Tag Archives: Shiraz


"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.


Day 8

Kicks off very quietly, like one of those old blacky-white colonial-themed movies. “I can’t stand it, Carruthers. The drums have stopped; it’s too demmed quiet out there.” The media room is deserted as I saunter down for my crossants and multiple espressi. Oh, Jesus, it’s only 5.30.

The inner insomniac strikes again! Hard to sleep when it’s so hot. For a person who is pretty conversant with emerging technology how come I can never figure how to work an hotel air-conditioning system? Why is it I always end up with the heating stuck on the ‘American Tourist GTi’ setting? Why do I never seem able to summon up the temerity to seek help from hotel staff? I draft a curt note and leave it meekly on the reception counter. It reads “Please set room air conditioning to minimum. Thank you. 912.”

I go walkabout in a deserted Adelaide, which would be a very pretty town if they knocked down all the utilitarian modern architecture and just left the huge and sympatico parks and fab churches, returning an hour or two later to find my colleagues have eaten all the croissants and taken up all the space at the computer stations. Clearly they have been as tardy about sending copy home as I have and are now breaking their fingers to recover lost time and meet once far-away but now imminent deadlines.

Outside, along the Torrens, the public are flocking to the fair. The ‘boating lake’ is busy once more and the local sailing club has organized racing for Cadet dinghies. The young crews seem much more sporting than the precocious little bastards at Bolton SC. No, well, not much, illegal pumping of sails; no NSPs (non-sailing parents) on the bank doing their F1 Team Manager thing – binoculars draped around neck and screaming “Nigel! For godsakes bloody tack now!” Here, it’s all very civilized.

I mosey back to the hotel and do an interview with a local radio man and another with Evan Kleiman whose weekly ‘Good Food’ programme, produced by Harriet Ells is a great reason for tuning into Los Angeles radio station KCRW. The interview is here http://www.kcrw.com/etc/programs/gf/# It’s the third one on the programme called ‘Compostable/disposable’, no sniggers please

For lunch I go to Mongkok on Gouger Street, a northern Chinese restaurant recommended by the nice student serving in the coffee shop I breakfasted in on day one. Despite her recommendation it’s not that cheap – doubtless there’s a special tariff for attractive Chinese students – but it is very good. I had a searing hot beef dish. I also came across – in Pitt Street, I think – a Korean butcher with sit down barbecue tables in the adjacent room. How good is that for saving on shoe leather, if not air miles. Truly Adelaide is full of sendipitious culinary surprises. After lunch I track down the Chinese herbalist and buy shedloads of ginseng; also a patent catarrh cure I’d recommend to anyone, consisting of little black balls, like large beads of caviar – you take 8 at a go, three times a day. Farewell, Dublin’s winter at last.

In the afternoon the Barossa boys turn out in force. Big Bob Mclean, legend in anyone’s lunchtime tells me he enjoys a bottle of ‘stickie’ for breakfast. “Surely you mean with breakfast, Bob?” “No, for” he emphasizes, with a guffaw of a laugh. Louisa Rose from Yalumba struggles in with an Imperial (that’s six bottles in one) sized monster of the impressive Signature Shiraz. She doesn’t trust any of us to pour.

At some point I have to go up and put on what Rankin calls “your dining t-shirt” for the Cordon Bleu World Food Media Awards Dinner. I decide to confound him by wearing a jacket and tie. After some deliberation I ditch the tie. It is Australia, dammit. At the do I am pleasant and polite to all but of course inwardly seething because the purple prose of my restaurant reviewing didn’t make the podium. Still, one of my NZ chums, Margaret Brooker picked up a Silver Ladle for her children’s cookbook so I was slightly mollified. Rankin makes a fine speech, name-checking me as the man who led him astray in 2005. Fame of a sort, I suppose.

Good to rendezvous with WA’s noted wine writer and old buddy Peter Forrestal again. Forrie was in good form. The après nosh seemed a much lower key event than last time. Didn’t get to cavort in my customary energetic dance sequence with the delightful Maggie Beer, shame that.

Not too late a night. We are leaving for the amazing Kangaroo Island at first light. And the air conditioning has been turned down to 18. Bliss.



Up early – can’t seem to sleep beyond 5.15 at the minute, in whatever time zone. Walkabout for massive glass of squeezed fruit juice – orange, pineapple, mango, passion fruit, that will do nicely. Then weakened and nipped into Arcade for 2 x double shot flat whites and a bacon butty. Nice Chinese girl directed me to a restaurant called ‘Mongok’ – “spicy and cheap, I’m a student, need cheap”. Nothing changes.

Nipped into a couple of wine merchants. Prices in Oz have crept up to approaching ours (or maybe ours have come down). The revelation was NZ Oyster Bay Sauv B for which they charge around Aus$20 and make your feel they are doing you a favour for letting it go so cheap. Currently you can buy it in Dublin for the equivalent of Aus$14-15 are the Kiwis dumping here?

On a whim grabbed the guitar and caught tram to Glenelg, the Adelaiders’ nearest seaside scene. A strange, quiet, pleasant-though-faded resort – redolent maybe of the ones on the Bristol Channel, Weston SM, Portishead that I remember from trips on ‘the diesel’ from Temple Meads in my teens. Sat on beach and learned new song – played it to the seagulls because the locals don’t do that beaches and autumn thing.

Then went for oysters – rocks from Coffin Bay, much saltier/spicier than normal gigas and altogether a good eat.

Back to Adelaide, stowed the box and hiked up to Gouger for a late lunch. I love the Star of Siam – some of the freshest Thai food you’d get anywhere, enhanced by sensitive cooking. Always a buzz too. As is usual in SA, eating alone does not mean ‘eating alone’. A couple of nice solicitors (oxymoron, I know) invited me to join their table and I learned an expression new to me – “a cleansing ale”; a bon mot and habit I will henceforth adopt. Characteristically this led on to more cleansing ales and a few glasses of uncleansing Sauvignon Blanc. Oops, it’s half past five!

Back to the Hyacon, where my cronies are rocking up. Met Bisham, unbowed despite his amazing experiences in the Taj Mahal Mumbai and enthuisiastic as ever. Paul Rankin came in and greeted me like a long lost bro, or maybe in view of the horseplay that ensued the following week, ‘father’ would be more appropriate (more anon). Press room now up and running. In the longe I found Tom and Kaylene Murray, Rick Allen, Brenda Christian and David Bowden. Also greeted by that very nice guy/great chef Shannon Bennet from Vue de Monde, Melbourne. Cue for more oysters – Coffin Bays and Tassies (sweeter) – waved down with good Eden Valley Riesling.

In evening to house of Michael Angelis. Found Maggie Beer in the kitchen, flashing that 1000 watt and dead genuine smile. Treated to seafood festival – oysters, mussels, crab, lobster, clams, various white fish, smoked salmon and thg best taramasalata I’ve ever tasted. Wonderful wines too and some Talisker 10 to top off the evening. Most generous hospitality – it will live long in the memory. Met 80-something going on 16 Manchester Manmwho’s a TV gardening expert legend on Oz.

Later to a quiescent Apothecary with AWT and Rankin. Last time I was there the place was pure people – ebullient chefs, mostly. But then it was 11.45 at night. Bish found us as we knew he would. Managed to avoid going to Crazy Horse on way home (phew!!!).


The serious stuff begins, I have an 11am tasting, a Coonawarra Vignerons Masterclass.

Long before 9am the media centre is kicking in. Should perhaps mention that the Media Centre at Tasting Australia is an object lesson for the world’s event organizers. Take a bow, Monjava coffee who, IMO, provided a nicer product than the correct but rather bland Illy of the years before – boosted by a barista who really knows what a ‘double shot flat white’ is and, furthermore, can really do latte art. Throw in fresh crossants, yoghurt, a selection of fresh fruit and you have a good healthy start to the day, the more so if you could manage the somewhat penitential muesli bars – truly an edible hair shirt. Well, semi edible!

Then, in the afternoon, when you come back hot and tired from a trip there’s a fridge full of ‘cleansing’ James Squire ale – the IPA was my fave, followed by the ‘Golden’ (which they’ve snuck on to Quantas, I’m pleased to say). Had to sample the minerals, though (to my shame) I can’t remember the maker’s name – good old fashioned ginger beer and sarsaparilla among them. Barossa vignerons were taking it in turn to showcase their wines. Great to see big Bob McLean.

The inner journo was also kept topped up by decent salamis and cheeses – one day Australia’s Grand Fromage Will Studd drops by and unloads a big wheel of Montgomery Cheddar (bliss in the round).  Oysters, too, made an appearance along with other gourmet goodies throughout the week.

We didn’t have to go far for the Masterclass – up two flights of stairs. It was headed up by Pete Bissell, Sandrine Gimon and Paul Gordon, respected winemakers all. The aim was to explore vintage variation within the region and to this end they showed us examples of 2004 (cool) and 2005 (hot) vintages, also 2007 and 2008, falling into a similar pattern. I guess early ripening during the early 2000s has made the winemakers conscious of climate change and they are looking to adapt the wines accordingly. Had an interesting cross-discussion with American wine writer Kelly Hayes who preferred the more generous 2005s whereas me, having a more typically European palate plumped for the leaner, maybe more complex 2004s. Anyhow, a worthwhile and interesting exercise. Lunch followed in the hotel.

A bit of a doss afternoon as more denizens of grub and grape arrived. In the evening we were split into groups and taken to dinner. We went to the Lion Hotel, a historic building in North Adelaide  turned into a thoroughly modern gastropub – unlike some of the limp Dublin efforts, a true gastropub. Tim proved a most generous ‘Mine Jovial Hoste’ and I had one of the best steaks I’ve had in years, a large ‘scotch fillet’ which, as far as I could tell, is a T-bone with the bone removed, from the Coorong. It was cooked rarer than rare then given a quick turn around the rotisserie. Coupled admirably with Langmeil’s wonderful Freedom shiraz. No space for anything afterwards but squeezed in a brace of excellent homemade ice creams. Much to my disgust we didn’t stay for the Thursday night shindig afterwards. Bloody wimps!

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.

Keshk Café

The Emperor Napoleon seems to have been a bit of a philosopher. One of his mots sages was “Every corporal carries a Marshall’s baton in his knapsack”. The great man would have known, because he came through the ranks himself. It’s not to be taken literally of course. Distilled down, the Corsican corporal’s observation simply celebrates mankind’s universal desire to improve his situation and ‘get on’. Today, though, it’s not a baton but a chef’s toque (big white hat). It’s a dead cert that any foodie who reaches the stage where they can slice an onion into thin rings without amputating a finger has this mad, mad dream about opening a restaurant.

Now I’ve been there, done that, designed the T-shirt. For the guts of three years I trod water, made no money. Didn’t matter really; I was too knackered to spend any. I soldiered on, cooking with love and pride; enduring the amnesiac who left a freezer door open overnight; the butterfingers who dropped an earthenware bowl, smashing to smithereens my expensive glass salad counter; the berserk druggie who trashed the place; the klepto who stole all the salt cellars; the fruit-and-nutcase who found ‘a cockroach’ in her teapot (moral: use teabags not leaf tea); the rip-off insurers and the health police with varying degrees of fortitude. Glad I did it; glad I’m not doing it now.

I learned a lot. Like, if you have only 28 ‘covers’ (trade argot for customers’ bums parked on seats) it’s always going to be a struggle. It takes you two busy days to recover from one quiet one. Up it to 35 and you can just maybe take the occasional day off and earn some brownie points with wife and kids. Being a chef proprietor is all about blood (sometimes literally), sweat, toil and tears and my heart goes out to anyone who has the balls to give it a go.

Video highlights care of the foregoing ran in my head as we rocked up outside a newish establishment called ‘Keshk Café’, on the Leeson Street ‘island’. “Funny name” said Lefty. We wondered whether it was a miss-spelling of ‘Kesh’; maybe the owner was a republican, realising a dream he’d had when interned. But no, ‘Keshk’ we were told, was the chef-proprietor’s surname.

The room was bright, warm and welcoming. Small, too. We counted to 28 and I felt an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. This poor guy will never be away from the place. I’d read in advance that Keshk was BYOB and so took the opportunity to road test a couple of wines, Shepherd’s Ridge, a new, quite tasty Sauvignon Blanc from Marks & Spencer and the suave 1997 Centenary Hill Barossa Shiraz, crème de la crème of the Jacob’s Creek stable. Both passed the test of food friendliness with flying colours.

From a non-specific Middle Eastern menu we kicked off with three starters; hummus (always a good test); falafel and tiger prawns in filo, accompanied by a generous quantity of fresh, leafy green salad, of the kind that makes you feel virtuous for eating it. The prawns were crisp on the outside, properly bouncy within and full of flavour. A friend’s sister (who used to work for me) makes the best falafel I’ve ever tasted; these, while not quite in Hadil’s league, were pretty good. The hummus was outstanding, no need to ask “Was it made fresh and on the premises?”

Continuing the theme, we shared a marinated kebab, fashioned from decent chicken and a stupendous lamb dish, tender pieces swathed in an aromatic sauce in which I’d venture to suggest it had been cooked, rather than the two brought together at the last minute. Rather good rice and spiced potatoes completed the feast, which left us unable to do more than nibble on a baklava for dessert – though we did manage two Arabian (like ‘Greek’ or Turkish’) coffees, almost a savoury dessert in their own right and far better than much of the stale, mucky espresso that abounds in Dublin. Staff, two Irish girls, were lovely, nay gorgeous. Only gripe was the hot chilli sauce, served as a side to the chicken. ‘Hot’? It was tepid as baby’s bath water.

Mustapha, Mr.Keshk himself, came out of the kitchen to talk to us. He’s an engaging, enthusiastic man whom some might remember from Idle Wilde in Dalkey, where he previously cooked. He’s obviously in love with his new venture. However, he did say he’d like fifty covers which shows he’s got his head screwed on. He seemed unhappy with the concept of charging corkage on bottles brought in by customers. Lefty said nobody would begrudge \5 a throw. I pointed out that the restaurant has to provide, wash and, as necessary, replace the glasses used and, maybe, open, decant or chill. Corkage would provide a cushion of maybe another grand a week, worth having. Mustapha still seemed dubious, as if it would be breaking faith with his customers. What a decent skin. Anyhow, I hope for his own sake he’ll come to see the logic.

I loved Keshk, food and concept. At, what, €58 plus the cost of a bottle of wine many could afford to eat there once a week. We need to see shedloads of similar establishments springing up and I think maybe we will. While BYOB is not ‘way to go’ for every restaurant its availability should help hasten the demise of the “3 x RRP” mark-up scandal.

Verdict: Keshk could be called ‘Kiss’ (Keep it Simple, Stupid). No frills, just authentic homely food: good ingredients, well cooked. Pleasant atmosphere, everything spotless, do yourself a favour, get there.

The damage: €58.75 ex-service for 3 starters, 2 mains, 1 dessert, 2 coffees

Rating ****

Keshk Café, 129 Upper Leeson Street, Dublin 4 Tel: 01 6689793


Green Nineteen

So, no recession in Camden Street then? Anseo was stuffed to the gills with young ones on a midweek night, inhaling an excess of scent and aftershave and grooving to the (extremely) loud music while phoning a friend. Up the road, Cassidy’s was crammed full of footy fans, swivelling between two TVs as Chelsea sought to subdue Juventus and Liverpool down Real Madrid simultaneously. Meanwhile, in Green Nineteen, Sibella and me were trying to blag a table in an already packed restaurant, having been too damn lazy to ring and book.

After brief negotiation we reached a compromise position where they would ring us if a table came up in the next fifteen minutes, as they estimated it would. Accordingly, we strolled back up to Cassidy’s for a drink we didn’t really need or want. The moment I had brought it to the table Sibs’ phone rang.

The pleasant young receptionist gave us what I perceive to be the best table in the house. Sibs faced the kitchen where, through the large hatch, she could watch the young chefs going about their business while I enjoyed wall-to-wall eye candy. Not the habitual poseurs who infest the weekend magazines’ social pages but sweet young Dublin damsels, all glammed up for a night out. If there were two other guys in the room, that was it.

I’d heard Green Nineteen enjoys a reputation for its cocktails and had I not been at a wine tasting most of the day I’d have subsided into a Mojito or three. Instead we drank wine by the glass, Sauvignon Blanc for Sibella and Pinot Noir for me, both from New Zealand producer Sileni. Neither are wines with any ‘Wow!’ factor but both are, to borrow the old legal phrase, “of merchantable quality”. Which is more than you can say for the Shiraz I had to follow. I think it was called ‘Charming’, one of those words where the meaning can vary with the emphasis as in “Charming vase of flowers” or (on being told that an acquaintance had farted in the confessional box) “Charming.” Here, the second meaning was more appropriate; they should dump this wine forthwith. I did and collared another glass of the workaday Pinot. And yes, I am being picky – not sure I have any right to expect nirvana for a fiver a throw but there you go. It’s called ‘criticism’ which is what I’m paid to do.

Sib’s starter, a melange of goat cheese, honey roasted pears and good leaves, anointed with a really well-executed oil-and-vinegar dressing was an absolute delight. Not that I was jealous because I was sat in front of my own generous portion of pastrami, prosciutto and chorizo sausage and a tower of really fine bread and toast.

I think I may have said it before. There are some people who should be working in the hospitality industry and many more who shouldn’t. Miranda, our waitress, was definitely in Category A. Pleasant manner, deft hands and that keen observation of what’s-needed-and-where worth more than gold to an employer, she whizzed about all night, a cheerfully at the death as at the beginning.

Sibella summed up the charms of Green Nineteen in one pithy sentence – “Of the dishes coming out of that kitchen there’s nothing you wouldn’t want to eat”. The menu is indeed concise but I fancied every item on it. I’d have loved the battered fish and chips but, alas, they had sold out. Sibs grabbed the rump of lamb while I was still deliberating. I opted for the burger. “It’s filling” said Miranda and that clinched it.

The food police have ensured that you can’t play Russian roulette with your burger any more. These days they all come medium-to-well done. I know the Times’ Tom Doorley regards rare burgers with the same fear and loathing that Count Dracula has for a hundredweight of garlic but I’ve never been that discomfited. In umpteen years of reviewing, all the instances of food poisoning I’ve suffered (and there have been quite a few) have stemmed from either chicken or shellfish, usually the latter.

Green Nineteen’s organic burger sat so high you practically needed oxygen to eat it. A good inch-thick patty, topped by a goodly layer of cheese, tailed by gherkins, wedged amid slices of thick tasty bun, top properly crisped. It came with a generous portion of what were at least a contender for the title of Dublin’s Best Chips. I didn’t envy Sibs her succulent, falling-apart rump of lamb and creamy mash at all. Well, maybe just a teeny bit.

I got my Mojito in the end. In the shape of three scoops of ‘Mojito ice cream’, all I could manage for dessert. Tangy and exhilarating, I might have a crack at making this at home. Sibs had a smaller portion with a tasty apple crumble. Finally, wonder of wonders, an absolutely textbook espresso.

A special mention for the original paintings on the walls and the comfy padded seats, wide enough to cope should John Daly or The Remaining Fat Lady drop in for a bite. Though tables are close together, privacy is somewhat safeguarded by the wall of sound erected by a full house having a monster time.

Ps I just found out the duff Shiraz is called ‘Climbing’ not ‘Charming’ but the point still stands.

Verdict: Food’s great, I wanted to go back for lunch next day. Prices, with mains at a tenner a throw, utterly credit-crunchery. Ambience-wise, a lot going for it.

Rating ****1/2

Green Nineteen, 19 Camden Street Dublin 2, Tel: 01 478 9626

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.