The Cases Winter Wine Fair 2015

The 9th annual Cases Wine Warehouse Winter Wine Fair takes place in Galway tomorrow, Friday 13th November, with over 100 of their own-import wines on show. I was lucky enough to taste some of their wines a few months ago and I must say they come highly recommended, so if you’re from the area or around Galway this weekend then you really should try and make it.

What’s more, all proceeds from the evening go a locally based beneficiary. This year, all proceeds go directly to the development of a sports hall  at Scoil Mhuire National School, Clarinbridge, Co Galway, a school which has experienced an explosive increase in pupil numbers over the last few years.

This charity element has always been a feature of the Winter Wine Fair I believe, and Cases should be applauded for this situation which gives a win-win-win situation: Cases get people in the door to try their wines (which is almost always a precursor to actually buying something), the public get to sample a shed-load of wine and have a nice evening out, and of course a worthy cause gets to benefit too. What’s more there’ll be live music, a raffle, and a blind tasting competition too.

Some of the wines open on the night will be from countries as diverse as Austria and Uruguay; regions as obscure as Bizkaiko Txakolina in the Basque Country and Utiel-Requena near Valencia; and varieties you might not get to experience often such as Verdicchio and Lacrima from Marche in Italy. It’s always good to see unusual options presented to the general public to freely try and taste – anything that helps move people away from Pinot Grigio and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is a winner in my book!

The evening runs from 6.30 to 9.30pm at Cases Wine Warehouse on the Tuam Road in Galway. There is plenty of parking outside but, really, watching your alcohol intake at an event like this would completely remove any enjoyment from the evening I think. Best go with one of the many taxis which will be on call for the night.

Tickets, priced at €20 are available from Cases Wine Warehouse, from local shops in Clarinbridge and from members of the Scoil Mhuire Parents’ Association on 087 233 9851.



Coming Up: Spain Uncorked & JN Wines

If you’re not exhausted from SPITting, Rhône-ing and Sherry-ing over the last week, there are another two events in the coming days that I cannot recommend highly enough; so without further ado:


JN WINES TASTING: Friday 6th November, 17.00, Smock Alley Theatre, €15pp

This is a great opportunity to sample the fantastic JN Wines portfolio. They’ll have around 20 winemakers and 100 wines available on the night, and with names such as Billecart SalmonPesqueraMassayaDomaine Jean Fournier and Shortcross Gin on board, the €15 entry fee seems pretty paltry really. Highly recommended. I’ll be there for sure so see you there!

To book click here.


SPAIN UNCORKED: Wednesday 11th November, 18.00, Smock Alley Theatre, €20pp

Broad wine tastings like the above are great for exploring and cherry-picking, but on the other end of the scale there are events that have a more focused theme which are great to really get under the skin of a wine area or style.

As it happens, this Wednesday 11th November there will be one such event: at Smock Alley (once again) the public will have the chance to taste pretty much everything available in Ireland from the esteemed Spanish regions of Ribera del Duero and Rueda.

Not only will there be the chance to taste some truly excellent red and white wines, but the estimable Liam Campbell (Irish Independent) will host a series of wine walks through the wines of each region. There’ll even be some Spanish music to add some flair to the evening too. I’ll be there too and can’t wait.

Tickets are now on sale priced €20, and you can buy them by clicking here.

Spain Uncorked


A Busy Week for Wine in Ireland

The coming week (and a bit) is proving to be something of a purple patch for lovers of wine in Ireland.

Tonight (Thursday 29th October) is the inaugural edition of SPIT, a day-long event that showcases five of Ireland’s best small wine importers: WineMason, Vinostito, Tyrrells, GrapeCircus, and Nomad.

It’ll be held in the gorgeous Smock Alley Theatre, with the public session starting at 18.30 and tickets a mere €25pp – for the quality, breadth and range of wines on offer, that’s actually a bargain. For more see here.

Yours truly will be at the Bloggers’ Table with Paddy of The Vine Inspiration,  where we’ll have some of our picks from the evening on tasting. Trust me: it was an incredible difficult decision to choose just a few wines from the hundreds of gorgeous bottles on show at the event.

Click here to read more about SPIT, or better yet pop down to Smock Alley tonight and just go.


Then next week we have a fantastic double-whammy in the form of Rhône Wine Week Ireland and International Sherry Week Dublin. Spoiled for choice doesn’t even cover it: both event are run by those most passionate about the subjects and I’m sure that every event will be really excellent. Below is a quick run-down of what’s on where:


Rhône Wine Week Ireland 2015

Always a fantastic week of wine, immaculately organised by Tyrrells, who themselves are the undisputed experts of the Rhône in Ireland.

DUBLIN: Monday 2nd November, 17.30
The ever-popular Big Rhône Quiz takes place once again – more info here

DUBLIN: Monday 2nd November, 18.30
Domaine de Mourchon will have a wine tasting at the IFI before a screening of Jacques Audiard’s Read My Lips.  €25pp. More info here.

DUBLIN: Monday 2nd November
L’Gueuleton will host a dinner with Etienne Defosse from Delas. €35pp. For more information contact l’Gueuleton on 01 6753708.

CORK: Tuesday 3rd November
L’Atitude 51 in Cork city will host an evening with Jean Louis from Famille Quoit. To book please call 021 239 0219 or email

DUBLIN: Wednesday 4th November, 18.00
*Highly Recommended* – if there’s only one event you can make this week, make it ely‘s excellent Big Rhône Tasting. €15pp. For more click here.

DUBLIN: Thursday 5th November
Hatch & Sons host wine heavyweights John Wilson and Mary Dowey as they join winemakers Denis Deschamps of Les Vignerons d’Estezargues and Thomas Schmittel of Domaine Graillot for a 3 course meal including wines. €35pp. for more info and to book please email or call 01 661 0075.

DUBLIN: Thursday 5th November, 19.30
Mitchell & Son will be at the Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club with Christophe Jaume of Domaine Grand Veneur for a four course wine dinner. €65pp. For more click here.

LIMERICK: Friday 6th November, 17.00
There’ll be an open tasting of Rhône wines at The Wine Room in Limerick’s boutique One Pery Square.


International Sherry Week Dublin 2015

DUBLIN: Tuesday 3rd November, 18.30
Stanley’s Wine Director Morgan VanderKamer and Sherry Educator Paddy Murphy host a “Four Sherries, One Vineyard” tasting. More info here.

CORK: Wednesday 4th November, 15:30
Sherry talk and tasting at the famous Ballymaloe Cookery School. More here.

DUBLIN: Wednesday 4th November, 18.30
Stanley’s Restaurant is the epicentre of sherry once again, and on Wednesday they’ll hold a tasting of Fernando de Castilla’s Antique range. More here.

DUBLIN: Thursday 5th November, 17.00
Taste through the many styles from Bodegas Tradicion in Stanley’s. More here.

DUBLIN: Friday 6th November, 17.00
After all the sherry talks and tastings during the week, it’s time to flaunt your own: Stanley’s will host an innovative ‘Bring Your Own’ evening where all bottles brought on the night will be available for sampling. More here.



Happy 1st Birthday to

I can’t believe it’s only been a year since opened its virtual doors to the Irish public. The Irish public, for its part, has wholeheartedly embraced Ireland’s new online food & drink destination, with a mind-boggling 1.7m unique users visiting the site per month and literally tens of thousands of people following them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

For comparison, the has 6.1m users per month, but then they have the advantage of 156 years in print and 21 years online (they were the first Irish paper on the web in 1994). So for to garner 28% of the readership in 4% of the time is impressive by any standard.

Such has been the success of the site that owners Keith and Julie Mahon have since assembled a small but passionate team of full-timers to help handle the exponential expansion of the, as well as a solid portfolio of contributors (yours truly included, if you don’t mind me saying so).

The popularity of looks far from being a flash in the pan and we can expect to see this indigenous success story continue for many years to come. But what next? line of food items? A restaurant? Given the energy of these guys I wouldn’t discount anything!

Anyway, below is my most recent article for them where I make a clichéd attempt to match wines with countries participating in the Rugby World Cup. But given that today, Monday 19th October, is the day after we lost out to Argentina in the RWC quarter final, then the below may be too soon after the fact for some…!

This is an article from the October issue of

You may not have noticed it, but there’s a Rugby World Cup going on right now. It’s just too irresistible to avoid matching wines to the countries participating in the tournament. Grab some of these wines the next time their respective teams are playing and have your own head-to-head at home.



Hattingley Valley Classic Cuvée 2011Hattingley Valley Classic Cuvée 2011 – from €49.99  available from Mitchell & Son and McHugh’s Off-Licences

Anybody with any interest in sparkling wine cannot have missed the rising star that is English sparkling wine, which many in the wine trade now beginning to agree are seriously rivalling Champagne in terms of quality. The same need not be said of their rugby team though, who have always been world class (thought the Welsh might beg to differ!)

This Hattingly Valley blend (or “cuvee”) has been one of my favourites so far, a blend of 71% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir & 9% Pinot Meunier, it’s very fresh but still has a luxurious richness thanks to some barrel fermentation. Saline, toasty, electric and, importantly, delicious.



Jean Claude Mas, Piquepoul de Pinet ‘Frisant’Jean Claude Mas, Piquepoul de Pinet ‘Frisant’ – from €15.95  available from Deveney’s Dundrum, Clontarf Wines, Jus de Vine Portmarnock, Martin’s Fairview and 64wine Glasthule

Ah, the French. If they’re not stubbornly going against the grain, they’re being louche and languid and shrugging with Gallic nonchalance. Much like their rugby team in fact, who can sometimes either fight to the death or not bother at all, though unfortunately for their rivals they tend to bring their A Game to world tournaments.

Piquepoul (or Picpoul) is perhaps best known for the light and zippy Picpoul de Pinet, I was surprised then to see it as a sparkling version. When tasting this I was told that a certain Monsieur Jean Claude Mas wanted this wine to be a “Prosecco Killer”, and after tasting this the famous Italian bubbly is now extinct in my book. Honeyed, creamy, but still dry, this is deliciously elegant and great value.



Michele Biancardi, Uno più UnoMichele Biancardi, Uno più Uno€14.75 available from

The Italians, though relatively new to top-flight rugby, are known to play with plenty of heart and determination, despite suffering some heavy defeats in the past. Thankfully though they’ve been improving in recent years, much like their wines. Of course, Italy has always had fine wine, but the bulk of it has tended to be simplistic ‘table wine’ until a few decades ago. Now most winemakers in almost every region have turned their attention to quality over quantity.

This is a wine from Puglia, the ‘heel’ of Italy’s ‘boot’, which has traditionally provided gutsy, rustic table wines. This wine, however, from Michele Biancardi is a perfect example of increased quality now available from the region. Made with two grape varieties native to the area, the famous Primitivo and less well-known Nero di Troia, this is smooth, rich, fragrant, absolutely delicious and a steal for just under €15.


South Africa

Doran Vineyards Chenin BlancDoran Vineyards Chenin Blanc – from €17.99 available from and Mitchell & Son

South Africa, Japanese slip-ups aside, are known for being a big, bruising, world class team. Luckily their wines, though also world-class, are rarely as brawny as their rugby players, given the Springbok wine producers’ emphasis on balance and elegance in recent decades.

Chenin Blanc might surprise many as being South Africa’s foremost ‘adopted’ white grape, though they do have a considerable track record with the variety. This is a good example of South African Chenin done well and for not too much money. The palate is weighty but fresh with fragrant honeysuckle, grilled nuts and a twist of lemon.


New Zealand

Saint Clair Premium Marlborough Pinot NoirSaint Clair Premium Marlborough Pinot Noir – from €19.99 available from Mitchell & Son and Baggot Street Wines

Ah, the famous, and feared, the All Blacks. Even those who don’t follow rugby are fully aware of New Zealand’s dominance of the game; and the same can now be said of the traditionally French Pinot Noir too, for the grape is now almost completely synonymous with the Kiwi nation.

Here is a Kiwi Pinot that not only tastes good, but helpfully is in a very apt all black outfit too, the Saint Clair Marlborough Premium Pinot Noir. Silky and concentrated with blackcurrant and violets, this is a classy drop and a great representation of New Zealand’s take on one of France’s most precious grapes.

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