wset

The WSET Diploma Course: Onwards and Upwards

It seems most of my blog posts begin with an apology for their tardiness, and this one is no exception given it’s been far too long since my last post.

But this time I feel that I have a reasonable excuse: in November I began the WSET Diploma course, which is a hefty undertaking to say the least.

The two years needed to cover this course involves mostly home study interspersed by intense batches of classwork, with latter normally spread over two to three days in a stuffy Dublin hotel conference room in which an enormous amount of theory and practical tasting is covered at intense speed.

For example in just two and a half days we covered the theory of almost all spirits in the world and tasting through and critically appraising some 32 samples, including all major styles of vodka, gin whiskey and rum, followed by cognac, grappa, calvados, and many other niche products before ending cruelly on tequila.

More recently, in three days we covered the entirety of Chile, Argentina, USA, South Africa, Australia AND New Zealand. And by ‘covered’ I really mean glossed-over, since these classes are really just simply primers and we’re then left off to do the rest of the study ourselves.

It is this open-ended aspect of the Diploma that is the real crux of the course: the study parameters aren’t outlined and it’s up to you to figure what’s relevant and what’s not – given the enormity, complexity and ambiguity of the wine world, deciding where to stop (or indeed, where to start) is a frustrating experience.

Only a tiny representation of all the study materials we get before the course starts. Credit: wspc.gr

Still, despite the alternating experiences of intense in-class cramming and the sense of feeling somewhat rudderless outside it, I haven’t regretted beginning the Diploma at any point, and can’t wait to learn more. For now, though, there’s a little sos beag.

So to say it’s been a busy few months is an understatement: not only has the course itself been significantly demanding of my time, but its commencement was preceded by the birth of our first son only one month earlier in October, not to mention continuing in a full-time job and the small matter of the Christmas and new year season in between.

As a result I’ve only barely been present in the world of wine, clinging on via my monthly contributions to TheTaste.ie, and even then needing to skip one to allow me some respite.

But I’m back now. At least I hope I am. Didn’t I say that before? Oh well…

This is the first in a series of posts relating to my WSET Diploma torture experience. Hopefully they’ll be informative and entertaining – at the very least they’ll be cathartic for this writer…

Le Caveau’s Real Wine Month: April 2016

Tomorrow Monday 4th April will see Ireland’s foremost natural & biodynamic wine importer, Le Caveau, launch their third Real Wine Month.

I haven’t participated in the previous two, but I’m looking forward to seeing how this one goes. Knowing Le Caveau’s passion and commitment to this often-overlooked sector of the wine trade, however, I can’t but expect it to be excellent.

Here are the participating Irish outlets and at the bottom is the press release with further details – I’ll check back at the end of the month with a review…!

Cork
Ballymaloe House
Bradleys Off-Licence
Café Paradiso
Jacques Restaurant
L’Atitude 51 Wine Café
Mews Restaurant
Nash 19
Pilgrim’s Restaurant

County Louth
MacGuinness Wine Merchants
MaGee’s Bistro
McGeough’s Bar & Restaurant
The Windsor Bar & Restaurant

Dublin
Avoca Foodhall
Baggot Street Wines
Blackrock Cellar
Brioche Restaurant
Catch 22
Cavern on Baggot Street
China Sichuan
Clontarf Wines
Donnybrook Fair, Baggot Street
Donnybrook Fair, Malahide
Donnybrook Fair, Stillorgan
Ely Wine Bar
Etto
Fallon & Byrne
Green Man Wines
La Cocotte Café
Liston’s Food Store
One Pico
Redmond’s of Ranelagh
Stanley’s Restaurant & Wine Bar
The Corkscrew

Galway
Inis Meáin Restaurant & Suites

Kilkenny
Anocht Restaurant
Campagne
Le Caveau
The Grapevine
Zuni Restaurant

Kinsale
The Black Pig Wine Bar

Waterford
Cliff House Hotel
Worldwide Wines

Wicklow
Avoca


Press Release

LE CAVEAU ANNOUNCES REAL WINE MONTH IRELAND: APRIL  2016

Real Wine Month is an exciting, innovative promotion of artisan wines which have been produced sustainably by organic, biodynamic viticulture and low intervention (a.k.a. ‘natural’) winemaking. It is being run across Ireland and the United Kingdom by specialist importers Le Caveau (Ireland) and Les Caves de Pyrène (United Kingdom). 

From 4th-30th April, selected wines will be poured by the glass or featured on wine lists,  in tastings and themed events in over 200 restaurants, independent retailers and wine clubs across the U.K. and over 50 in Ireland. 

This, the third Real Wine Month in Ireland, is shaping up to be the best yet. From pubs, bars and bistros to Michelin-starred establishments, to independent retailers and wine clubs, we have seen increasing interest in the quality, authenticity and diversity of these small-scale, artisanal wines. 

Through participating restaurants and retailers, the promotion represents a great opportunity for wine-drinkers to taste and explore a diversity of wines that are not mass-distributed due to small-scale production, or indeed are in short supply due to global demand particularly from cities like New York, San Francisco, London and Paris.   

In the On-Trade 

Look out for Real Wine Month wine specials by the glass and carafe on blackboards, wine lists and table cards. Some restaurants and wine bars are also holding themed events and wine dinners

In the Off-Trade

Look out for posters and neck tags highlighting organic, biodynamic and natural wines in participating independent wine shops. Many are organising themed events and tasting evenings to highlight the wines. 

This is the third year that Le Caveau have brought this promotion to Ireland and it continues to go from strength to strength. This year, the company will host two separate tastings for press and trade which will focus on an ever-expanding portfolio of organic, biodynamic and natural wines (Drury Buildings, Dublin 2 on 12th April and L’Atitude 51, Cork on 14th April). 

Pascal Rossignol, Managing Director of Le Caveau points out that ” I believe that this promotion is important for the industry here in Ireland as it gives those restaurants and indie retailers who are focused on delivering interesting, authentic wines to their customers a rallying point, rather than focusing on wine as solely a vehicle for profit at any cost. Furthermore, our experience is that there is a cohort of wine-drinkers out there who are bored with wines that are well enough made, but simply taste like they were all made in the same place. Real Wine Month gives them a wonderful opportunity to find places where they can taste and explore an exciting and diverse range of wines to which they might not otherwise have easy access.” 

List of participants in Ireland
List of events in Ireland 
List of growers participating in portfolio tastings

 

Website & Social Media

www.realwinefair.com
https://www.facebook.com/RealWineFair
https://twitter.com/realwinefair@RealWineFair
https://www.instagram.com/realwinefair/

www.lecaveau.ie
@lecaveau1
#RealWine

Rose Wine

Some Valentine’s Day Sparkling Rosés

This post originally appeared on TheTaste.ie


I think many people are unduly harsh about Valentine’s Day; where others see a day where they’re ‘forced’ to jump through hoops, I simply see another excuse to enjoy myself. Think about it: what are the clichéd components on Valentine’s Day? Posh chocolates, flowers, a nice meal and some good wine, all shared with your loved one … if you find cause to dislike any of the above then I think you’re missing out on one of life’s pleasures.

And yes, it’s been over-commercialised, but what hasn’t been nowadays? As Alfred Wainwright famously said: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” So change your mind-set about Valentine’s Day: grab someone you love (whether romantically or platonically), pick up one of the delicious bottles of wine below, put together some gorgeous food, and enjoy the fact that you’ve been given another excuse to experience some of the finer things in life.

 

Jacob's Creek Sparkling RoseJacob’s Creek Sparkling Rosé

RSP €18.49, but currently on offer in O’Brien’s Wines for €17

I’ll readily admit that, in my early years in the wine trade, I ensured that I volubly turned my nose up at Jacob’s Creek in order to reassert the fact that I was now a wine professional.

However, when I actually tasted the stuff I was surprised – then delighted – to find that it’s actually quite tasty stuff. Not complex, not life-changing, but very tasty and quite enjoyable indeed. It has simple strawberry and cranberry flavours, nice lively bubbles and a touch of sweetness to help it all slide down easily.

If you’re just looking for enjoyable pink fizz, then you can’t go wrong with this old reliable.

 

Graham Beck Vintage Brut RoseGraham Beck Vintage Sparkling Rosé
RSP €29.99 from The Corkscrew, Dublin; WineOnline.ie; and other good independent off-licences nationwide.
Currently on offer for €24.95 from Mitchell & Sons, Dublin

South African winery Graham Beck is famous for their sparkling wines, with the company’s efforts often being held up as the very definition of the Methode Cap Classique, South Africa’s version of the traditional Champagne method.

Their regular Graham Beck Sparkling Brut has been enjoyed by Nelson Mandela, Barak Obama, Prince Harry, and Bono, amongst many others and here they apply the same care and attention to a single-vintage rosé which has been lauded by critics worldwide.

This is basically rosé Champagne in everything but name: made with two of the traditional Champagne grapes – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – it’s produced via the traditional Champagne method and has the typically light yeasty aromas and creamy complexity with strawberry pastry all the way to the long finish. A very fine example of the style.

 

Devaux RoseDevaux Cuvée Rosé

RSP €59.99 from Fallon & Byrne; Clontarf Wines; Thomas’s of Foxrock; Terroirs, Donnybrook; WineOnLine.ie; and Miller and Cook, Mullingar

If you’d like to impress your loved one with a slightly more obscure Champagne, this rosé offering from a lesser-known Champagne House is a must, especially when it over-delivers on flavour given the price.

Expect strawberries and raspberries of course but I got lots of hazelnuts and white pepper from this very delicate wine too, a richness that belies Devaux’s location at the region’s sunnier southern location. A really fine treat and a rare find.

 

Bollinger Rose╠üBollinger Rosé

RSP €85 from O’Brien’s Wines, nationwide; Fresh Supermarkets, Dublin: Joyce’s of Galway; Ardkeen Superstores, Waterford; and other good independents nationwide.
Currently on offer from Mitchell & Sons for €65.95.

When all the stops are being pulled out, then really you need look no further than Bollinger Rosé. Like Devaux above, Bollinger are proud of and famous for their Pinot Noir, using a substantial proportion of it in all of their Champagnes which gives them that distinctive Bollinger body and character.

But it wasn’t until 2008 that Bollinger decided to create the Rosé to let their Pinot shine more brightly, and it’s a wonder why they waited so long. It has a distinctive, deep strawberries-and-cream flavour topped with cinnamon and spice. Really, this can’t but be enjoyed with the most decadent, fine foods, like oyster, scallops and even red meats delicately done, such as beef carpaccio.

The Australian Wine Fair 2016

Our Antipodean adventures continue.

Tomorrow – conveniently the day after Australia Day – there will be an Australian wine fair in the Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin, which really can’t be missed.

The details?

2016 Wine Australia Consumer Tasting
When: Wednesday 27th January 2016
Time: 6.30pm to 8.30pm

Where: The Gallagher Gallery of the Royal Hibernian Academy
How Much: €15
Tickets: click here to buy! 

By gosh, there will be so many delicious wine on offer – if you can get there at 6.30pm on the button as 2 hours simply won’t be enough to get through all the amazing producers, amongst whom will be:

Kirrihill; McGuigan; Yellow Tail; Yalumba; Vasse Felix; Peter Lehmann Wines; Lisa McGuigan; d’Arenberg; De Bortoli; Deakin Estate; Katnook Estate; Kelly’s Patch; Thompson Estate; Howard Park; Kangarilla Road; Route du Van Wines; Woodlands Wines; WD Wines; Wirra Wirra; Penfolds; Wynns; Wolf Blass; Coldstream Hills; Beelgara; Moss Brothers; Pepperton Estate; Riddoch Run; Cumulus…

I personally can’t wait to be there, and encourage anyone with an interest in wine in general to make it their business to be there. Sure what else would you be doing on a wet Wednesday night?!

Low- and Non-Alcoholic Drinks for January

How are those new year’s resolutions coming along? Mmm hmm, I thought so. Most people seem to go cold turkey come January 1st, which is precisely the wrong thing to do given this is perhaps the most important month to be kind to yourself, what with the come-down from the holidays and the greyness and all.

So a gentle easing back into a healthy routine punctuated by small treats will yield a far more successful outcome as far as a ‘new year new you’ is concerned, in my opinion. Below is a piece I have on TheTaste.ie at the moment giving a few low- and de-alcoholised drinks suggestions, plus some nice soft drink alternatives, that will help bridge the gap from the excesses of Christmas.

 


 

Ah yes, January, the month we must all atone for the gluttonous sins committed during the festive season. Going ‘cold turkey’ is exactly the wrong way to do things though, and you’re better off cutting back than cutting out. To help, below are some drinks options that have little or no alcohol to ease the transition back to a more moderate lifestyle.

 

botelleria torres, natureo blancTorres Natureo
€7.99 and widely available

Yes, I featured the famous Natureo last year too, but I’ve no problem recommending it again as it is – in my opinion – the best de-alcoholised wine out there.

“De-alcoholised” may be a mouthful but they can’t legally call it non-alcoholic wine as there’s technically still 0.5% alcohol remaining (which is impossible to remove) but that amount is so tiny that you would need to drink three full bottles in under an hour to reach the same alcohol as one regular glass of wine!

When served well chilled it’s flavoursome and refreshing, and the ideal alternative if you’re finding it hard to put away the wine glasses for a while. What’s more at only 41 calories per 187ml glass (a quarter bottle) it’s less than half that of full-alcohol wine. Result!

 

Stonewell Tobairi╠ün CiderStonewell Tobairín Cider
€3.99-€4.69 in Baggot Street Wines, Ardkeen Waterford, and other good indies

The word ‘craft’ has been somewhat over-used at this point, but it’s always refreshing to come across a brand that so thoroughly deserves it.

Based in Kinsale, Co. Cork, Stonewell is run by husband-and-wife team Daniel & Geralding Emerson, who source their apples from orchards across Waterford, Kilkenny and Tipperary. Geraldine is from the Loire in France and comes from a winemaking family, which may go some way to explaining the use of naturally cultured Champagne yeast in the fermentation which gives Stonewell ciders their distinctive character.

Though their range is relatively small with just three ciders, you can feel the enormous thought and effort that has gone into the brand as soon as you pick up one of their bottles – truly a ‘craft’ outfit.

Tobairín (meaning ‘small well’) is their low alcohol cider made from fermented Elstar eating apples blended with fresh Jonagored juice, bringing the alcohol level to just 1.50%. Don’t just drink it as a low-alcohol alternative; why not try it as a drink in its own right paired with some pulled pork or quiche Lorraine.

 

Black Tower “B Secco” Rosé
€5.00 in supermarkets

“B” is Black Tower’s low-alcohol range, with a red, white and rosé available at a reduced 5.5% ABV and with lower calories to boot. They’ve been so popular that last year Black Tower released two “B Secco” additions, essentially semi-sparkling (i.e. frizzante) versions of their white and rosé “B” wines.

The B Secco Rosé is very soft and easy-drinking with lots of sweet strawberry and raspberry fruit, giving a no-nonsense drink made for socialising that’s great value too.

 

Ikea Dryck Bubbel Päron (Sparkling Pear Drink)
€2.49 in Ikea

Maybe a little left-field, but I had this recently and was pleasantly surprised. OK, it’s an Ikea drink so it’s not going to knock your socks off, but it was much less sweet than anticipated, a downside to most commercial sparkling juice options such as Shloer.

There’s 19% pear juice in it along with 10% apple juice (making it a “Sparkling Pear & Apple Drink” surely?) with the result being a very refreshingly simple sipper. Just don’t be tempted to add some of Ikea’s cinnamon buns to your shopping basket while you’re there.

 

M&S Apple JuiceMarks & Spencer Sparkling Normandy Apple Juice
€3.49 from Marks & Spencer

I featured the Sparkling Normandy Apple & Pear Juice this time last year and would still highly rate it, but for a change there’s also Marks & Sparks’ straight Sparkling Normandy Apple drink that offers a more crisp and lively option.

It’s a bit more linear and subtle to the Sparkling Apple & Pear variant, as well as being more fresh and zingy, given the absence of the softening aspect of the pear juice. The result is something very refreshing and moreish and perfect for wetting your whistle this January; and nicely packaged it is too.

The New Zealand Wine Tiki Tour – Thursday 21st January

It’s that time of the year again: in January we’re lucky to host two events showcasing the best that our antipodean cousins have to offer … in other words the ever-popular New Zealand and Australian wine fairs return in force to Dublin.

First up are the Kiwis, and really I can’t recommend this event enough. On Thursday 21st January from 6.30pm you’ll have the chance to taste some of the amazing array of wines they produce in New Zealand – and yes, they do produce more than just Sauvignon Blanc.

Given the vast array of samples and the chance to chat to some of the winemakers themselves, €15 is a steal; see below for a link to where you can buy tickets.

Next week I’ll post something on the Aussie tasting, which also shouldn’t be missed, but it’s always best to take one excellent wine fair at a time!

The New Zealand Wine Tiki Tour
When: Thursday 21st January, 6.30pm to 8.30pm
Where: The Hilton on Charlemont Place, Dublin 2
How Much: €15
Tickets: click here to buy! 

Tiki tour advert email- Dublin

christmas-wine

Last-Minute Christmas Wine Help!

So it’s Christmas eve-eve, and you haven’t picked up wine for the coming days yet.

No worries, there’s still time, and to help I’ve picked out some favourites from a few importer/retailers around the country, so that hopefully some of my suggestions below shouldn’t be too far from where you live.

Please not though that for the sake of brevity I’ve picked out only a tiny selection of wines I’ve sampled recently from importers that have invited me to their tastings, so obviously this is by no means a definitive or exhaustive list.

As such the best default course of action – as I’ve always strongly recommended – is to go into your local independent off-licence (not supermarket) and tell someone there what you’re looking for; you’ll almost always end up with something exactly what you’re looking for and usually something better than expected, as well as supporting local businesses. Win win.

There are a couple of whites and a couple of reds from each supplier that I think will be pretty fail-safe for the coming days, covering both party wines and special bottles.

Good luck and merry Christmas!


NATIONWIDE: O’Brien’s

Wth outlets now in Cork, Limerick, Galway and lots of other places, you’re not too far from an O’Brien’s and their great range of wines.
Open Wednesday 23rd & Thursday 24th: until 8pm or 9pm (click here to check your local store)
Brocard Chablis – now €18.99
I covered this recently in my post about the recent O’Brien’s Fine Wine Sale, and I’ve no problem recommending it again: simultaneously steely, mineral and generous, this is textbook Chablis at a great price.

Château Fuisse Saint Veran – now €19.99
Though I would normally choose the more expensive wines of the Château Fuisse range – such as the Pouilly Fuissé ‘Tête de Cru’ I reviewed in the O’Brine’s Fine Wine Sale post, for €20 this is a great introduction to the brand and a fantastic white Burgundy in general. Zingy and refreshing but with some of that creamy oak influence underneath, this is perfect for those recovering from the oak overload of old.

Bellow’s Rock Shiraz – now €9.99
A consistently very good wine that’s always excellent value, this has all you’d want from Shiraz but without the usual blowsy, over-cooked characters: weight, balance and drinkability. An above-par party wine.

Monte Real Rioja Reserva – now €13.99
I continue to be perplexed as to how O’Brien’s continue to source this wine at this price. Rioja Reservas usually start around the €20 mark, but Monte Real often appears well below €15, which shouldn’t be possible given the quality. Still, take advantage while you can and buy a case or two then this comes on sale: it has all the trademark Rioja characteristics of dark fruit with vanilla and leather over a silky supple palate. A real Christmas winner.

 

KILKENNY: Le Caveau
An award-winning Burgundy specialist, it would be remiss of me not to feature some of my (slightly) more affordable favourites from the iconic region
Open Wednesday 23rd until 10pm, and Thursday 24th from 10.30am – 4.30pm

Olivier Leflaive, Bourgogne Blanc – €20.40
And excellent basic Bourgogne from an iconic producer, this ticks all the boxes and comes in at barely a shade over €20. Really highly recommended.

Vincent Girardin, Savigny-Les-Beaune ‘Vermots Dessus’ – The 2011 I tasted is €28.70, but the last bottles of 2006 are currently on sale for the silly price of €15 Complex and creamy with excellent length, this is a really excellent, characterful Burgundy.

Louis Boillot, Bourgogne Rouge – €26.50
Beautifully fragrant and smoky, with sweet red fruit and a herbal tinge. Soft and generous and surprisingly complex for a basic Bourgogne.

Maison Ambroise, Cotes de Nuits Villages – €28.90
My tasting notes say that this tastes of Christmas, so no better time to grab a bottle then! Clove and baking spices are overlaid by brambly red fruits and a lush expressiveness.

 

GALWAY: Cases Wine Warehouse
A great outlet run with passion, yet not lacking in some great-value finds
Open Wednesday 23rd until 7pm and Thursday 24th from10am to 3pm

Autoritas Reserva Viognier – now €9.95
I had this marked as “Very Good Value for Money” when it was €11.95, so now it’s Excellent Value for Money at the discounted price for Christmas. A surprising treat for the cost, it’s full and rich with peach and honey, though beware the 14% alcohol!

Lady Sauvignon – €11.95
Another bargain from Chile. Though it’s typically expressive and flavoursome in the New World style, I found the acidity to be a little less aggressive than we come to expect from the style. Everything else is in place, such as the grassy pea characteristics. One to buy in bulk.

Mister Shiraz – €13.95
Yes, you guessed it, Mister Shiraz is the partner to Lady Sauvignon above. But I’m not featuring it just to complete the pair: I found this to be much lighter than expected, which is a pleasant surprise as New World Shiraz at this price tends to be over-blown. Still, it’s deep and satisfying with blueberry and blackberry flavours.

Bagante Mencia – €13.95
One of my favourites from the Cases tasting a few months back, and again great value for money (a running theme from Cases it seems). I wrote about this for TheTaste.ie before, and I’d recommend it again: juicy, fresh, lively and all pleasure, it’s fun and sun in a glass.

 

BORDER COUNTIES: JN Wine
The famous JN Wine company has its wholesale business both north and south of the border and offer a mail-order service to match, but as it’s too late to avail of the latter then you’ll have to hop over to their store in Crossgar, Co. Down, to grab some of the bottles below.
(For more you can read a recent profile on James Nicholson – the JN of the company name – in the Irish Times here)

Sartarelli Verdicchio Classico – €14.99
I found this to be very good value for money: fresh and easy with approachable tropical fruit, but the palate still has some weight and seriousness to it. I’d say this would be a very versatile choice at the Christmas table.

Weingut Salwey, “Salwey RS” Weissburgunder – €21.99
Weissburgunder is the German name for Pinot Blanc, and this is a fine, rich example of the variety: it straddles the line between freshness and creaminess, giving sprightly citrus fruits over a lightly waxy palate. I’d recommend reading this post by Frankie Cook, where he gives a more detailed post on the background of this wine.

Bodegas Paco Garcia, Rioja Crianza – €18.99
Ah yes, where would Christmas be without Rioja? This is a younger Crianza style though, and as such is fresher and livelier than the Reservas we’re usually used to drinking. I thought the texture of this wine was excellent to, giving an all-round, crowd-pleasing quality drop.

Domaine Fournier, Bourgogne Rouge – €24.50
Yes, another Bourgogne Rouge, but when done well it really is excellent and the ideal Christmas wine in my opinion. Fournier produce another excellent example, with the texture of this wine the first thing to catch my attention, followed by some clove and Christmas spices. A really delicious wine.