Category Archives: Tasting Notes

Superquinn Wine Sale and a good bottle from the Rhone


The Superquinn French Wine Sale, an annual event, is upon us. The list is a mix of old favourites and new ‘lip-smacking’, their words not mine, bargains. The Etienne Barret Crozes Hermitage Rouge and the Domaine de Brunely Vacqueyras are among the former, representing good value at €11 and €12 respectively, as is the surprisingly sprightly SQ Saint Joseph (€12). Among the whites I like the Collioure Cuvée des Peintres (€10) and the Pouilly Fumé Les Pierres Blanche (€12).

Richard Moriarty and the SQ wine buying staff have put in a shift to find some decent ‘under a tenner’ quaffers. The Domaine Astruc Vermentino – a white grape more usually associated with Italy and the Shiraz-Viognier, both produced by smart winemaker Jean-Claude Mas are excellent value at €7.  It’s curious that the concept of blending a little fragrant Viognier with robust Syrah/Shiraz kicked off in the Northern Rhone before being seized upon by the Aussies as ‘a good idea’ and subsequently re-introduced to France as  a marketing opportunity. The punningly-titled Longue Dog (I’ve previously praised ‘Chat-en-Oeuf from the same stable) is the brainchild of the ultra-savvy Mancunian Frenchman Paul Boutinot and again, it’s well worth the €7 ask. Longue Dog is a modern wine, at least for Languedoc, with vibrant aromatics and showy ripe fruit, a sort of ‘mini’ (though not ‘lite’) equivalent of the ‘garagiste’ boutique wines from Bordeaux’s right bank that found favour with American critics such as Robert Parker. During the sale Superquinn are permitting you to buy any three bottles of the under €8 wines listed for €20 and a further 5% off if you buy six. €6.33 a bottle for wine of this quality would have been unthinkable a couple of years ago.

I also tasted a ‘low alcohol’ Merlot-Cabernet, Abbaye Sainte Radegonde, sourced, accoding to Superquinn, to fulfill a demand from a customer (female) who wanted a wine that was lower in alcohol but tasted  ‘like a real wine’.  This one, along with a Chardonnay-Sauvignon, a blend that doesn’t work for me, came from the Loire, a cool region and the grapes were picked ‘early’ or, as some say, ‘under ripe’ giving a wine that clocked in at 9 per cent alcohol by volume. A nice thought but, to me, the wine tasted sour and mean and if I wanted to ingest less alcohol I’d probably buy a 13.5 ABV wine and save the last glass for chucking in a casserole.

This week’s star buy is also French. Judging The Craft Butchers’  ‘Sausage of the Year’ (as I call it) last week at Simmonscourt, I bumped into Simon Tyrell who, in conjunction with cheesemongers Sheridans was pairing his excellent wines with wonderful Irish cheeses like Bellingham Blue, Milleens and Knockdrinna, recently voted Supreme Champion in the UK’s ‘cheese Olympics’. Simon is Ireland’s Mister Rhone Valley; having lived and worked there he knows the region and its wines intimately and is their greatest fan. Of wines he imports some bear the hallmark of greatness and all punch well above their weight. Domaine de Fondreche 2008 Ventoux (€13.99, Drinks Store, Stoneybatter; Donnybrook Fair; Jus de Vine) is a generous wine with upfront notes of violets, lavender and cinnamon. The palate marries dark plums to bright red cherries and the finish is both long and elegant.


COFFEE CULTURE – Ernie Whalley finds a Pinotage he can actually drink

Sophia Pritchard, winemaker at Clos Malverne, with 'Le Café'


Until yesterday I’d always thought that offensive Pinotage and inoffensive Pinot Grigio were two grapes that should have been strangled at birth. Now, after a tasting of Dunne’s Stores current and proposd South African range, I’m prepared to grant the former at least a stay of execution.

I’ve always hated Pinotage. If I wanted to smell smoking rubber I’d have become a Formula One tifoso. Were I that fond of elastoplast I’d have become a paramedic. Every wine I’d ever tasted that was fettled from this grape seemed, however well-made, utterly charmless. The worst were savagely aggressive –  a mad axeman in a bottle. I’m not lacking company in my dislike of this varietal. Many wine writers have dissed Pinotage, to the extent where one of the fraternity called it “the punchbag of wine criticism”.

Yesterday, though, I found a Pinotage I could actually finish a glass of. And maybe a tad more.

According to Clos Malverne winemaker Sophia Pritchard what’s become known as ‘Coffee Pinotage’ is trending among South African wine drinkers, particularly among the younger set. The style, now around ten years in existence, was ‘invented’ by a winemaker called Bertus Fourie at the Deiemersfontein winery. Subsequently he was lured away by the giant KWW to create a Pinotage called Café Culture. The people at Diemerfontein were, apparently, not impressed, even going as far as to contemplate litigation, reckoning he had nicked the recipe. Bertus Fourie, having gained the nickname of ‘Starbucks’, left KWW in 2008 for a boutique operation called Val de Vie who also run a Polo Club and an estate agency. Val de Vie were Rhone varietal specialists, producing an iconic, for South Africa, Syrah. Curiously, what they didn’t have was Pinotage or at least it was never listed among their varietals on the website. However ‘Starbucks’ and his brother Martin, also a winemaker, set to and produced what was aimed at being the cream of the coffee Pinotages, a wine named (flourish of trumpets) ‘Barista’.

So, what’s the secret of the kick in ‘The Coffee’? According to Sophia the key ingredient is top-notch fruit, ripe in similar vein to the Merlot of the Bordeaux ‘garagistes’. Hand-sorting too, the motto being “If you find anything green, get rid of it.”  Plus cosseting  soft pressing. The main difference, however,  is in the wood employed – usually staves but there is some matured in new French barriques. The wood is toasted to a high ++ specification. I doubt you’ll find oak this charred elsewhere. This subdues the trademark vanilla and coconut of oak aged wine, replacing it with coffee sensations. The effect simulates someone tipping a few gallons of double espresso into the vat. The high toast also contributes, along with the premium fruit, to taming the weird things that go on in the typical Pinotage and making the wine more relaxed, more joyful. I found  the Clos Malverne ‘Le Café’ very decent. Full-boded, rounded and balanced with roasty-toasty aromatics announcing a heap of plum and Morello cherry fruit. Some South African winemakers seem bent on making a ‘Pinotage Light’, more in the manner of a New World Pinot Noir; I think the ‘Coffee’ route may present better opportunities of getting the grape worldwide acceptance.

That said, in all honesty, I couldn’t detect much of a taste of coffee. I roast coffee and my nose and palate are pretty well attuned to picking out the nuances. The smell of roast coffee is one of the great sensory myths. Initially, after roasting, there’s no smell at all until the CO2 generated by the process has dispersed. And during roasting what you are getting is the smell of…. yes, ‘roasting’. If I loaded my HotProg roaster with acorns it would smell much the same. Coffee, cocoa and chocolate flavours show up in a lot of red wines, particularly in New World Cabernet and Shiraz. Wolf Blass President’s Selection, to name but one, is a veritable chocolate factory.

Footnote: Clos Malverne ‘ Le Café is on the ‘maybe coming soon’ list at Dunnes Stores. I don’t have a price. Other wines that showed up well at the tasting were the clean, crisp Clos Malverne Sauvignon Blanc (€9.99); the well-balanced Clos Malverne Cabernet/Shiraz 2008 (€10.99); and the Bellingham Basket Press Syrah 2006, another hopefully en route from the Cape. There’s a Chardonnay, Heron’s Nest, on promotion at €6.99.



"Stuck in an appellation" Saint Emilion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WINE – Brands. What do they do for us?

What’s the world’s oldest brand still around today? Hoover? Ford? Oxo? Coca-Cola? These were the names that sprang to mind when I asked the question of some colleagues. Sorry, but these household names are mere striplings when it comes to marketing history.

Unless you see ‘Christianity’ as a brand it’s hard to look farther than the Premier Cru red wine from Bordeaux, Chateau Haut-Brion, a wine continuously marketed and promoted under its own name since the mid-seventeenth century. Haut-Brion appears in the diaries of Samuel Pepys as a highly desirable tipple. Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to a friend, also commended Haut Brion (though he failed to spell it correctly).

What do brands do for us? Initially they provide an introduction to wine’s delights. Very few people come to wine by picking up a bottle bearing an obscure label from the Costieres de Nimes, saying “Must try this, I’ll take it home tonight.”  What brands do is give us confidence. The wine market is the most fragmented in the world, with the possible exception of womens’ clothing. Even in a small wine merchant’s the choice is daunting; you’ll be faced with at least 400 bottles. Brand psychology is an open book; the sub-text reads “choose a branded wine and you are far less likely to make a cock-up.”  Brands also provide a step ladder. If you could afford to work your way through, say, Penfold’s range of red wines from Koonunga Hill (around €14) to Grange (around €200) you’d have a pretty good palate by the time you reached the end of the line. You’d also have a handle on the quantum leap in enjoyment you can get by paying a tad more each step of the way. The existence of a ‘reserve’, ‘riserva’ or ‘reserva’ on the stepladder is no accident. It is there to prevent newbie drinkers from jumping ship when their palates crave a more sophisticated offering.

At the same time there are things that branded wines can’t do for you. They can’t give you that singular high that goes with linking a wine to an individual character or a small plot. Even when they highlight the connection between one of their wines and its ‘terroir’ it’s difficult to see the revelation as anything other than a marketing ploy. Worse, brand drinkers are denied the unbounded joy of boring the arse off their friends with the one about the little Chateau that they “discovered” whilst driving through France where they had “the most divine wine that ever existed”.

This time of year is ‘catwalk time’ for wine writers, when the supermarkets roll out their winter collections. Dunnes Stores were the first to switch on the spotlights and it was evident that their wine buying team are doing a decent job, particularly in bringing budget drinking to the ‘church mouse generation’. Hitherto, my normal advice would be to shun anything under €10 unless you want something to pep up a casserole but here, amazingly, was a very drinkable 2008 chardonnay/viognier, Tilia from Argentina, a gift at €6.99. A savvy blend, this; the viognier (around 25%) gave the wine a lovely floral lift. Also from the same stable came a clean, modern Malbec, Alamos, very nicely made red, well worth the €8 ask. California is not a region that springs to mind when you are looking for low cost decent drinking but I liked the Marmesa Brook Ranch syrah (€9.99), very balanced with good chunky fruit – ‘steak wine’. The wines of Laurent Miquel have been one one of the stars in Dunne’s firmament for some years. They had another highly quaffable chardonnay/viognier, Nord Sud 2009 at €8 and the 100% viognier, 30% of which was matured in French barriques, at €8.95 was better still. Wine of the show, for me, was the striking, dark-toned Sancerre, Domaine des Grosses Pierres, bang on the money at €12.99.

So it Goes…. this week's decent drinking

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

So it goes… This week's decent drinking

From what started out as a fairly uncomplicated pastime – you plant grapes, you harvest them, you cause them to ferment, then you run off the juice –winemaking has been historically hedged around with rules and regulations as in “You can’t add sugar to boost the quality in a poor year” or “You can’t grow this grape here” or “Unless you age in oak for two years you can’t call your wine a reserve”. Some of these dictums are adopted by consensus; others imposed by some organisation set up to govern the wine production of a land or a region. In either case, the reasons for regulation are the same – to improve quality; to enhance recognition; to ensure prices hold up. The undesirability of a ‘free for all’ is widely recognized.

Now and again, free-thinking individualists fail to conform. In the 1970s Piero Antinori, whose family had been making wine in Tuscany for more than 600 years, decided that replacing the white grapes from the Chianti formula with Bordeaux varietals cabernet sauvignon and merlot would make a richer more complex wine. “Fine”, said the rule makers, “but you can’t call it Chianti”. The result was a wine, originally labeled as a humble Vino da Tavola (table wine), which Antignori named Tignanello after the vineyard where the grapes were grown. Now feted as a ‘Super Tuscan’, Tignanello 2005 sells here for around €70 a bottle.

Judging in Portugal last year, I was privileged to meet Luis Pato, a hero of mine, as much for his nonconformity and sheer obduracy in the face of bureaucratic pressure as for the vibrant quality of his wines. In 1999, Luis Pato quit the Bairrada DOC to market his wines under the much less prestigious Vinho Regional Beiras appellation. Unlike Antinori, the decision was not made so he could introduce foreign varieties. Portugal has innumerable indigenous grapes, of one of which, baga, Luis is a huge fan. The winemaker is extremely respectful of regional tradition, homing in on bical, another local grape, for his whites at a time when it would undoubtedly have been easier to sell ‘internationals’ like chardonnay or sauvignon blanc.

There’s no doubt that, in the wrong hands, baga is capable of making joyless astringent wines. At the time the appointed authorities were conducting something of a vendetta against this grape – ‘ethnic cleansing’ is not too harsh a word. Luis believed that, given sensitive treatment, baga could make sublime wines and set out to prove it.

Luis Pato Casta Baga 2007 €10.99 (The Corkscrew, Chatham Street; Redmonds, Ranelagh; Karwig’s, Cork) makes an interesting change from ‘the usual suspects’. The elements brought by the baga grape are hard to describe but it reminds me of an amalgam of nebbiolo, syrah and pinot noir, probably my three favourite red grapes. The nose is all morello cherries, with a whiff of cedar wood and fragrant spice. On the palate brambles and blueberries kick in, also some lighter red cherry pinot-like notes. At around €23, Pato’s Vinhas Velhas Tinto 2005 is definitely in the ‘treat’ category, but I’d say it’s the most interesting red I drank in 2009.

For me there’s no doubt that Portugal is ‘where it’s at’ in the Really Interesting Drinking stakes. The reds have always appealed. Quality among the whites has been hiked by miles in the last few years as modern winemaking techniques; a swing against over-oaking and the dearth of that nation’s passion for near-oxidised  wines kicked in.

So it Goes… this week's decent drinking

Went to an office party in a fridge the other night. The top floor of Krystle – my nomination for the world’s daftest named nightclub – is badged as ‘The Penthouse’  leading to thoughts of sybaritic luxury, comfy button-backs and naked models reclining on tigerskin rugs. Alas it’s nothing like. Maybe the name’s not so daft after all as the sides are open to the atmosphere and the crystals were quickly forming – on nose, face, hands on on the outside of an already turbo-chilled pint of Guinness. As soon as I got the glass unstuck from my paws I switched to an old favourite, Black Bush, neat. Some compensation for the chill blast and the fact that those oh-so-ecological gas patio heaters had only been switched on minutes before our arrival. My gut feeling is that Black Bush has been tricked up over the years to make it sweeter – it’s still very palatable stuff though.

Couldn’t believe the prices that The Marine Hotel in Sutton charge for their wines at a function. €28 for Santa Rita 120 Sauv B. That’s 3 x retail and latterly I’ve seen it on special for €6.95.

Tesco have a rather fine albarino at the minute –   Pazo Serantellos 2008 (€9.45) .  Lovely stone fruit on the nose, following through to mid palate, leavened with citrus and crisp apple, with a spiky, energising lime lift at the back end. I’m also scouring branches of Superquinn for the remants of Paul Boutinot’s rather fine ‘Chat en Oeuf’ (groan!), a grenache/syrah blend that kicks ass for the modest price of €9.

Came across a great idea for a last minute Chrissie prezzie – Mc Hugh’s Off-Licenses have slashed the prices of two of the world’s most lauded dessert wines. Between now and Christmas and, of course, while stocks last, South Africa’s Klein Contantia 2004 Vin de Constance 500ml bottles and Canada’s Inniskillin 2006 Riesling Ice Wine 375ml bottles will be at a special price of €25 per bottle. These normally retail for €70 and €60 respectively. Both come in attractive gift boxes. They are an ideal gift for wine enthusiasts, especially oneself! I’m not a big fan of the Klein Constantia – though I know many who love its upfront unctuous richness – the Inniskillin is in a different league, spicy and subtle and I’m going to grab some of this if you guys don’t get there before me.

25e Malahide Road, Artane, Dublin 5. Tel: 8311867.
57 Kilbarrack Road, Dublin 5. Tel: 8394692.

Ten things you really shouldn't eat with wine

I’m sure this will get me slaughtered by my food and wine matching buddies but, sod it, here goes!

Think back, long before the days when you started drinking wine. When you slurped Coke along with your beefburgers or Marmite soldiers did you pause to consider whether the combo worked? Did you, for tastebuds’ or ritual’s sake switch to Fanta lemon when the mammy served up fish fingers? Did you hell.

So why is it that a lot of mature citizens go trembly at the knees when asked to pick a bottle from a restaurant wine list? How come so many of us get ulcers agonising over whether we should drink sauvignon blanc or chardonnay with our breast of chicken supreme?

The answer is most likely because those wine drinking friends who have gone further down the track are reading the back labels of wine bottles or listening to wine writers and lecturers laying down the law about the exactitudes of wine and food matching. Some of the former have made a good living spouting about it.

I’ve maybe said it before. The marriage of wine and food is like any other marriage. Ten per cent are made in heaven, ten in hell and the other eighty per cent bumble along in between. So rather than say what wine you should drink with what foodstuff, I’m going to give you ten things that I consider shouldn’t be consumed under any circumstances while drinking wine and declare open season on everything else.

First and foremost of these is artichoke, the globe variety at least. One sip of wine and this delicacy will turn to metal in your mouth. If you are perverse enough to enjoy sucking on ball bearings, go ahead.

The next is ice cream, particularly the non-dairy variety we’ve come to regard as the ‘standard’, though it’s really sub-standard. Ice cream is too cold to harmonize with any wine and the fat in non-dairy ice cream quickly turns to tasting rancid.

Crisps, or indeed anything else with lashings of salt, like anchovies or strong blue cheeses murder the taste of wine.

Asparagus. Many sommeliers say it’s the hardest wine match of all and they are pretty spot on. You’ll find many suggestions, from Loire sauvignon to late-gathered riesling. Nothing works for me.

Raw tomatoes. It’s amazing how much acidity they contain. Nothing makes good pinot noir taste like paint stripper so rapidly.

Radishes, likewise raw onion and pungent horseradish. The bitter compounds, acidity and secreted oils play hell with your taste buds. The strong smell destroys the ‘nose’ of an accompanying wine.

Strawberries. Few agree with me on this one but despite experimenting with everything from Champagne to ‘stickies’ I’ve never found a satisfactory match.

Anything pickled, gherkins,walnuts, whatever cause wines of all kinds to turn sour and metallic. Pickled herring is great with schnapps, though.

Milk chocolate, good job I’m not fond of it. I can find wines aplenty to drink with good dark chocolate but the high fat and sugar content of the pale sort makes any wine a turn-off.

Lastly, coffee. It plays hell with the taste buds for a good half hour after consumption, which is why it’s best enjoyed solo or at the end of a meal after the wine’s finished.

So it goes… This week's decent drinking

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

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

All in all, pretty impressive and aging gracefully.

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

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

So it Goes… this week's decent drinking

SQ French Wine Sale shows they’re back on track

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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