But first… the AW, WTF THESE THINGS HAPPEN AWARD
Anyone looking at the site earlier may have seen a list of the Noffla (National Off-Licence Association) Awards. Thanks to Evelyn Jones at the admirable Vintry in Rathgar I am now advised that the press release they sent me at my request (I couldn’t make the award ceremony) contained the previous year’s winners which, in all good faith, I published. Apologies to this year’s winners, last year’s winners, forkncork readers and the public at large. Here are the correct winners:
Specialist Off-Licence Group of the Year 2011 O’Donovans, Cork
Best First Time Entrant 2011 Next Door Swiss Cottage
Food Retailer Off-Licence of the Year 2011 Shiel’s Londis
Customer Service Award of the Year 2011 The Wine Centre, Kilkenny
Spirit Specialist of the Year 2011 Deveney’s Off-Licence, Dundrum
Beer Specialist of the Year 2011 McHugh’s Off-Licence, Malahide Road
Wine Specialist of the Year 2011 Jus de Vine, Portmarnock
Munster Off-Licence of the Year 2011 Matson’s Wine Store
Connaught/Ulster Off-Licence of the Year 2011 Dicey’s Off-Licence
Leinster Off-Licence of the Year 2011 Holland’s Fine Wines
Dublin Off-Licence of the Year 2011 Gibneys
National Off-Licence of the Year 2011 Sweeney’s Wine Merchants
On foot of the Noffla awards came the New Zealand Wine Fair at The Radisson Golden Lane. Strange accents abounded and one winemaker was heard declaring he had “spent the summer ixtending my dick”, sounds painful. As you might expect, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir were the major exhibits. I can still remember the shockwave that occurred when Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc hit the Irish market back in the late eighties. Racy, instantly invigorating, I remember likening the sensation to “standing up close to the Powerscourt waterfall in full spate”. Since then, Cloudy Bay became a cult, later a fashion icon and up went the price. Luckily, other fine and lower priced Sauvignons followed hard on its heels. My particular favourites are Astrolabe, Siefried, Seresin and the ever-reliable Hunter’s, all widely available here.
I thought I detected a sea change in Pinot Noir winemaking – a trend towards lower oaking, more developed fruit and blacker tannins – maybe a concerted attempt to escape from the (unjustified) charge that Kiwi Pinot Noir is a one-trick pony. At a dinner at Ely – special mention for the wonderful lamb – Matt Thompson of Tinpot Hut disagreed. What I might have been tasting, he reckoned, were the flavours common to the 2008 vintage. 2010, he opined, will be a fantastic year for New Zealand Pinot.
There was an interesting table of ‘oddities’ – wines from grape varieties outside and beyond ‘the usual suspects’. I wish the Trinity Hill Arneis, a real charmer, were available here. Another beguiling beauty was the Pyramid Valley Vineyard Pinot Blanc. Felton Road Vin Gris – not a Pinot Grigio but a free run Pinot Noir, vinified as a white wine, was interesting. A couple of producers, why I’m not sure, were flirting with Montepulciano. Even in Italy this grape ranks among the ‘also rans’.
Must make a mention of Lawson’s Dry Hills whose dry Riesling, in particular, continues to amaze and delight. Sad that the engaging Ross Lawson is no longer with us, he was one of wine’s nicest people.
And so to what was billed as ‘The One to Watch’. Syrah, they tell us, will be the next sensation from The Land of the Long White Cloud. A tasting of a dozen or so convinced me this could be true. The wines will be more European, more Rhone-like than their Aussie counterparts. The Trinity Hill offering impressed but this wine is listed at around €70 in the UK and at that price, sorry, it’s a non-starter. Two wines stood out: one, of course, was Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels 2008. I’d stand over any wine made by the uber-talented Steve Smith. The other was, for me, ‘wine of the day’. Man O’War Dreadnought Syrah 2008 (O’Brien’s, €29.99) hails from Waiheke Island, a mere 11 miles by ferry from the city of Auckland. The Dreadnought is a ‘big’ wine, in the nicest sense. Enveloping without overpowering; with none of that ‘prickly heat’ you sometimes get from wines of 14 degrees ABV and above. The bouquet was of intense, blueberries with a trace of spice, aniseed maybe. On the palate the blueberries were subsumed by ripe, dark plums offset by gamey flavours with, at the back end, a whiff of fragrant pepper, so often a trademark of wines like Cote Rotie. I’d be pretty sure this is 100% Syrah, too; no hint of Viognier. Good Northern Rhone wines years ago, cost buttons compared to their Bordeaux and Burgundy counterparts. Now they’ve got expensive. I’m going to play a hunch and lay a few Dreadnoughts down.
Went off afterwards to a dinner at Ely with Matt Thompson of Tinpot Hut and the celebrated Kevin Judd, the wine maker who put Cloudy Bay on the map, who is also a superb photographer. Kevin now has his own label, Greywackie whose wines were showcased on the night. People were split on the merits of the Pinot Noir 2009. I loved it, whilst other preferred Matt’s darker, more brooding Delta Bay Hatters Hill 2008. Tinpot Hut’s Hawkes Bay Syrah 2007 was developing nicely. Winemaker Fiona Turner made the wine and most of the fruit comes from her estate at Blind River.
I told a story of an unscrupulous Dublin wine merchant who (back in the days when Cloudy Bay SB was on quota) was asked by an American gent “Got any Cloudy Bay”. “Last two cases” he replied. “Okay I’ll take them”. I stood open-mouthed as the merchant loaded them into the Yank’s car. He had the grace to wink at me. Kevin Judd said “I’d have preferred to have the Chardonnay, anyway.” Funny, he might have told us at the time!