot grigio that contained an unusual element – flavour.

Of the reds in the tasting I particularly liked the vibrant, powerful Johann’s Garden grenache and the smart Henry’s Seven shiraz/viognier which, for around €30 gives a massive hint as to the sheer class of Henschke when you go upscale.

We drank the 2001 Hill of Grace over lunch. It was everything I expected. In 2002 Stephen put the flagship wine under screwcap. Yet, unlike most Australian winemakers, he’s not entirely convinced that the screwcap is the best closure around. Latterly he’s been trialling the German glass-to-glass Vinolok closure about which I wrote in my Sunday Independent column last year. It’s both effective and beautifully aesthetic. Alas it’s expensive as the bottle neck has to be tailored to fit the stopper and because not many producers are using the system, economies of scale do not apply compared to conventional closures. The cost of bottle and closure is currently about 2 Australian dollars (about the cost of a top notch cork) which effectively prohibits its use on all but premium wines.

Prue and Stephen are working towards their organic certification, which they should receive next year. They are also farming biodynamically. Pru believes that the essence of biodynamics is about improving the organic matter of the soil. She makes her own compost using cow manure, grape skins and green waste. She also uses the specified biodynamic preparations and plants, in the accredited manner, according to the lunar phases. Many sceptics dismiss these aspects as of the lunatic fringe of winemaking but, as long as class acts like Oliver Humbrecht, Michel Chapoutier, Vanya Cullen and the Henschkes are burying the cow horns, you won’t find me numbered among the knockers of ‘bio’.

The Henschke ‘Julius’ riesling is available from The Corkscrew, Chatham Street and On The Grapevine, Dalkey, price €29.99 and worth every last cent.

The Wild Goose Grill

Why am I so crap at complaining? I have my own theories, chief among which is that it’s all down to my working-class origins. Try this scenario: you have a leaky tap; unconvinced of your ability as a DIY expert, you phone the plumbing company; some hours later, a blue boiler suited guy turns up, gets out an assortment of spanners and wrenches and mends the leak, everything’s fine. Next morning you get up and the selfsame tap is doing an impression of the Powerscourt waterfall. Do you ring the plumbing company and complain? Yes, of course you do. But not until you’ve had a go at stemming the flow yourself. This time you don’t admit defeat until there’s a good 6 inches of water swirling around your ankles. Why do you think this is? I’ll tell you. It’s because you are afraid that your fellow worker will get it in the neck from his boss. You are breaking the credo of class solidarity if you land him in the deep doo-doo.

To further prove the point, the best complainer I’ve ever known is my ex-wife (and just in case you think I’m on a sour grapes rant, let me point out that we’re the best of friends). This daughter of a chartered accountant, granddaughter of a Justice of the peace is to complaining what Valentino Rossi is to motor bike racing. Many a time and oft the kids and I shuffled shamefaced around the supermarket while she beat up the manager with an outdated box of cornflakes. The local butcher, if he got wind that she was on her way in to return a hooky chicken, was prone to take the day off or at least hide in the freezer room until her rage was spent.

All of which is why, last Wednesday, I found myself stoically chewing a mega-resilient slab of veal. Imagine munching on a wellington boot with the Duke’s muscular leg still inside. Eating the damn thing took so long I felt like that guy who was condemned in the old legend to push a bloody great rock uphill for eternity, whassisname, Sisyphus?

Ossobuco is not exactly rocket science. The name means “bone with a hole” or maybe “hole with a bone”. You simply take a slice of shin of veal an inch or more thick with the bone and marrow in place, surround it with wine, tomatoes and other aromatics and stew it to death. The meat falls away from the bone and the sauce is sticky and delicious. It takes time, that’s all. Ossobuco is one of my favourite things but I knew, deep down, that I shouldn’t really have ordered this rustic, bucolic dish, an aberration in a restaurant where everything else is in the quickly-cooked, prettily-arranged, loads-of-white space, modern bistro idiom.

The Wild Goose Grill, which opened last year, occupies two rooms above McSorley’s pub in Ranelagh, a space formerly occupied by a restaurant called Ouzo, chiefly notable for selling cut-price lobster. The central heating is cunningly designed to give you a blast of warm air as you trek up the stairs, an instant welcome on a wet Wednesday in February. Once through the door the welcome was amplified by proprietor Kevin McMahon, one of the best of the younger generation of meeters’n’greeters.

The room is delightful. Stylish charcoal-and-white décor that will wear well. Comfortable chairs. Sparkling glassware and linen. A reassuringly mixed clientele, too. A girlie table of five; two young guys, dining with their mum; and a sprinkling of my contemporaries, guys with ‘bought-and-paid-for’ bellies occupied our half of the dining space.

The wine list is a thing of beauty, as well as length. A kaleidoscopic collection of interesting bottles coupled with a short but skilful selection of wines by the glass. Sibella was driving and I’d had a heavy week of it so we took a bottle of the great Max Ferd Richter’s magnificent 2006 Riesling Kabinett, trocken Graacher Dompropst, a sumptuous, elegant sipping wine, rather than a quaffer. It particularly suited our starters, my fillet of sweet red mullet and Sibs’ seared scallops, both of which got the meal away to a good start.

Jaws aching, I gazed with envy at Sibella’s sea bass, tender and succulent. She mentioned that it could have done with some potatoes and, hey presto, the waiter appeared out of nowhere with a bowl of good mash. In fact the service throughout was exemplary; it’s a long time since I’ve seen such good pacing by a wine waiter – usually in suburban restaurants there are only two options. One, the Chinese restaurant gambit where they have the wine out of the bottle and into your glass before the starters have arrived, so you just have to order more. Two, the “I’ll just plonk it in the ice bucket (usually out of reach) and see you at the end of the evening” approach.

We took dessert – a cracking crème brulée and a nicely tangy lemon tart, hardly imaginative but serviceable, reflecting more the innate conservatism of the Irish diner than the chef’s predilections, I suspect. Espresso was good, too. All-in-all The Wild Goose is probably a better restaurant than the first half of this review might have you believe. Mayhap I devoted too many column centimetres to the deficiencies of the ossobuco but, hey, that’s showbiz.

So, did I complain? Yes, actually, although very, very diffidently. And, know what, they had no hesitation in striking the ‘buco off the bill.

The damage: €132.90, ex-service for 2 x starters, mains, desserts, 1 coffee and a better-than-average bottle of wine. Less €24.

Verdict: Welcoming, stylish Ranelagh restaurant. Lovely décor and ambience. Competent cooking from a mainstream menu most will like. A tad pricey. Obviously, avoid the ossobuco.

Rating ***

The Wild Goose Grill. First Floor, 1 Sandford Road, Ranelagh, Dublin 6

Tel: 01 491 2377

Gilbey's Portfolio Tasting Feb 2009 – 10 that impressed

Trekking to the Guinness Storehouse, with sleet whacking down like stair rods wouldn’t be my favourite occupation but Gilbey’s Terry Pennington and Lynne Coyle  have assembled one hell of a portfolio, with smart niche producers alongside mainstream brands like Blossom Hill, Yellow Tail, Bargton & Guestier etc and venerable favourites of the ilk of Louis Latour, Trimbach and Jaboulet. And so, along with the rest of the ‘vinerati’ I had to be there. Anyhow, here are a few of my own highly idiosyncratic choices to give you a flavour of the day.


Borie de Maurel Nature Blanc 2007

Even discounting the romance, this is a very smart little French white, for not too much money. Organic it is, biodynamic it may be – though not officially certified as such. What the hell, the wine is good enough to stand on its own merits without the feelgood factor. Did I say romance? Okay, try this: Michel Escande works the land with horses, not tractors. And as if that isn’t enough, the wine is shipped to Ireland by sailboat. Ain’t that nice.

12,99 Jus de Vine, selected independents

Hunter’s Estate Chardonnay Marlborough 2007

As the old adage goes, “many are called, but few are chosen”. From the Cape to Casablanca (Chile) wineries are trying to take the rampant tropical fruit out of their Chardonnay and construct something more laid back and stylish. Not many succeed. Hunter’s Sauvignon Blanc is a regular award winner; there is a deal of noise being made about their Pinot Noir; for me, the engaging Chardonnay is the best wine they make.

19.49, selected independents

Knappstein ‘Three’ Gewurztraminer-Riesling-Pinot Gris, Clare Valley 2008

Me, Tomas, Raymond, Martin, JW, we’ve been banging on at readers for longer than I care to think, trying to persuade them to drink Riesling. I’m coming to think we’re flogging a dead horse, sad, but it’s just too austere, too difficult for the average punter. I’m backing off a bit but I’d still like you to try this – a fantastically full-bodied bundle of joy and an absolute steal for the dosh.

14.79, selected independents

Laurenz V ‘Charming’ Gruner Veltliner 2007

So sexy, innit? Gruner Veltliner, gru-vee, groovy, current darling of the posh restaurants. Almost single-handedly this ‘sauvignon-without-tears’ grape has rehabilitated the Austrian wine industry.The blurb in the catalogue tell us that the ‘Singing’ and the ‘Sunny’ are ‘more accessible’ than the flagship ‘Charming’. They are also considerably cheaper -by about €8, but there’s a massive quantum leap when you get to the top product and there can’t be many more enjoyable wines for the dosh involved. No stockists yet. I expect this one will end up in restaurants.


Trimbach Alsace Pinot Gris Réserve 2005

‘Way to go’ for what is currently the world’s most abused grape varietal! The Italians, the Aussies, the Chileans should drink this until they start to ‘get it’. Just superb, beautifully-crafted, elegant, food-friendly wine borne out of 12 empathetic generations. It sings! And, if you can’t afford it, do the Pinot Blanc at a value €13.99

19.59, Tesco, Superquinn, Dunnes, selected independents


Pézat Bordeaux Superieur 2007

Jonathan Maltus, Ch Tessier & Colonial Estates
Jonathan Maltus, Ch Tessier & Colonial Estates

My enthusiasm for the wines of Jonathan Maltus in general and this wine in particular have not gone unnoticed for I found an attributable quote in the catalogue. Whenever I encounter a Bordeaux Superior, the occasion begs the question “superior to what?” in this case, the answer is “ superior to almost any red wine you can find for under €25.” Pézat really is a beauty; rich, rounded, mellow, satisfying. Though the RRP has escalated since my first sip it’s still fine value for money. It’s also a plea in mitigation as to why the Merlot grape should be allowed to exist; don’t buy New World Merlot soup at a tenner a throw, save up and buy this.

19.59, selected independents


Costacielo Cabernet-Aglianico, Campania 2007

On the outskirts of Sorrento there’s a rather good wine merchants. The owner, a man I respect, was raving about a local winemaker called Genarro di Maggio. And, guess what, now he’s here. With a food-friendly white and this classy, sassy red which employs the stiff backbone of Cabernet Sauvignon to balance up the big, smirky-smile bestowed by Aglianico (rough translation: the alien). As Paul Simon nearly wrote – “Here’s to you G.diMaggio…”

18.89, selected independents.

Paul Jaboulet Ainé, Crozes-Hermitages ‘Les Jalets’ 2006

Caroline Frey, Ch La Lagune & Paul Jaboulet Ainé
Caroline Frey, Ch La Lagune & Paul Jaboulet Ainé

First vintage from Jaboulet that Caroline Frey laid her hands on and the wine is all the better for it. Standards that had been dipping since the late 1990’s have been reversed and while it’s still dark-fruited, dense and meaty it’s much less ‘agricultural’ than of yore. The more expensive ‘Domaine-de Thalabert’ 2006 still needs a bit of work, imo.

17.99 O’Briens, SuperValu, selected independents

Cusumano Nero d’Avola 2007

Smart, keenly priced red from a Sicilian producer who’s been getting a lot of plaudits of late. Soft, joyful, no-nonsense everyday drinking.

11.99, selected independents

Bylines Shiraz – Cabernet Sauvignon , South Australia, 2003

A collaboration between ex-City gent the affable Martin Krajewski of Chateau de Sours and Australia’s David Fatches. They’ve managed to persuade John Duval, formerly winemaker of Penfold’s Grange to stir the cauldron. The result is a big, sexy red capable of ageing for aeons. Loads of competition at this price point of course but it’s well up to scratch. One thought – how come Shiraz-Cab blends work, whereas Cab-Shiraz ones almost invariably don’t? Strange.

€45.29, selected independents

Hunter Valley and Barossa with Orlando

ern_0070 I’m not into crosswords, or what’s it called, suduko? Nevertheless, I do recognise the importance of keeping one’s brain exercised so I occasionally invent some form of mental gymnastics for that very purpose. A few weeks ago I decided I would write down, in ten minutes flat, all the aromas and flavours I had ever found in a glass of wine. For the record the total was 158 and included such exotica as arbutus berries, oatmeal, mown grass, green sap, chicory, tobacco, eucalyptus, balsam, beeswax, quinine, soy sauce, molasses, sawdust, burnt toast, mildew, gun smoke, diesel, wet dog, soap, fish, steel, sauerkraut, marigold, geranium, liquorice, ginger, bacon, offal, leather and, yes, shit, in addition to the usual suspects.

There comes a time in our life with wine when we cross that great divide between drinking and tasting. Most of those who reach the promised land say “I get more enjoyment from wine now”. Some, and I’m inclined to that view, think education (in any sphere) just makes you unhappy because it enables you to glimpse a potential you’ll never realise. I really don’t think life has improved since I fell out of love with bruising Bulgarian red but I’m here now and can’t go back.

ern_0207Wine tasting is an old and honourable occupation. One of the earliest references comes from 3rd century Egypt – “The wine taster has declared the Euobean wine to be unsuitable”. Unfortunately he didn’t opine as to whether the wine in question was gut-rot, corked or simply the product of a crappy vintage. Not that I’ll ever get the chance to taste the AD320. Shame!

The last two weeks have been ‘back to school’ for me. A lightning Australian trip coupled a visit to Wyndham Estates’ Black Cluster Shiraz plot in the Hunter Valley with with a tour of Jacob’s Creek’s extensive vineyards in the Barossa.

We went up to the Hunter via an amazing helicopter flight over the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House and on up the ern_00643New South Wales coast. When we cut inland we flew over an ugly scar on the landscape that proved to be an open-cast coal mine.

I was reminded of my grandfather’s lot – dust and grit, strikes and poverty, explosions and emphysema – and made a mental note to kick my own arse whenever I complain that an excess of tasting has given me a mouth like the floor of a budgie’s cage. Dammit, who has the better deal, him or me?

Trekking round the vines in company with winemakers like Wyndham’s Ben Bryant and JC’s Bernard Hickin told me once more that the best wines are the ones made in the vineyard. Nowadays, there is a temptation to think of wine as a branch of chemistry. To a degree it is; but when push comes to shove the quality of the wine is determined almost exclusively by the quality of the grapes, called ‘fruit’ by those who grow them. Grapes like cabernet sauvignon and shiraz make excellent eating, that is if you discount the thick skins and enormous pips relative to the size of the grape and filter the juice through your teeth. By selective munching I learned to tell the difference between fruit, good fruit, prime fruit and the sort of fruit that makes winemakers punch the air and shout “Yes!”

They gave us a couple of leisure days, packing us off to Kangaroo Island, scene of Australia’s first settlement where we walked among seals, swam with a shoal of dolphins and had one of the most memorable meals of my life. A table on a secluded beach, beautifully laid with good linen, cutlery and glassware. ern_0174

Nearby, self-taught local chef, Tony Nolan was treating freshly-caught South Australian rock lobster with the love and care it deserved. We gave it due reverence, properly “oohing and aaghing” and saluting its rampant flavours with Riesling, including some aged vintages. It struck me once more that the Jacob’s Creek Reserve Riesling, like its Shiraz equivalent, over-delivers considerably for the money asked.

We discovered, during the trip, that Jacob’s Creek the creek actually does exist, it’s not just a madey-uppey name. I spent the morning in Jacob’s Creek’s sensory appreciation facility under the direction of Kate Laitey. ‘Scary Kate’, as we christened her, is a winsome and good-humoured Kiwi lass among Aussies, with a string of impressive qualifications, who recruits and directs a consumer tasting panel and analyses the results, object being not only to ensure quality and consistency (important for branded wines) but to isolate those elements in wine that consumers perceive as either desirable or off-putting. As I said, scary. A far cry from the old “I make what I make” approach but, nevertheless, all in pursuit of better wine.

Then came another highlight – standing on the heights of the Steingarten vineyard, with the sun going down, the beautiful Barossa spread out below. Scuffling some of the stony soil with the toes of my boot I thought “What crackpot would plant vines up here!” Later, tasting the wine, I understood Mr.Gramp’s reasons.

As always when I visit Australia, I made lots of new friends and received hospitality galore.


As if all this ‘edification’ wasn’t enough, on my return to Ireland I was pitched, jet lag and all, into a condensed version of the Australian Wine Research Institute’s wine judging course. Of which, more anon.

First Floor at Harvey Nicholls


 A week ago me and my buddies sat down to discern what the recession meant to us. “Well, in gastronomic terms, it’s pretty bloody unpalatable,” quipped Jocko who had been caught holding too many bank shares. The company divided naturally into two camps. One party vowed to take a “draw the wagons into a circle” strategy. This means dining out less often and when doing so, forgoing frivolities like fizzy water and post-prandial cognac; hand-in-hand with this goes a sworn intent to squirrel out discounts, early birds, promotions and pre-theatre dinners. The opposition clung to a manifesto that could be summed up as “Sod it; we might be on the Titanic but at least we’re going down first class.” As usual, yours truly, aware of the need for stringent economies yet unwilling entirely to give up life’s little luxuries, parked his butt in no man’s land.

A day or so later I received a press release from Harvey Nichols advising that wines, at least those above €30, were, for the month of January, to be flogged less 50% discount with lunch or dinner, same price that you could buy them for in the wine shop. I was excited by this, not as you’d imagine because it would enable me to have a bottle of wine in a good restaurant for €15 but because I would be able to drink so much better for the sort of money I usually spend – the thinking man’s view of the credit crunch if you like.

Let me give you a ‘for instance…’ In Clare Valley, South Australia, there’s a man called Jeffrey Grosset who makes some sublime Riesling. His Polish Hill is truly world-class. The last time I was in Chapter One, Grosset Polish Hill featured at €85. At the less exalted Winding Stair it sold for €60. On Harvey Nichols restaurant list it was €68, so, at €34, a snip, a steal. We also took a bottle of Seghesio’s excellent Family Estate Zinfandel, likewise a steal at the discounted €30

Let’s clear the crap out of the way first. The receptionist, having taken our coats, marched us into the dining area and showed us to The Worst Table In The Room. There were several tables-for-two in better locations that were unoccupied. Naturally, we assumed that they were reserved. As the evening wore on, this proved not to be the case. Secondly, I must take issue with the background music. It was actually “foreground” music, loud, bland, tedious and intrusive. Lastly and I’ll take Sibella’s word for this, the female toilets were a bit “untidy”. The gents was pristine. My only gripe was the Lilliputian buttons doubling as taps made life difficult for optically challenged me.

After that, onwards and upwards. Ambience-wise, they’ve made the best of an unpromising room, kitting it out with good furniture, linen, table and glassware and installing a battery of atmospheric lighting that takes out Eddie Rockets across the way. Sibella opted for the table d’hote; Old Greedy Guts, the à la carte, affording a more exotic choice. I figured out early enough that I wouldn’t have room for desert which would balance out what we spent.

The bread, four kinds of which the black olive deserves a special commendation, was excellent. I tore it into soldiers to dip into the amuse bouche poached egg crème brûlée. My starter, a combo of scallops and crispy belly pork was stunning, Sibs’ crab rillette, a delight. Where was I a few weeks ago when I railed against the belly pork? They should send someone here to see how its done. Milady had it for a main and I managed to scam a chunk, succulent and tender. I had the wild pheasant, less deconstructed than elsewhere, the breast left whole. It came with a pithivier, posh name for a little flat-capped pie, stuffed with chestnuts, which made a pleasing contrast in texture and pointed up the flavour of the bird. Sibs was entitled to dessert; we clashed spoons over the mango and passion fruit parfait. I topped things off with a 7/10 espresso. The young Polish guy who seemed to be combining the functions of Maitre d’ and sommelier looked after us regally all-night, re-corking the last of the Grosset and presenting it in a Harvey Nics bag so that Sibs, the driver, could enjoy it when she got home.

The damage: €164.12 inc service for starter, main course, 3-course table d’hote, 1 coffee, 2 bottles very good wine

Verdict: One of Dublin’s most under-regarded restaurants. Get there in January to drink in some style at bargain prices. Confident cooking, too and good ingredients. Precise service. Cool décor but watch where they put you.

Rating: ****


O'Brien's Christmas Portfolio Tasting 2006

At the Four Seasons, O’Brien’s had assembled a collection of what many of us will be drinking this festive season and invited the wine scribes to preview same.

Overall the quality was outstandingly high and the rise-and-rise of this progressive chain seems set to continue, thanks chiefly to the efforts of the buying team, skilfully led by David Whelehan and, it has to be said, the high standards of service in O’Brien’s outlets, improved out of all recognition in the last 5 or 6 years.


Novas Chardonnay 2005, e11.99
An initial tropical fruit festival to delight the Man from Del Monte subsides to leave stylish citrus and apple flavours at the back of the palate. Good clean finish. Organic too.

Andes Peaks Sauvignon Blanc e7.99, will be on Christmas promo at 6.49
No mineral refreshment, simply ‘travel sweets meet tinned fruit’ but hey… for the money!

Kelly’s Patch Unoaked Chardonnay 2005 e7.99
Fresh, clean, tasty wine and good value for money. Delivers.

Pazo de Senorans 2005 e16.99
Decent enough but there’s plenty of competition at this price point.

** Fritsch Gruner Veltliner 2005 e13.99
Smart, mineral, plus bit of fatty bacon, nose segues into rich, dark, complex mysterious flavours. Loved it. Great value too.

Schloss Schonborn Gutswein Riesling Trocken 2005 e11.49
** Ignore the tongue-twisting name, go seek it out. You won’t be disappointed. Extremely good value for money.

**Fritsch Riesling Wagram 2005 e13.99
More good stuff from these smart-as-paint Austrians. Gorgeous honeyed flavours, pointed up by just enough acidity to keep it from cloying and a fantastic weight of fruit.

Sparr Riesling Reserve 2005 e12.99 Christmas Promo 11.99
Good work, ruined by a curiously stark after taste. I much preferred the ‘Gutswein’.

***Schloss Shonborn Erbach Marcobrunn 2004 e23.99
Not, at the price, for casual drinking but if you can afford it, buy with confidence. Massive weight of fruit but not a big alcohol hit; honeyed tones and a long, long finish should please.

Chanson Macon-Villages 2005 e9.99
A slightly ‘pastey’ finish robs this wine of some of its allure but undeniably good value.

***Pierre Andre Rully2004 e14.99
Simply lovely. Budget burgundy at its best.

** Brocard Chablis Grand Crus Bougros 2002 e45.
Delicious, firm fruit and a classic Chablis GC finish, long and lingering. Look for it in O’B’s Fine Wine Sale and grab it at the promo price (under e30)

***Roger Belland Santenay 1er Cru Beauregard 2004 e23
Belland’s Santenay is highly regarded and it’s easy to see why. Much of the essence of top-dollar white burgundy for less than half the money.

Domaine du Salvard Cheverny 2005 e11.99
Off-putting nose leaves you unprepared for the lovely, clean appley fruit that follows. You might like this, you might not. I did, sort of.

*Delheim Sauvignon Blanc 2005 e10.89
The sort of clean, refreshing but not-too-tart Sauvignon that’s replaced Chardonnay in the hearts and minds of Dublin 4 demoiselles. Gets a * for value.

**Vatan Sancerre 2004 e22.95
Silky and superb. Great winemaking.

Henry Bourgeois Porte du Caillou Sancerre 2005 e17.99
Decent and good value for money but suffered in comparision to the Vatan

*Delheim 3 Springs 2006 Sauv/Sem/Chard e8.99
Decent quaffer at a good price, much better than most for the money.

**Astrolabe Sauvignon Blanc 2005 e15.99
If you like NZ Sauv B (and I do) this is one of the very best around. Unless you are into labels, give Cloudy Bay a miss and buy two of these for the same money.
At the promised Christmas promo price, a steal.

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Gilbeys Portfolio Tasting – Oct 14 2006 – WHITES and ROSE

The Gilbeys Portfolio press tasting was one of the best organised and most enjoyable tastings of recent memory – hats off to Julia Kennedy, Lynne Coyle and Mary Dowey – despite the worst efforts of the Guinness Storehouse staff who did their best to sabotage the event by mopping the floor of the adjacent restaurant with Jeyes’ Fluid!

These boys are big – one in every seven bottles of wine retailing at over ten euro is a Gilbeys bottle. The portfolio contains many hallowed names – Trimbach, Drouhin, Louis Latour, Jaboulet to name but four.

Anyhow, here are my impressions:

Wild Coast Chardonnay-Semillon, South-East Australia 2006. e7.99
Good, honest, pleasant, non-cloying quaffer, excellent value for money

*Santa Rita 120 Reserva Especial Sauvignon Blanc, Leyda 2006, e11.50
The base Santa Rita wines have,m in my opinion, underperformed in recent years. This one is well back on track with a nice minerally crackle at the front end and smooth luscious fruit at the back. From the recently-exploited cool (for Chile) region of Leyda. There’s hope for Chilean SB yet!

**Santa Rita Riesling Limited Selection, Valle de Casablanca 2006, e11.99
On special at SperValu and Centra for 7.99, this is daft money for a nicely-balanced, delicate riesling that comes without the ‘characterful’ benzine intrusion.

**Hunters Marlborough Riesling 2004, e19.99
Very smart stuff. Lovely minerally prickle folowed by a tangy weight of citrus and stone fruit, with a hint of herbs and beeswax. Classy.

***F.E.Trimbach Riesling Cuvee Frederick Emile 2003 e35
Benzine is back! All the characteristic of non-palate clogging classic riesling. Trimbach describe their gear as ‘Protestant Wine’. Don’t take this the wrong way, folks, this is no tub-thumping Lambeg drum pounder; they mean modest and understated but in reality this wine has nothing to be modest about. Lean, spare, suave, elegant, a total class act. One of the best food wines in the world and that’s the truth.

Next, two Burgundies from Louis Latour, both at 37.50.

The Meursault Premier Cru Chateau de Blagny 2003 had a huge hit of fruit and a decidedly long finish but was, for me, on the unsubtle side of unsubtle.

The Puligny-Montrachet Hameau de Blagny 2002 was leaner, maybe even a tad unapproachable but should mellow.

The Biodynamic Joseph Drouin Meursault 2003, e40, was, a huge, vastly OTT wine with immense oaking. You’d need a hunk of roasted veal or similar to get this down. Not one for a quiet night by the fire.

**In contrast, the Drouhin Puligny-Montrachet, e40, was a more quiescent proposition. Still fat but with more elegance and a generous, lingering finish.
To be honest, there is probably better value in white Burgundy out there than this quartet.

Navarro Correas Coleccion Privada Chardonnay, Mendoza 2005, 10.99
All the plusses and drawbacks of budget chardonnay. On the one hand, uncomplicated and easy-to-drink. On the other, uncomplicated and easy-to-drink . Bit boring, really.

*Fairview Viognier Coastal Region (South Africa) 2004. e14.99
At last! A low-mid priced viognier that doesn’t clog the palate. Very decent and would make a nice change from the usual suspects.

Paul Jaboulet Aine Crozes-Hermitage Mule Blanche 2001. e21.99
Quite refined and stylish, but not a wine I’ll ever be fond of. Lot of competition at the price too.

**L’Expatrie Barossa Semillon, Colonial Estate 2003 e19.99
Lovely lemony well-integrated fruit, smartly judged fruit-acid balance, non-clying, long finish all the hallamrks of Jonathan Malthus. Love it!

***Clos Nardian Saint Aubin de Brannes, Bordeaux Blanc 2003 e75
Oustanding exposition of white Bordeaux style from JM again. Utterly gorgeous, but the price!


**’G’ Saignee des Anges Bordeaux Clairet 2005 e12.99
Gold star winner in the Noffla Awards ’06. Far better than the over-trumpeted, over-blown Domaine Ott Bandol at twice the money. Clean, fresh, enjoyable entirely non-cloying.
The sheer weight of clean fruit comes as a nice surprise. As good as it gets, especially when the sun shines and you can drink it in the garden, poreferably with a bucket of Wexford strawberries.

*Chateau de Sours Bordeaux Rose 2005 e14.99
Benchmark stuff from a really good producer. Quite a big hit and hard to put down a second bottle, for me, a slight minus point in a rose but otherwise very impressive.

Santa Rita120 Reserva Especial Rose Shiraz , e11.50
Hasn’t managed to shed the spearmint overlay common to most Chilean rose. Not bad, but needs more work.

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Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love

Found this song I wrote in 2004 on my South African trip – with the help of Cole Porter – in the back pages I was gonna dump. Thought it should be preserved for, well, if not quite posterity, a bit longer. Had to put it somewhere, so it’s here.

(South African Version)

Chardonnay, cask or tank, does it
Forrester claims even Chenin Blanc does it,
Let’s do it, let’s fall in love.
And Pinotage, which I hate, does it
Riesling, though it leaves in very late, does it
Let’s do it, let’s fall in love.
Cabernet and its friends do it
In combinations of three
All those anodyne blends do it
(But never with me)
Viognier,sounds quite gay, does it
Colombard, though boring and passé, does it
Let’s do it, let’s fall in love.

Chasseurs in full hue-and-cry do it
‘Bok and kudu roasting on a braai do it
Let’s do it, let’s fall in love.
Rednecks with long smoking guns do it
Germans eating ostriches on buns do it
Let’s do it, let’s fall in love.
Americans filthy rich, do it,
They’ve read Hemingway
Some real sons of a bitch do it
Best keep out of their way
All men mild, meak or mean do it
Ancient Brits who sing “God Save The Queen” do it
Let’s do it, let’s fall in love.

Jeanette who wrings Life from Stone does it
Even Robert Parker all alone does it
Let’s do it, let’s fall in love.
Ferreira, Pete, with his fizz does it
Chrissie Keet, who we think is a wiz, does it
Let’s do it, let’s fall in love.
Kevin A, in some style, does it
By the fountain at dawn
Charlie B, with a smile does it,
(Grazing goats get the horn)
Celtic blonde rag trade queens do it
Editors of gourmet magazines do it,
Let’s do it, let’s fall in love.

with acknowledgement to Cole Porter who wrote the original
 ernie whalley 2004

Dedicated to Jeanette Bruwer of Springfield Estate

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