TheTasteLogo Wines for Autumn

Some of you may know that I contribute to, easily the foremost food & drink website in Ireland. I’ve often thought I should re-post those articles here on, but for some reason I’ve never got around to it before now. So anyway, without further ado, here was my September article which you can also read on by clicking here.

As of Tuesday 1st September, we’ll officially be in Autumn. This may not come as a surprise to many, given that July was so wet and August left a lot to be desired – it’s almost as if we skipped summer altogether!

But there have been whispers of an Indian Summer potentially appearing this month, which may offer the chance of wheeling out those barbecues one last time before the evenings begin to darken.

So below are some autumnal wines to match the change in season. These straddle the divide between lighter summer styles and bigger, richer wines suited to winter. Perfect for when the sun finally shines… or not, as the case may be.


Penfolds Koonunga Hill Autumn Riesling
€20.99 from O’Briens and other good independent off-licences nationwide

The Penfolds Koonunga Hill Autumn Riesling is a perennial favourite that I like to trot out at this time of year, for how many wines are there with a season in the title?!

Thankfully, the quality of the wine is more than capable of walking the walk. Easily-spotted thanks to its retro 70’s label – the decade the wine was first created by the famous Max Shubert – this is an Aussie take on this famous grape variety that has its spiritual home in Germany.

Expect a very definitive lime character to this wine, but also rose petal floral aromatics, pear, and exotic flowers. A small addition of another grape called Traminer adds a Turkish delight and spice twist too.


Deakin Estate Chardonnay
€10.99 from Donnybrook Fair, Dublin; Redmond’s of Ranelagh, Dublin; Ardkeen Stores, Waterford; Bradley’s of Cork; and other good independent off-licences

For me, Deakin is a bit of an anomaly. Without wanting to get into too much detail, most Australian wines around this price are usually sourced from a large generic area of of the country, oftentimes the dreaded 2,000km expanse called “South Eastern Australia”, meaning these wines are often blends of regions hundreds if not thousands of kilometres from each other.

For Deakin, though, not only do their grapes come entirely from their own vineyards, ensuring above average quality control from start to finish, but all of Deakin Estate’s wines are sourced and produced entirely within a small 350ha area of the Murray Darling region in North Victoria.

Sounds relatively straight-forward, and it is – but usually not at this price. The result is that Deakin Estate’s wines are lighter, balanced and more subtle, with this Chardonnay is a case in point – simple, medium-bodied, balanced and very refreshing. Most appealing of all, perhaps, is the price: this is one of the best-value Aussies around.
San Michele a Torri, Chianti Colli Fiorentini
€15.99 from The Organic Supermarket online and in-store in Blackrock, Rathgar and Malahide

[I featured this more extensively on a recent post which you can read here]

This was a nice little surprise I discovered for myself recently. It’s a fully certified organic wine from that most famous of wine regions – Chianti – or more accurately a specific zone of the region called Colli Fiorentini, close to the famous renaissance city of Florence.

Made mostly with the traditional Tuscan grape Sangiovese, it also has a dollop of the equally local Canaiolo and Colorino thrown in for good measure. The result is – for my money – an excellent and approachable wine that’s a great value representation of what the region can offer.

Give it a few swirls in the glass to open up and you’ll be rewarded with a delightfully fresh and lively wine, full of the cherries and vivacious acidity that you’d expect from a nice Chianti. It mellows out and evolves over the course on an evening – or days – and runs the gamut of red berry flavours (redcurrant especially) with some nice lip-smacking savouriness.


Bagante Mencía Joven Bierzo
€13.95 from

If you’d like to be seen as being on top of the game as far as up-and-coming wines are concerned, then you’d do worse than picking this wine: little-known Spanish region (Bierzo)? Check. Little-known Spanish grape (Mencía)? Check. Clean minimalist labelling? Check check check.

In all seriousness, I was really taken by this medium-bodied, fresh and easy, lively wine. Juicy and fruity, I could drone on about various berry flavours, but this is a wine to be drank and enjoyed, not laboured over too much. Enjoy it Spanish-style: in the sun, with nibbles and good friends.


Graham’s Fine White Port
€21.95 from Mitchell & Son

What’s this? Port? Isn’t that a winter drink?

Well yes and no. The Port we’re used to – that heavy red stuff – is indeed a deliciously wintery drink. But make Port in the same way though with white grapes instead of red and you get, well, White Port, with flavours of honeyed almonds offset by some sweet citrus elements in the case of the Graham’s Fine White.

Throw away all preconceptions of Port when tackling the white version: for one, you should serve it chilled, then serve it as an aperitif rather than a dessert wine (though it will equally well serve that role too). If you’re feeling very adventurous, try mixing it with tonic to make a refreshing Port Tonic, just like the locals do, or even use it in place of Vermouth in other cocktails. Saúde!

Tyrrells Banner

“Hanging Out” with Tyrrells and Tindals on Google

Earlier this month, Tindals Wine Merchants held another of their very-21st-century tastings on Google Hangout. The last time I partook in one of these high-tech events was last October when Craggy Range of New Zealand was the winery in question (which you can read by clicking here), but this time we jumped across the pond to the historic, family-run Australian winery Tyrrells.

The premise was the same once again: at a predetermined date and time we would all log on to Tindals’ page on Google Hangout and – hey presto – we would all, in our very disparate locations and situations, be audio-visually connected to partake in a virtual (yet very real) tasting of some very nice wines.

Harriet Tindal was in her kitchen in Wicklow, fellow blogger Frankie Cook was at home in north Dublin, and I was here in my home office, and at various points we were also joined by the Searson’s team in their shop – though technical issues cut their involvement short – and a chap called Marco and his group of friends. The microphone of the latter wasn’t working unfortunately, but judging by their very animated expressions they were all having the craic.

Joining us on this IT adventure was Chris Tyrrell himself, fifth generation of the family and assistant winemaker at the winery, who had risen at an ungodly hour to entertain the whims of a bunch of Irish winos on the other side of the world.

We had all hoped that on this occasion Chris could take us on a live wander of the Tyrrells vineyards, but a slight miscalculation of the time it would be in Oz meant that it wasn’t possible on this occasion unfortunately – for all that Australia has going for it, the sun does not shine at 4am, no matter how much we willed it.

Tyrrells Hangout

A screengrab of the live Hangout. That’s Chris Tyrrell in the main image with (l-r) Frankie, Marco (and friends), Harriet and me (looking smug!)

Tyrrell’s Wines – a Brief History

Tyrrell’s are based in the Hunter Valley, Australia’s oldest wine region located 160kms north of Sydney. I must admit that I had no prior knowledge of Tyrrell’s or their wines before the tasting, apart from a vague appreciation that they were somehow part of Australia’s historic firmament.

A cursory look at Hugh Johnson’s Wine Companion confirmed as much, informing me that Chris’s grandfather Murray Tyrrell was a key figure in the revival of the Hunter Valley in the 1970’s. Not only that but their Vat 47 Chardonnay was the first commercially available Chardonnay to be produced in Australia, something which not only took the world by surprise but also the Aussies themselves, and as such it can be credited with helping kick-starting the meteoric rise of Aussie Chardonnay in the 1980’s onwards.

They’re also known to be one of the best producers of Semillon in Oz (“Australia’s greatest”, according to Johnson), and Oz Clarke calls them “top notch”. Douze points all round, then.

The wines ready for tasting

The Hangout

There were four Tyrrell’s wines to be tasted, with mine very kindly sponsored by Tindals and delivered straight to my door a few days in advance. There were three varieties from the Lost Block range – Semillon, Chardonnay and Shiraz – with their Rufus Stone Shiraz providing gravitas to the proceedings.

I really loved the Lost Block’s packaging: cartoonish caricatures of an Aussie winemaker looking perplexed and in perpetual search of something. The winemaker is, in fact, not a Tyrrell but Cliff, their vineyard manager who, in the midst of the 1993 harvest, was with his team of 60 pickers working feverishly on a plot of Semillon.

Suddenly Murray Tyrrell pulled up in his 4×4 and instructed them to drop everything and tend to their prized plot of Chardonnay 10 minutes up the road as there was a storm coming; the less resilient Chardonnay was to be given priority over the Semillon, and so off they all went.

It was two weeks later when Cliff remembered that they forgot to finish picking that Semillion plot, so with a small team he went out to finish the job. Given the grapes had two weeks extra hang time on the vines the resultant wine was considerably softer, richer and more approachable – a style considerably at odds with their traditionally more lean and acidic ‘traditional’ Semillon – and in a decision that was years ahead of its time they decided to continue to produce a small portion of Semillion in that style.

The vat in which the wine was originslly fermented was jokingly labeled “Cliffy’s Lost Block” by a young apprentice, and the rest as they say is history. The range has now been expanded to include Shiraz and Chardonnay – which we were about to taste – as well as Cabernet, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc, all from either Hunter Valley, Heathcote, Limestone Coast or Orange.

The actual Rufus Stone

The Wines

We started with two whites – Semillon and Chardonnay, both from the Hunter Valley – and then two Shirazes – the Lost Block and Rufus Stone – which were both from Heathcote, north of Melbourne in Victoria, some 1,000kms away from the Tyrrells home in Hunter Valley.

During harvest it takes refrigerated trucks packed with grapes approximately 12 hours to travel from Heathcote to the Tyrrel’s winery in Hunter Valley. Chris has obviously been questioned on the environmental impact of doing this ad nauseum in the past as, unprompted, he very quickly defended their reasons for doing so: we’re all very used to buying apples from New Zealand and grapes from Chile which have been frozen for weeks and flown by plane around the world, so sending a fleet of trucks 12 hours up the road once a year is small change in comparison. Fair point.

The Rufus Stone, lest we forget, is a small range encompassing their “top non Hunter red wines” – in other words just two Shirazes, one from Heathcote and one from McLaren Vale. The Rufus Stone takes its name from a story dating back to the year 1100 when the English King William II, known colloquially as Rufus, died unexpectedly on a hunting trip.

He was with his friend Sir Walter Tyrrell, and though official records state that it was a stray deflected arrow shot by Sir Tyrrell that killed the king, his immediate and unexpected flight to France straight afterwards spurred rumours about whether it was an accident at all. Either way, the Rufus Stone (pictured above) now stands at the site where the king was found dead.


Tyrrell’s Lost Block Semillon 2014
100% Semillon, Hunter Valley
€18.50 from Searson’s, both in their Monkstown shop and online here

This improved considerably after a little time in the glass – I had it too chilled initially which killed much of the nuance of the wine. When a little warmer there was some slight herbal notes and white stone fruit on the nose before leading to a lovely creamy palate that ended with a nice citric kick. Would be amazing with seafood and especially with shellfish. Apparently Semillon used to be known as “Shepherd’s Riesling” in Australia before they discovered what it was – not that that makes a contribution to this note, but it’s a nice trivia factoid nonetheless.


Tyrrell’s Lost Block Chardonnay 2014
100% Chardonnay, Hunter Valley
€18.50 from Searson’s, both in their Monkstown shop and online here

This was a really lovely, toasty, very Aussie Chardonnay that made me smile on first sniff. Though many recoil at the thought of oaked Aussie Chardonnay, I’m young enough to have avoided the excesses of the style in the 1990’s and so I can approach these wines without any baggage. That said this is still a nicely balanced wine that’s both fresh and rich, with some tropical and lychee flavours over the creamy toastiness. This opened up in the glass later too, softening out over the course of the evening and making it dangerously more drinkable as the night went on.


Tyrrell’s Lost Block Shiraz 2013
100% Shiraz, Heathcote
€18.50 from Searson’s, both in their Monkstown shop and online here

This was surprisingly lighter than expected, though I do have the habit of approaching every Aussie Shiraz as if it’s going to be a chocolatey spice bomb. Medium bodied and fragrant, it alternates between sweet and savoury notes with kirsch, black cherry and spice noticeable. This was a real joy and very good quality – another excellent companion to an evening chatting with friends (which is exactly what happened after the Hangout)


Tyrrell’s Rufus Stone Shiraz 2010
100% Shiraz, Heathcote
€30.00 from Searson’s, both in their Monkstown shop and online here

Considerably more intense, this is concentrated and brooding, and I couldn’t but help feel this needed more time to shine through. Smoky and dark, I tried it again the next day where softer, more savoury flavours were evident. The quality is unmistakable, but I’d love to revisit this in a few years’ time.



It was a real joy to be part of another Tindal Hangout, and I don’t think I’ll ever tire of the novelty of chatting with a winemaker who is literally on the other side of the world while sipping his wines in the comfort of my own home here in Ireland.

Soon after the Hangout finished a friend called over to ensure that the rest of the wine would not go to waste. The overall conclusion was that, though I was impressed by the power and seriousness of the Rufus Stone, I found myself reaching for both the Lost Block Chardonnay and Shiraz more and more, alternating between the two throughout the evening.

But then again the situation suited the wines I think: the Lost Block is perfectly at home at an informal chat late into the evening; if this had been a serious dinner or more special occasion it might have been more of an occasion for the Rufus Stone, given a couple of years. Still, they were all excellent wines and I’m delighted to have finally been introduced to Tyrrells.

Now, how do I get my hands on a sip of that famous Vat 47?



San Michele a Torri, Chianti Colli Fiorentini copy

Organicapalooza: San Michele a Torri Chianti

Organic practice in the vineyards is far more common than many may think; indeed, most wine brands of note practice it to a significant extent, if not completely. Why, then, do we not see more of those famous green logos on the bottles on our shelves?

Winemakers can be obsessive about their grapes and the environment in which they grow, and they universally acknowledge that careful treatment of the vineyard – free from excessive mechanisation or dousing in artificial sprays – results in a far more healthy and verdant crop, which of course translates into far better juice in the glass.

But as much as winemakers love to adhere to organic principles, the cold reality is that they only get one chance a year to get their product into the bottle successfully. So while an organic sulphur & copper mix can combat insects, or a seaweed preparation can fend off botrytis, organic farming simply cannot cover all bases and there will always be the potential for catastrophe in the vineyard.

The organic logo

So an infestation of pests or the uncontrollable spread of a destructive mould at a key critical moment can ruin the harvest for an organic winemaker who adheres exclusively to organic principles; and whereas a regular organic farmer of, say, vegetables might be able to fall back on other crops or other sources of income from their farm, if a harvest is ruined for a winemaker then it can be game over.

And so it is that many winemakers prefer to reserve the right to spray artificial chemicals as an option of last resort, and as such it seems that winemakers take the view that it’s better not to apply for official organic accreditation only to have it stripped as soon as a life-or-death spraying is essential.

What’s more, the organic principle must continue into the winery also, meaning that 30%-50% less added sulphur than conventional winemaking may be added, and a list of additives such as sorbic acid are forbidden. As worthy as the organic philosophy sounds, ticking all these boxes can be a step too far for many producers, regardless of the fact they may very well have most of the bases covered.

Organics: Getting the Balance Right

Spanish winemaking behemoth Torres, for example, have practiced organic viticulture in general for at least three decades now, and indeed one third of their 2,000 hectares of vineyards are organically managed today. But they’ve said (in passing to me, at least) that due to their size and geographical spread it’s mostly impossible to fully accredit their entire operations as organic, preferring instead to leave their options open where possible.

That said their smaller operations – namely their Chilean and Californian outposts, as well as the more boutique Jean Léon winery up the road – are all fully accredited and certified organic. Containment, it seems, is key: organics appears to be easier when you can own and maintain your own vineyards, and it helps if they’re not too large either (the above estates are 400, 40 & 63 hectares respectively).

So in the case of Torres – and, I suspect, many wineries with a conscience – organics is a means to an end, the end being quality juice and not organic viticulture for the sake of it. Where possible they’ll fly the green flag on the labels, but that’s treated more as a bonus than the objective.

San Michele a Torri, Chianti Colli Fiorentini

Organic Wine from The Organic Supermarket, Purchased Organically

I’d be lying if I said that this is the first organic wine I’ve tasted, since I’ve sampled the organic wines from Torres, M. Chapoutier, Cono Sur and many others in the past. They tended to be on the fly, however, and usually I was confident enough in the producer that I didn’t think to examine their organic offering more closely than the rest of their portfolio.

This, however, was the first time I’ve very consciously bought an organic wine, and what’s more it was from The Organic Supermarket in Rathgar, so I was curious to see how a  bottle from a shop that doesn’t specialise in wine would taste.

To be entirely honest, I wasn’t expecting much. I bought the bottle on a whim as it was on sale, and even then mostly out of curiosity than desire. I was suspicious that the wine would be more about principle over taste … organics as an end rather than a means in other words. As such I expected the wine to be a little weedy but quaffable, though I was willing to take such a hit out of academic interest as well as support a friendly and worthwhile local Irish business.

I’m glad to say, however, that I was wrong.

Fattoria di San Michele a Torri

San Michele a Torri, Chianti Colli Fiorentini

Chianti Colli Fiorentini is one of the seven sub-zones of Chianti and is located just north of the core Chianti Classico area, touching up against the famous historical city of Florence. I could give you a run-down on this region, but Kyle Phillips of the (now defunct) Italian Wine Review has done a far better job than I ever could in his piece A Tasting Of Chianti Colli Fiorentini – click the link to have a read if you’re interested.

Fifty of the 200 hectares that make up the Fattoria di San Michele a Torri are vineyards, with 30 hectares under olive groves and the remainder given over to cereal crops and woodland (I’m assuming that the olives and cereals are the “hedges” against a bad harvest should it ever strike).

On first taste my worst expectations came through: namely, it was thin and uninteresting. But, alas, it was only a minute old, so to speak, and a few more minutes in the glass opened it up. It was delightfully fresh and lively, full of the cherries and vivacious acidity that you’d expect from a nice Chianti. I enjoyed it again and again over the following two days, and was delighted to experience it mellow out and evolve over that time, running the gamut of red berries (redcurrant especially) with some key lip-smacking savouriness.

It’s not a complex and deep wine, but it did offer enough of interest over the few days, and what’s more it offered that one element that’s vital to all good wine the world over: pleasure.

I got this on promotion (at €12.99 I think), but I’d happily pay the full €15.99 next time I’m back in The Organic Supermarket.

San Michele a Torri, Chianti Colli Fiorentini DOCG 2012
80% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo 15%, 5% Colorino
€15.99 from The Organic Supermarket online and in-store in Blackrock, Rathgar and Malahide

Niepoort Header

A Foray into Niepoort

I was lucky to be invited to a preview of  Niepoort wines the night before the Wine Mason portfolio tasting a short while back (though I could not make the portfolio tasting itself, unfortunately).

I must admit that, apart from a brush with one or two of their famous ports, I was completely unfamiliar with Niepoort until recently. As mentioned, Niepoort is perhaps most famous for its Ports, but the last couple of decades have seen this shipper place much more focus on its dry reds. In particular, it’s the 5th generation of this famous wine family, Dirk Niepoort, who has made it his particular goal to expand the expertise of this historic wine family beyond the fortified.

Exchequer Charcuterie
Charcuterie … lots and lots of charcuterie

The Niepoort family has been creating Port wines since 1842, but it wasn’t until 1991 when Dirk Niepoort started a new era in the company with the creation of their first red dry wine, “Redoma”. What followed was a white in similar vein, then an alternative red – all receiving exalted praise. The rest, as they say, is history.

Indeed, Hugh Johnson has high praise for this sea-change, noting in his famous Wine Companion that, “With restless energy [Dirk] Niepoort continues to acquire small estates and parcels from which he produces an expanding portfolio of table wines of remarkable character and individuality, and usually steering clear of the massive, oaky styles that are coming to dominate the region.” High praise, then.

In recent years Niepoort have looked to Dão and Bairrada, completing what they call “The Niepoort Triangle” of different terroirs: Schist  in the Douro, Limestone in Bairrada and Granite in Dão, creating a range of wines vinified to best represent these areas and their particular characteristics.

And so it was that I found myself amongst a small group of esteemed wine trade colleagues within the big and bright front window of The Exchequer Wine Bar in Ranelagh. Paulo Silva, export manager at Niepoort, was on hand to provide the background info for each wine, though if I’m to be absolutely honest I was a little too distracted by the mountains of gorgeous charcuterie laid on by The Exchequer to fully take in everything he said. Below are my thoughts nevertheless…



Dócil Loureiro, Vinho Verde 2014
€16.95 from Searsons, The Corkscrew, and Hole in the Wall

Vinho Verde carries with it something of a bad rep, if it’s known at all. This huge, expansive area – Portugal’s largest wine region – is most famed for producing easy, quaffable wines that offer simple transient pleasure and nothing much else.

A Vinho Verde can be a blend of a number of grapes in varying proportions; can be red, white or rosé; can range from dry to slightly sweet; and may or may not be slightly spritzy. Oh, and often they don’t bother declaring the vintage either. No surprise then why the region isn’t often taken seriously.

The most popular, or at least well-known, grape here is Alvarinho – better known by its Spanish name Albariño and the Rías Baixas region in which its produced – though other grapes used are Loureiro, Trajadura, Arinto/Pedernã, Avesso, and Azal Branco. No, I’ve never heard of any of them either.

But as it the trend worldwide, some serious wines are being made in historically less-than-serious places, with Vinho Verde one such example and Niepoort one such producer.

The wine has tropical fruits, peach and pear drops on the nose; the palate is fleshy and long with a touch of a slight bitterness at the end. Very good quality and a great alternative white for the summer.


Niepoort Rótulo, Dão 2013
€16.95 from Green Man Wines, Redmond’s, Corkscrew, Gibney’s, Blackrock Cellar, Terroirs, Drinks Store, Hole in the Wall, Donnybrook Fair

I’ve written about this before and it’s quickly become one of my favourites for a number of reasons: the flavour being one of course, but the price being another, and the surreal labelling a feather in the cap of this remarkable wine.

However on this occasion the wine seemed different to me: more vivacious acidity and brambly, juicy sweet fruit versus the taut intensity I’d experienced at The Corkscrew Wine Fair. This perplexed me until later I discovered it was the 2013 that was poured and not the 2012 as per the tasting sheet (and the fair), which would explain things somewhat. Either way this is still a very recommended wine.


Niepoort Lagar de BaixoLagar de Baixo, Bairrada 2012
€23.95 from Baggot Street Wines

This is 100% Baga, for which Dirk Niepoort has a “huge passion” apparently. This is something he’s had to keep in check for some while now, grabbing some small parcels of the grape whenever he could from various disparate estates. But finally in 2012 Dirk was able to acquire Quinta de Baixo and its 25ha. of Baga vines, and thus resurrect the Lagar de Baixo brand.

A meaty nose with dark cherries over a spicy peppery palate that’s nevertheless medium-bodied. Just the right amount of acidity and fruit; delish. Paulo admitted that this is made in a “modern, reductive” style, so accordingly could do with a little airing out beforehand … or let the bottle breathe naturally as you drink it all over the course of an evening with friends, which is the far more Portuguese way of doing things.


Niepoort PoeirinhoPoeirinho, Bairrada 2012
€39.95 from The Corkscrew

This is also 100% Baga, and was a really beautiful and elegant wine, with a floral characteristic and violets evident. The palate was light but expressively juicy and refreshing – this was very, very good, with my notes stating that it was a ‘contemplative wine’ – Paulo concurred, mentioning it was “expressive, a wine for smelling”, and that characteristically it was “between Pinot and Nebbiolo”. A really excellent wine, my star of the evening.


Niepoort ConcisoConciso, Dao 2012
€39.95 but not available in Ireland, though Wine Mason say they may be reconsidering this

A mix of 40% Baga, 30% Jaen, and 30% of “others”, this, I found, has a more funky, feral characteristic with heat and spice more to the fore. It had very lovely, dark, damson fruit elements to it and the acidity was just right, with a grippy yet light finish. Many will love it, but for my money the more elegant Poeirinho for the same price was more to my taste.


Syrah, Bairrada 2012
€39.95 but not available in Ireland

Another funky, reductive nose blew off after a short while of swirling to give a more approachable, chunky, chocolatey characteristic. The palate, though, was very surprisingly light and elegant, with an almost saline element to it; I noted white pepper and black olive too – in other words a Northern Rhône style, which is exactly what they’re aiming for (and a region for which Dirk has great affection, apparently. He’s full of affection, Dirk is).

Indeed, Paulo noted that this was “atypical of the region, a winemaker’s wine” which was originally meant to be Merlot, but since that didn’t work out to plan they tried Syrah instead, given they’d a 1ha. plot of 20+ year old Syrah vines hidden in plain sight at Quinta de Baixo.

A winemaker’s wine indeed: it’s aged for 20 months in one single 2500L barrel of Austrian oak, is a variety that should be nowhere near Portugal and is produced biodynamically … in other words a fantastic, caution-to-the-wind experiment for which we are all grateful beneficiaries, for I found this to be really excellent. Hopefully it’ll be available in Ireland soon!

Wine Calendar

The “Wine Days” of 2015

Here’s an interesting graphic sourced from the a guide to all the “wine days” that we can look forward to this year.

Though a few are obviously American-centric – I can’t see myself raising a glass to Michigan Wine Month any time soon – it still provides a nice focus and a good excuse to crack open a bottle of something you wouldn’t normally reach for.

I won’t need any convincing to enjoy Champagne Day, but the days allocated to Moscato, Grenache, and even Sauvignon Blanc (which I normally avoid) will hopefully provide enough excuse for me to finally buy a bottle of that variety and, in the case of the latter at least, set aside ingrained prejudice and give peace a chance.

Here are the days most relevant to us in Ireland:

9th May: Moscato
15th May: Sauvignon Blanc
21st May: Chardonnay
2nd August: Albariño (Spain) / Alvarinho (Portugal)
27th August: Cabernet Sauvignon
18th September: Grenache
23rd October: Champagne
7th November: Merlot
12th November: Tempranillo
19th November: Zinfandel

And here’s the full chart:

See you on Moscato Day…!

Tokaji Banner

A Quick Tokaji Comparison

Things have been a little quiet on this site of late, so I thought I’d quickly jot down an impromptu Tokaji comparison I conducted after lunch one day (such are the joys of working from home!) while a larger, weightier piece I’m looking forward to writing soon is brooding in the background.

I really like sweet wines, but my experience of them to date has been very restricted for a number of reasons, the over-arching one being that very few people – or nobody that I know at least – seem to share my love of these golden elixers. This doesn’t seem to happen with regular dry wines: even if someone isn’t a fan of a style or variety that you open for them over dinner the likelihood is that they’ll drink it anyway, or the bottle will somehow magically empty itself over the course of the evening one way or another.

But this doesn’t happen with sweet wines, which seem to have a Marmite effect on people, especially here in Ireland. If you decide to round off a nice dinner with friends by opening up that bottle of stickie that you’ve been saving, the chances are you’ll be the only one enjoying it, save perhaps one other curious friend.

And unlike dry wine, emptying half the bottle – or most of one if your liver’s up to it – simply isn’t an option, unless diabetes is a disease you’re particularly fond of. So to date I’ve had to keep my sweet wine affection in check, except for the odd time I would get it by the glass in a restaurant.

But this has now all changed thanks to my trusty Coravin, a very generous Christmas present from my family and something with which I have absolutely fallen head-over-heels in love with since. It allows me to take measures of wine from a bottle without it spoiling, opening up the possibility of enjoying the same bottle over the course of years rather than days. Watch this space for a more extensive write-up on this magic device at a later date…


So, after lunch one day I got the notion to have a small glass of sweet wine, specifically a Tokaji, and upon opening my fridge I remembered I had two available, both bought in Budapest airport on the return leg of a holiday in said capital city (which I would highly recommend).

Tokaji (pronounced “toke-eye”) is one of the world’s greatest sweet wines, enjoyed for centuries by the great and good: Russian tsars, Polish kings, Austrian emperors and even Louis XIV of France are amongst its roll call of admirers.

Tokaji wines consist mostly of an indigenous grape called Furmint which are allowed to be inflicted with ‘noble rot’ (botrytis cinerea to the geeks out there). This is where a benign mould dessicates the grapes on the vine, increasing their sugar levels (since there’s now less water) but also increasing acidity, giving a happy coincidence of a wine that’s both simultaneously sweet and refreshing when done right.

This is usually about it as far as many other styles sharing this process are concerned, Sauternes included, but Tokaji differs in that this syrupy sweet wine – called aszú and which sometimes in the form of a ground up paste of grape musts – is effectively added back into vats of regular dry wine.

Traditionally the grapes were collected in 20 litre wooden tubs or hods called puttonyos, and the end style and sweetness of the wine was demarcated with how many of these puttonyos were added to each barrel of regular wine. On a scale of one to six: the more puttonyos, the sweeter, richer and rarer the Tokaji.

Mouldy grapes in a puttonyo – yum!

The two Tokaji wines I had were both “5 Puttonyos”, one click off the top of the aszú hierarchy (there is though a fabled Essencia categorisation above this). Obviously, in today’s winemaking world, “number of tubs in a barrel” isn’t exactly the most accurate or encouraging categorisation, so they’ve shifted to the more scientific measurement of grams of sugar per litre – in this case,  5 Puttonyos equals 120g/L, and where the aszú grapes account for approx. 70% of the final blend.

So, how were the wines?


Grof Degenfeld Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 2004
Approx. €40-€45, not available in Ireland

Surprisingly light with a little tartness, redolent of pear drops and apricot. It has a zingy fruity sweetness that I couldn’t put a finger on until I did a quick search online to clarify the name and came across a tasting note that mentioned marmalade, which sums it up nicely. Fresh and flavoursome and deliciously moreish, with a depth and complexity befitting its (still relatively young) years.


Chateau Dereszla Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 2008
€34.99 from Mitchell & Sons and The Corkscrew

Much more on the caramel and butterscotch end of the spectrum but still nicely balanced nevertheless, and not too cloying. Maybe lacks the complexity of the Grof Degenfeld but then again it’s four years younger, so it’s not a fair comparison. There are apricots again, but more of the dried variety and blended with a fresher, honeyed characteristic that marks it apart from the Grof Degenfeld.


Six of the Best Wine Bars in Dublin’s City Centre

Last week the Irish travel website Get Real Irish Tours posted a piece by me where I gave my six favourite wine bars in Dublin’s city centre. I’m re-posting here to give it a second airing, mostly to benefit those who may have missed it first time around, but also maybe perhaps breaking a blog drought in the process (ahem).

Where’s your favourite place? Leave your opinions in the comment section below.




The original Ely, located on (and named after) Ely Place just off St. Stephen’s Green, was established in 1999 by Erik and Michelle Robson, whose vision was for a wine bar in the continental style complemented by thoughtful, slow-cooked food with meats supplied by the family farm in Co. Clare in the west of Ireland. The wine, in other words, came first, with food provided to complement it – a concept generally unheard of in Ireland to that point.

Sixteen years later, Ely has firmly established itself as the most prominent wine destination in Dublin. With two locations in Dublin – one either side of the River Liffey – they offer focused wine evenings, cookery classes and even a cook book, not to mention consistently winning enough awards to constantly worry their mantelpiece.

Combine this with an manifesto issued in 2014 declaring a shake-up of their pricing policy to make fine wines more affordable to the consumer, and it’s easy to see how this stalwart of the Irish wine scene has become a byword for all that is good with wine in Dublin.

Ely Wine Bars
22 Ely Place, Dublin 2. 01 676 8986
CHQ, IFSC, Dublin 1. 01 672 0010 


Fallon & Byrne

Fallon & Byrne broke new ground in 2006 when they opened their large, airy, New York-style emporium of luxury food in Dublin’s city centre, the first of its kind ever seen on this scale in Ireland.

Situated in the former Telephone Exchange building in Exchequer Street, on the ground floor they have a fine food market, deli, fishmonger, butcher, cheesemonger and café; a restaurant on the first floor; and a wine bar – as is de rigueur nowadays – in the basement.

The wine bar really made a name for itself by introducing “Happy Mondays”, which gave wine-loving Dubliners the opportunity to enjoy any bottle off their shelves for a measly €1 corkage (usual price €10) – all supplemented, of course, by Fallon & Byrne’s tasty menu of nibbles, sharing platters, and more substantial fare.

Fallon & Byrne
11-17 Exchequer Street, Dublin 2
01 472 1010 



Literally across the street from Fallon & Byrne, this cosy little spot is great all year round, but really comes into its own on the (rare) warm evenings in Dublin when Olesya’s can fling open their large street front windows to provide a truly continental, almost al fresco experience.

The list is impressively expansive with the by-the-glass offerings changing regularly, and those a little less confident in their wine knowledge can rest easy here thanks to concise descriptions of what can be expected from each bottle.

Like other winebars, Olesya’s offers a tasty menu to accompany their wines, but for me their charcuterie boards are the real draw. This writer has more than once been felled by the enormity of their Deluxe Platter, a veritable smorgasbord of cheeses, meats and other accoutrements that can be a struggle to finish, even when shared. Other offerings of note is the Seafood Platter which has a distinctly Russian theme to it, a nod to the Siberian homeland of its owner Olesya Mylnikova, containing pickled vegetables and cured seafood.

With monthly wine masterclasses based around specific themes and live jazz on most Wednesday evenings from 7pm, this quirky little spot has a great ‘neighbourhood wine bar’ feel to it, albeit slap bang in Dublin’s city centre.

Olesya’s Wine Bar
18 Exchequer Street, Dublin
(01) 672 4087


KC Peaches Wine Cave

Don’t let the name scare you, this is more cosy basement than cold cave. Katie Cantwell – the “KC” of her eponymous chain – opened her first outlet on Pearse Street in 2006 offering mountains of healthy fresh salads and hot food, mixed-and-matched to your liking and sold by the plate.

Nine years later and there are now four KC Peaches in Dublin’s city centre, with this Nassau Street location offering its own wine-lover’s hideaway. In keeping with the wholefood philosophy of their food businesses their wine selection offers a large number of organic and biodynamic offerings, which of course can be enjoyed with some hearty, mindfully curated food and live music on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Though in existence for a couple of years now, the room and wine list have both been revamped of late, offering a new and exciting alternative to getting your wine fix in Dublin’s city centre. That is, of course, if you can make it past the mounds of incredible baked goods stacked enticingly in the window of the entrance.

KC Peaches
28-29 Nassau Street, Dublin 2
0 1 633 6872


Bagots Hutton

Located slap bang in what is colloquially known as the “Hipster Triangle” of Dublin, Bagots Hutton – named after the wine merchant trading from that exact location from 1829 to the 1980’s – offers a wine experience infused with a design aesthetic befitting the area.

But don’t expect form over function here: this is a luxuriously cosy space full of soft leather sofas and candlelight, a carefully curated wine list and a notable and diverse food menu. It’s a mish-mash of offerings, and that’s just how they like it: from casual passing trade in the front during the day, to cosy social wine hangout in the back in the evenings, right the way through to hopping venue at the weekends, this is a chameleon of a bar but one that always has wine and food as its premise.

What’s more they like to mix things up, with an “Aperitivo Hour” every day, then “Meaty Mondays” and “Cheesy Tuesdays” where you get a free meat or cheese board with your bottle of wine respectively. Something for everyone in the heart of the hottest area in Dublin – what’s not to like?

Bagots Hutton Wine Emporium
28 William Street South, Dublin 2
01 534 3956



Technically more of a restaurant than a stand-alone wine bar – though the ground floor of this location would fit that description nicely – the newly opened Stanley’s gets a notable mention here given its conscientious and reverential approach to wine.

In addition to a carefully curated selection of interesting and original wines available by the glass, there’s a sizeable and varied set of sweet/fortified wines, an entirely separate list dedicated solely to “The Wonderful World of Sherry” and even an innovative “Skin Contact Wine Flight” offering an introduction to white wines made using ancient methods.

Not only that, but Stanley’s Wine Director, Morgan Vanderkamer, holds regular wine club events and winemaker dinners, taking this passion for grape well beyond their impeccable list. You won’t find your run-of-the-mill Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc here, and Dublin is all the better for it.

Stanley’s Restaurant & Wine Bar
7 Saint Andrew’s Street, Dublin 2
01 485 3273