Category Archives: Tasting Notes

FOR A’ THAT – A review of The Big Burns Supper, Dumfries Jan 24th – 26th 2014

Last weekend I attended the Big Burns Supper 2014, a festival held annually in the pleasant town of Dumfries to celebrate Scotland’s national poet.

devorgilla 1

According to a Scots poet of a later generation, Edwin Muir, the charm of Robert Burns is that he can be all things to all men. Burns represents, he claimed, “to the respectable, a decent man; to the Rabelaisian, bawdy; to the sentimentalist, sentimental; to the socialist, a revolutionary; to the nationalist, a patriot; to the religious, pious”. The sub-text  is, whatever you want your own personal Burns to be, he will be.

The appeal of Burns to the Scots and to their considerable diaspora is easy to understand. He wrote not in highfalutin English but in Scots, for the Scots. He was not afraid to sprinkle his prose and verse with dialect words and phrases. Much of the stuff he wrote has populist appeal, as witness his masterly reworking of a limping old ballad that’s now sung around the world at the turn of the year and been recorded by Bing Crosby, Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, Boney M and Kenny G, to name but a handful of those who’ve tried their hand at ‘Auld Lang Syne’.

On the flight to Scotland, I allowed myself to speculate as to how the Scots should package Burns to widen the appeal, particularly non-Caledonians. Easy, I decided. Here we have a guy who was anti-authoritarian, even seditious. A convivial soul who liked nothing better than hanging around with his pals and downing a few scoops. A graffiti artist, too. Better yet, he looked like the young Elvis, wrote like Shakespeare and put it about like Sven Goran-Ericksen The Swedish Love Machine. Someone should make the movie. But please… spare us Mel Gibson.

At which point we touched down in Glasgow. Half an hour later I had a pristine, ten miles on the clock Arnold Clark-supplied Opel Astra under me and we were winging our way down the M74, destination Dumfries where the 2014 Big Burns Supper festival was to kick off on the morrow. Having time to spare I got off the motorway north of Moffat and drove past enthralling scenery to show Ann, my wife, the Devil’s Beef Tub, a deep, dramatic, swirling hole in the hills. Thereafter, we retraced our steps before meandering down the scenic A702, stopping for lunch in the well-kept town of Thornhill, birthplace of mega-talented and drop-dead-gorgeous Scottish singer, Emily Smith.

In Dumfries, a place I have only happy memories of, there is a camera obscura, a device that’s a precursor of photography. When the weather permits, it shows you a panoramic image of the town on the inner wall of the building. The custodian was, I remember, always at pains to point out the swans on the River Nith; also The Crichton – “Yin’s the biggest lunatic asylum in Scotland”. I was amused but awed to find that this was the location of our hotel for this trip. On arrival, I found the shadows of the past had been vanquished and that the extensive grounds now host the Royal Infirmary, a business park, two college campuses and The Aston, a fine hotel housing a Marco Pierre White restaurant where we dined with Rosemary and Andrea from the organising team of the Big Burns Supper, who outlined the concept to me.

The festival, first held in the town in 2012, aims to celebrate, via a programme of concerts, comedy, cabaret and community participation, the poet’s life and work. Burns, who died at 37 spent but the last four years of his life here, yet produced fully a quarter of his output during that period. A spiegeltent, a large travelling show tent, constructed in wood and canvas and decorated with mirrors and stained glass, had been erected in the town centre and this was to be the core venue for the festival’s programme. There would be a procession through the town lit by 1,000 lantern. 5,000 individual Burns suppers – haggis, neaps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes) would be served up over the course of the event.

Whisky 1

After dinner, we wasted no times in getting into the festival spirit, perhaps literally, by attending an event titled ‘Whisky for Dafties’, an introduction to the delights of Scottish single malt, hosted in robust fashion by comedian/whiskey fanatic Alan Anderson.

Session 1

Afterwards we repaired to The Globe, Dumfries’ oldest pub and Burns’ local where an impromptu music session was underway in the compact ‘Snug’ and a more formal one in ‘The Room’. We opted for informality. The Globe’s manager Jane Brown, herself a devotee of the poet (and President of the worldwide Robert Burns Society) kindly showed us the upstairs bedroom where our hero enjoyed assignations with the Globe’s blonde barmaid Anna Park. Burns’ other amusement while at his favourite ‘howff’ was to inscribe poems on the windows with a diamond-tipped pen. Some of these poems may still be seen.

Ellisland 1

Next day we visited Ellisland Farm, Burns’ first home in the region, a few miles outside Dumfries, where curator Les Byers, impressive custodian of the poet’s lore and legend gave us more inside track. Dumfries, he advised, was in those days a prosperous, bustling town, more important even than Glasgow as the hub of the lucrative trade in tobacco, a commodity imported through the nearby port of Carsethorn wherefrom, in 1851 alone, more than 21,000 people emigrated to Canada, The States, Australia and New Zealand.

Rockliffe 1

After taking leave of Les, we headed for the sea ourselves, seizing the opportunity of a break in the wet weather to walk on the beach at Rockcliffe and ramble up and over to Kippford via the Jubilee Path, something I’d done many times before.

Spiegel 1

Later we attended Le Haggis, an event that fully justified its billing as as “the sexiest show in the festival”, a ninety minute extravaganza involving music, song, cabaret and an amazing display of dexterity, fitness and physique by a pair of burlesque acrobats. In the interim, the band, fronted by a fabulous girl singer (who sings, as I was informed, in the local community choir) brought real meaning to ‘A man’s a man for a’ that’, a song more frequently maladroitly performed either as a turgid dirge or as a jolly knees-up. Another performance that nearly had the tent crashing down on us was a vibrant rendition, by a lassie garbed in a leather basque and ‘sussies’ of Kirsty MacColl’s ‘In These Shoes’.

We attended the lantern procession, a truly amazing sight. More than 30 local groups and organisations took part in the parade, accompanied by several floats and huge puppets. Kudos to the Manchester (another town dear to my heart) Samba School whose rhythmic momentum, aided by a brace of pipe bands, drove the whole thing along. Afterwards, we ducked the late night Roller Disco “I’m not comfortable without my own skates, hehe.” “Yeah, right”, says my wife.

Dick Gaughan 1

Highlight of the next day was, for me, the live performance in the Spiegeltent, of Dick Gaughan, a master interpreter of both traditional and contemporary songs and a guitar genius, whom I first met when I was co-hosting a folk club in England back when Burns was a lad (well, not quite). A dish of the obligatory haggis and its customary trappings fortified us for pints, first in The Ship, my own ‘local’ back in the days when my acquaintanceship with Dumfries was more regular than it is today. The pints there are as honest as ever and the denizens still play dominoes, altogether another proper pub holding back the tide of muzak and expensive swill. Later, in the packed-to-the-rafters Globe we dissected the event with other festival attendees and learned of myriad delights we’d missed. At the end of the evening a girl we met in the street offered to walk us to the taxi rank to ensure we did not get lost, where else on earth would you get that sort of courtesy these days? Truly, Doonhamers (the inhabitants of Dumfries – I’ll explain another time) are salt of the earth.

The festival’s organisers deserve huge credit for The Big Burns Supper. I feel sure it’s an event that will, year on year, grow in stature, appealing not only to the Burns anorak, the patriot and the emigré, but to the wider body of people out there, of every race and creed, who enjoy song, dance, theatre, literature, merrymaking, the craic and just having a great time. Me, I intend coming back – for a’ that.



Homecoming Scotland 2014  In 2014, Scotland will welcome the world as we take to the global stage and celebrate our nation through a year-long series of exciting events. Complementing the Ryder Cup and Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, Homecoming Scotland will be a celebration of the country’s rich culture, natural beauty, active adventures and creative heritage. For more information go to: 

Accommodation  I stayed at Aston Hotel, Dumfries


Big Burns Supper

Ellisland Farm, Dumfries

Dumfries Museum & Camera Obscura The Observatory, Rotchell Road Dumfries DG2 7SW


Recipes for Burns Night

Complete Works of Robert Burns 

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

SRhone 1


 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 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.
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.
Chateau de Vaudieu Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010 €40.99  World Wide Wines, The Parting Glass, Fallon & Byrne,, 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.
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
vines CDP


“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.
Les Deux Cols 2012 Cuvée d’Alizé €14.50, D4;, 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.
Domaine Didier Charavin Lou Paris 2011  €15.65 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.
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.

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

THE WINE BUNCH TASTING – Picpoul de Pinet (Sept. 2013)


After years in the vinous equivalent of the broom cupboard, picpoul de pinet has finally made it to the dining room sideboard. This crisp, refreshing white wine from Languedoc is starting to appear on more and more restaurant menus, particularly touted as an accompaniment to fish. At the same time, those who are partial to a glass of white at home are coming to appreciate picpoul as a pleasant alternative to the likes of sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio. Notable for an initial rakish acidity (the name can be translated as ‘lip stinger’) the wine mellows in the mouth, rounding out and revealing bright, fresh flavours of apple, pear, yellow plums and other stone fruit. I find the pear element handy when it comes to assessing quality; the better versions taste of fresh fruit and not of peardrops. An engaging summer sipper, picpoul comes into its own when teamed with oysters, mussels, whitebait and crab – think of it as ‘Southern Muscadet’ and you won’t be far out.

Felines de Jourdan 2012 €12.75 BRONZE
EW: apples and pears and a touch of lemon and lime – all you’d expect from picpoul. Energising minerality and a pleasing, classy presence.
MM: A classic of the style with a light chalky mineral note mixed with pears, apple, and citrus fruit.
Domaine Combe Rouge 2012 €11.99
Egans, Drogheda, Co Louth and other independents  BRONZE
EW: Lots of crisp apple fruit and a livening tinge of pink grapefruit. Great fruit/acid balance from this sound wine from a very savvy co-operative.
MM: Perfect for the end of summer with a refreshing mix of tangy grapefruit, pear, red apple and grapefruit.
Villemarin Blanc de Blanc 2012 €13.49 SILVER
EW: Intriguing herbal hints (oregano?) on the nose. A melange of pear, apple, stonefruit, and grapefruit makes for quite a complex and very enjoyable wine. 
MM: A slightly riper style with good concentration and attractive peach notes alongside the expected red apple and pear, with a fresh lemony finish.
EW: With apple, pear and white peach flavours, this wine is sound rather than profound with a weight and depth of flavours distinguishing it from many of the others we tasted.
MM: A very more-ish mix. A fruit salad combining nectarine, Williams pear and red apple. Good length too.

THE WINE BUNCH TASTING – Rioja Week 2 (August 2013)

Rioja W2
Our second Rioja tasting provided an opportunity to sample 12 reservas – aged for at least three years, with at least one year spent in oak, writes Ernie Whalley. Originally French oak barrels were exclusively employed but economics eventually dictated that American oak staves were imported and fashioned into casks in Spanish cooperages. Latterly, many producers have gone back to using French oak, or a mix of French and American. Long aging before release became a tradition – the Marques de Murrieta bodega only released its 1942 Gran Reserva in 1983! Nowadays wines are made for earlier drinking although  “ We age the wine so you don’t need to” is still a USP. Most of you will have spent €24 on a bottle of wine – in a restaurant and I bet the wine was no great shakes. I’d urge you to consider, even if as a once-off treat, buying one of these beauties. Martin and I concurred that no red from Bordeaux or Burgundy at equivalent price would come close. 


Lindes de Remelluri 2009 €21.95 Next Door@Myles Creek, KIlkee, Co Clare; MacGuinness, Dundalk, Co Louth. GOLD
EW: A great balancing act, a carefully trod line between modern and classical styles. Cutting barrel aging to 12 months has helped produce a graceful satisfying wine with abundant fruit. Nuances of spice, figs, plums and blackberries.
MM: Very classy drop with attractive black fruit, plum and fig with subtle oak use. Satisfyingly rich yet fresh palate that makes it all too easy to drink.
Ijalba Reserva 2007 19.95, Drogheda, Co Louth  and nationwide SILVER
EW: Rounded, soft single estate grown fruit; cherries, soft plums raisins and a touch of blackcurrant with subtle ‘garrigue’ wild herbal notes coming in right at the back end. Well-developed, stylish wine. Organic.
MM: Spain’s answer to Chateauneuf-du-Pape with its rich soft slight raisiny style with no single fruit character dominating. Striking label.
Remelluri Reserva 2008, Glasthule, Co Dublin;,, D6; Black Pig, D4; ;, Boyle, Co Roscommon; McCambridges, Galway; www..;  Next Door@Myles Creek, KIlkee, Co Clare; SILVER
EW: Old fashioned, classical kit from Rioja’s oldest estate. Oak and fruit perfectly integrated. Fantastic persistence, goes on and on. Save the second half of the bottle for when the others have gone home and savour in your favourite chair.
MM: Not flashy or obvious but quietly delicious as it sails serenely across the palate offering a satisfying richness and terrific persistence.
Marques de Murrieta Reserva 2007 Finca Ygay, around €24  Vintry, Rathgar D6;, nationwide;, D6 GOLD
EW: Massively rich wine, regal in its power and majesty. Lots of concentration and kaleidoscopic nuances of aroma and flavour but everything perfectly integrated. Seems strange to talk of a €24 wine as ‘outstanding value for money’ but here it is.
MM: Hits the bulls eye with its great richness and persistence and all sorts of nuance of flavour including plum, raisin, coconut, vanilla and liquorice. Fantastic value compared to French classics.


THE WINE BUNCH Tasting – Rioja Week 1 (August 2013)

Rioja W1 ERN_0055
Rioja was first touted in the early 1970’s, introduced to us  by wine writers of the time, chiefly English, as an affordable Bordeaux alternative, writes Ernie Whalley. Few if any of these patrician gents bothered to mention that the key grape was tempranillo, not Bordeaux’s usual suspects. Of course there is a link, in that the Rioja vines escaped the late 19th century phylloxera epidemic. The devastation further north opened up the French market for Rioja and also brought both French capital and French winemakers to the region. Rioja is the most internationally recognised of all Spanish wines. The boom years of the 1980s and beyond were not an unmitigated blessing. As demand expanded, quality wavered and a run of poor vintages did nothing to help. Rioja is over it now. There are now two styles, one modern, more ‘international’, stemming from around 1970 when Marques de Cáceres started to experiment with new French oak; the other classical, whose proponents traditionally used second or third fill American oak casks, giving the wine long maturation in barrel. This week we taste crianza wines, in both styles. Here are our top four picks from the dozen we sampled.
La Hoja Crianza 2010
EW: Doing the job; clean, well put together plum and brambly fruit with a decent bit of character. Excellent value for money.
MM: Seems more like a reserva than a crianza with its rich plummy fruit, backed by tannin, oak and good length.
Vinasperi Crianza 2009
EW: A good example of the modern style of Rioja. Elegant nose, oak quite prominent, leading smoothly into a wealth of black fruit. Firm tannins resolving nicely.
MM: Plenty to like in this modern Rioja with its smooth, rich plumy feel and fine texture.
Vina Hermosa Crianza 2009; Dalys, Boyle, Co Roscommon;, Tralee, Co Kerry.
EW: Quite old-fashioned and isn’t it good that the traditional regional style is still out there.  Huge drinkability and charm from soft fruit, with nutty overtones.
MM: An intriguing cross of old and new styles with vibrant fruit but an oaky softness too. Great balance and drinkability
Rondan Crianza 2008 
EW: Nice old-fashioned style. Subtle hints of coconut and vanilla from the American oak floating on top of ripe-but-not stewed plum and cherry fruit, tapering to a long finish.
MM: A classic old-fashioned style but that’s no bad thing as there is plenty of soft berry and plum fruit, overlaid by coconut  and vanilla.

THE WINE BUNCH Tasting – Rosé Week 2 (August 2013)


For years, I hated rosé, writes Ernie Whalley. This almost certainly stemmed from memories of quaffing Mateus Rosé in student bedsits. The familiar flask-shaped green bottle held innocuous commercial plonk – kids’ stuff – no body, no character, too sweet to pair with food and lacking sufficient acidity to refresh. Curiously, Mateus is now in much better shape and I was quite surprised not to receive a bottle for our tasting. Now, like any other sort of convert, I’m a zealot for the cause; introducing full-on bone dry rosé to my friends, especially if there’s a sun in the sky. Grenache, Malbec, Merlot, Sangiovese, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Gamay rosé, bring it on!  Rosé has largely been considered uncool for years; unfortunate because it’s kept a lot of people from appreciating a wine that’s intensely food-friendly and, moreover, looks beautiful in the glass. The big surprise of the tasting was the performance of one rosé d’ Anjou, an appellation that never seemed to cop on that sweet-tinged, clingy wines are not where it’s at. Here are our second selection of four, making 8 from 24 in total.

Ch La Grave ‘Expression’ 2012 Minervois, €13.90 Ardkeen Stores, Waterford; Avoca, Monkstown; Searsons, Monkstown, Co Dublin. BRONZE


EW: Clean, friendly fruit, refreshing; some delicacy too, with a strawberries-and-cream appeal and an intriguing hint of marjoram, almost ‘garrigue’ herbs.


MM: Their red is always good so no surprise to see their rosé showing a an interesting array of fruit flavours of red pastille, apple and citrus overlaying a creamy mouthfeel.




La Clotiere Rosé d’Anjou 2012 Anjou €11.99 Baggot Street Wines, D4; Gibneys, Malahide, Co Dublin; Savages, Swords, Co Dublin;;, D5



EW: Pleasing, unflashy but solid wine and a real bargain to boot. All this from an appellation that almost invariably fails to deliver. Super casual drinking.


MM: The shock of the tasting. This is an attractively juicy fruity style rather than the cloying sugary rubbish normally sold under this appellation.




Ch Beaulieu  2012 Cuvée Alexandre Coteaux d’Aix en Provence €17.99; 64 Wine, Glasthule, Co Dublin;, Portmarnock, Co Dublin.  BRONZE


EW: Smart, fragrant nose redolent of rose hip & white peach. ‘Real wine’ on the palate with a huge juicy mouthfeel overlaid with cream. Dies a bit quick but what the hell, this is for guzzling on the lawn.


MM: Typical Provence rosé, lots of berry fruit, crisp dry and long. The essence of what you want for a party.




Douce Vie 2012 Bernard Magrez Les Muraires Cotes de Provence €15.95 Redmonds of Ranelagh, D6 and selected independents. BRONZE


EW: Great wine from a producer who carries a lot of clout. Nettly, herbal scents on the nose amid the strawberry fruit.  quite full-bodied, lot of fruit.


MM: A modern full-bodied fruity style filled with strawberry and pear flavours. One to enjoy with barbecued food.




THE WINE BUNCH Tasting: ROSE (Week One) July 2013


Ernie 1Martin Moran 1

One of the most compelling characteristics of a good rosé is youthful vivacity, writes Ernie Whalley. Rosés are made in different ways, including the blending of red and white wines together; by leaving the skins briefly in contact with the juice just before fermentation; or by a technique called saignée (‘bleeding’). When a winemaker desires to impart more body to a red wine, some of the pink juice from the must can be removed at an early stage. The red wine remaining in the vats is intensified as a result of the bleeding; the pink juice that is removed can be fermented separately to produce rosé. Rosé is best enjoyed during the warmer months, often in an out-of-doors location. The rosé fan seeks a fresh, lively wine with attractive strawberry, raspberry and, sometimes, cherry and/or redcurrant fruit. The colour is often a dead giveaway – faded wines and those from older vintages are best avoided. Overall we were surprised by the high quality of the 24 wines tasted. 8 chosen, these are the first four.

Chateau Bellevue La Fôret 2012, Fronton, €13.99 Martins, D3; Londis stores; Deveney’s, D14 and other independents. BRONZE
EW: Gutsier than your average rosé, this comes over fresh as a daisy with rich, joyful clean red fruit, enlivened by zippy spices and a citric touch.
MM: Irish owned chateau that appears to be in safe hands if this quite full bodied style with plenty of red currant like fruit is anything to go by
Bergerie l’Hortus  2012, Coteaux du Languedoc  €15.15  SILVER
EW: Mandarin, pink grapefruit and beautiful red berry fruit. Clean finish, class act.
MM: Hortus is a model of consistency. I’ve never had a bad wine from them and this serves up attractive berry fruit but also a slightly different, zesty orange note on the finish.
Chateau Haut Rian 2012 €12.00 BRONZE
EW: Good heft of strawberry and redcurrant  fruit, quite complex. Merlot and Cabernet working well together, quite ‘serious’ for rosé
MM: Weighty for a rosé with plenty of ripe fruit such as tinned strawberries, cherry and pear yet it stays tangy and fresh.
Ch de Sours 2012 Bordeaux €18.99 Deveney’s, D14;, D11 and selected independents. SILVER
EW: Strawberry, raspberry, grapefruit, touch of lemon verbena. Attractive, balanced, likeable and very high quality wine. As always, a benchmark, giving something for others to aim for.
MM: This chateau has a stellar reputation that is fully deserved. Consistently delivers subtle wild strawberry fruit, creamy texture and a zippy grapefruit finish. Delish.

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

Martin Moran 1Ernie 1

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. 


Château des Laurets Puisseguin Saint-Emilion 2010 €23.99  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.


Château Bauduc Clos des Quinze 2010 Côtes de Bordeaux €16.99, Cork;, 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.


Château Haut Rian 2010 Côtes de Bordeaux €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.



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.


Chateau Mouras 2007 Graves Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Co Dublin;;, 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.


Ch.Mahon Laville 2010 €17.99, 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.


Mitchells Claret 2009 €12.50, 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.








In the early post-apartheid years South Africa enjoyed considerable patronage from Irish wine drinkers. Today, however, inflation has ramped up prices, making them a hard sell. Initially, South African wine was massively over-hyped. Years of isolation left the industry with scant opportunity to investigate what was happening in other wine regions and bereft of self-criticism. South Africa was also lumbered with pinotage, an indigenous grape variety seen as a national treasure but which, maladroitly handled, produces a wine with an elastoplast nose and a palate revealing notes of ersatz coffee and smoking tyres. Better wine science, helped by Interaction with winemakers in other countries, subsequently improved the wines dramatically. A key factor in the quality hike has been the transference of varieties such as merlot and sauvignon blanc to more suitable sites. In this tasting we found many interesting wines – including a respectable pinotage! 21 wines tasted, 8 chosen, here are the first four. Caroline Byrne, wine columnist  for Irish Garden, deputises for Martin Moran, away judging in England..


Neil Ellis Aenigma 2007, Elgin €18.99 Mortons, Galway;, D7, 64 Wines, Glasthule. Co Dublin


EW: The cheaper of a brace from a respected winemaker, this was a Bordeaux blend where the mint and herbal fragrance of cabernet franc floated over substantial plum and cabernet fruit. Absorbing and well-made.

CB: Fragrant mineral nose, with a touch of green bell pepper leads into very drinkable merlot-led red and black berry fruit fruit.



Post House Penny Black 2010, Stellenbosch €25.99 Many independents including Hole in the Wall, D7; Matsons, Bandon, Co Cork; Grapevine,Glasnevin, D9; Mulcahy’s. Charleville, Co Cork


EW: An unfeasible pot pourri of shiraz, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot and chenin blanc (ours not to reason why) that  fuse into a beast of naked power that still manages to charm. Skillfully made – but pleading to be drunk with rich roast meats.

CB: Phew! A floral  plus heather-and-herb nose then an explosion of rich ripe fruit – everything from raspberries to damsons. Needs food.



Glen Carlou Pinot Noir 2011 Paarl €16.99 Florries Fine Wines, Tramore Co Waterford; Worldwide Wines, Waterford;, D2   BRONZE

EW: A fragrant floral and true-to-varietal nose segueing into strawberry and cherry fruit with good balancing acidity make for a very pretty, even elegant, wine. Good value too.

CB: An intriguing black pepper-spiked nose, with strawberry, anis and cake spices on the palate with a Graves-like powdery aftertaste. Very pretty wine.



Graham Beck Pinotage 2010, Robertson €15.99 and many independents. BRONZE

EW: Amazing! This ultra-reliable producer has made a ‘pinotage without tears’ even I can enjoy.  Fragrant lightly-roasted coffee, violets and bergamot on the nose. Abundant plummy fruit, highlighted by soft dark tannins and pluperfect acid balance. Long finish.

CB: By far the nicest of the pinotage we tasted. An attractive floral nose, followed by dense blueberry fruit with a hint of cumin and coffee.






If your grapes can’t stand the heat, get into shiraz, seems to be the mantra for modern South African winemaking writes Ernie Whalley. It’s a course of action I remember advocating on a visit there over twenty years ago after tasting a good deal of ‘overcooked’ merlot and pinotage. The suggestion was met with decided scepticism from grape farmers ingrained in the old ways. Things change – today syrah/shiraz is the cultivar that has shown the most dramatic growth in terms of plantings, new wines and competition entries.

The first confirmation of shiraz being planted on South African soil was at the end of the 1890’s in the vineyards of Groot Constantia. Later, some 15 examples are recorded as entries in the 1935 Cape Agricultural Wine Competition. Interestingly, 12 of these were sweet wines. By 1978 a mere 20 shiraz-based wines were recorded but the 1990’s saw a boom in plantings. Today shiraz is the country’s second largest planted red variety and fourth overall after chenin blanc (steen), cabernet sauvignon and colombard.


Bellow’s Rock Shiraz, 2011, Coastal Region €9.99 BRONZE


EW: A whiff of black pepper and allspice announces classical shiraz with a weight of greengage, dark plum and brambly fruit, with the alcohol sensibly constrained to 14.5% ABV. Excellent value.


CB: Floral nose with notes of black pepper and a whiff of spice. Plenty of rich fruit and a long finish. A touch of class about this wine.




Boland Cellar Five Climates Shiraz 2010 €13.99 Londis, Malahide, Co Dublin; Fresh Stores; Hole in the Wall, D7; 1601, Kinsale, Co Cork; Village Off Licence, D15 BRONZE


EW Spice and savoury fruit, a decent stab at producing a South African wine with Northern Rhone character. Pleasurable, greatly involving and good value for the ask.


CB: On the nose a compote of plum and morello cherry. Masses of plummy fruit on the palate, with grippy tannins that will help the wine develop.





Goats do Roam 2011, Paarl €12.99, D11 and many independents BRONZE


EW: Charles Back’s vintage pun – Côtes du Rhône, geddit? -  still amuses and this balanced blend of Syrah (61%) plus 5 other grapes associated with the Southern Rhône proves reliable as ever.


CB: Not overly complex but well-made tasty stuff that emphasises good fruit selection and confident winemaking.




Delheim Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005, Simonsberg-Stellenbosch €15.99 nationwide SILVER


EW: Serious wine. Beautifully integrated fruit with an abundance of dark berries; tannins resolving nicely, good length. All-in-all, enticing well-structured wine that belies its age.


CB: Extraordinarily aromatic with a touch of smoke, blackcurrant and blueberry fruit. Well integrated oak and tannins.




READ ERNIE WHALLEY &  MARTIN MORAN every Sunday in ‘Sunday’ Magazine in The Sunday Times (IE)

Sandro Boscaini

That’s Amarone – Masi & Serego Alighieri tasting

Valpolicella is a viticultural zone of the Italian province of Verona, east of Lake Garda, ranking as the second most significant production region for Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) wines in volume terms (Chianti is first).This red wine is typically made from three grape varietals: Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara although others are permitted  in small quantities to balance the blend.

Valpolicella stalwart and one of wine’s nicest people, Sandro Boscaini, president of Masi dropped onto Dubin the other week and gave us a tasting of Masi Costasera Amarone together with the Amarone from the associated house of Serego Alighieri, which I visited earlier this year. The Serego Alighieri family, too, are charming and hospitable. On our first evening there we enjoyed, in the company of the Contessa, a stroll round Verona viewing locations associated with her illustrious ancestor, the poet Dante, before joining Sandro for dinner at a locally-famed fish restaurant.

Amarone is a unique wine, made in a zone where the temperature is moderated by establishing the vines on elevated sites within reach of the cooling influence of Lake Garda. It is high in alcohol, rich and full bodied but acidic enough to make it unfatiging to drink. Grapes destined for Amarone are the last in Valpolicella to be harvested, being allowed to get as ripe as they can before mould and rot set in. The sugars in the grapes are then concentrated by being kept in purpose built drying rooms for three to four months. During this time over a third of the water is removed as the grapes shrivel into raisins. This method of production is known as passito.

To Sandro Boscaini’s father goes the credit for, in the late 1950s, conceiving the the idea of ripasso a new style of Valpolicella and introducing it to the region. With this technique, the pomace of leftover grape skins and seeds from the fermentation of Amarone – and sometimes the dessert wine Recioto – are introduced to the Valpolicella wines for a period of extended maceration. The additional food source for the yeast helps boost the alcohol level and body of the wines while at, the same time, yielding additional tannins, glycerine and phenolic compounds that enhance a wine’s complexity, flavor and colour. The innovation changed the face of Valpolicella, turning it from a light, easy drinker into ‘serious’ wine. Boscaini senior subsequently accelerated the process by surrendering the name to the local Chamber of Commerce, allowing other producers to use the term for a wine style they had already started making.  A brand was born.

In the region the quality of Amarone varies widely but the wines we tasted ranged from sound to stunning.

Masi Costasera Amarone 2007 Young and developing, replete with rich, dark plummy fruit and, as a wine, an object lesson in achieving the proper fruit/acid balance. 15/20

Serègo Alighieri Vaio Amaron Amarone 2005 Massive, well-structured wine, still evolving with a great weight of ripe dark fruit, plus hints of tobacco and coffee. 18/20

Masi Costasera Amarone 2000 Somehow atypical with morello cherry fruit replacing the plummy notes and hints of almonds and raisins present in the first two wines. Less acidity than the 2005. Starting to dry out a little, not sure how long-lived this vintage will be.14.5/20

Masi Costasera Amarone 1998 Distinctive caramelly nose, pleasing plummy mid-palate then a big peppery alcohol kick at the back end. 15/20

Masi Costasera Amarone 1995 A bit knackered, prunes and green twiggy stuff replacing the fruit. Probably lovely five years ago – supports my contention that I’d rather drink a wine three years too early than a day too late. 13.5/20

Masi Serègo Alighieri Vaio Amaron Amarone 1995 Everything you want in an Amarone – power; acidity perfectly balancing the fruit making for a long, long finish. Cardamom and cinnamon on the nose then voluptuous dark plums, liquorice, cassis, mulberries, savory gamey and loads more. So impressive. 18.5/20

Masi Costasera Amarone 1993 Fading glory but you can still get the point. 14.5/20

Masi Costasera Amarone 1988 The surprise of the tasting. I would have thought this would have been past it but distinct plum and cherry flavours were still coming through underpinning the almonds and herbal notes that come with ageing. Complex and absorbing. 17/20

A reminder of my scoring system: 17-20 Outstanding; if you can afford it buy it. 15-17 wine of some distinction.13-15 Reliable drinking. 11-13 Uncomplicated easy drinking 9-11 You may like it, I didn’t. <9 Avoid