O’Brien’s Winter Wine Fair 2016: Dublin & Cork

O’Brien’s are back with their famous Winter Wine Fair which runs from tomorrow, Friday 11th November, for three sessions over two days. It’s a great event and highly recommended for anyone with even a passing interest in wine.

If you’re reading this as soon as I post it (which is probably unlikely) then it’s also currently happening in Cork today too (Thursday 10th November). Otherwise you’ll have to high-tail it to Dublin to partake in the fun.

The Winter Wine Fair is always good craic with a bit of a party atmosphere, which is probably helped by the fact that two of the three sessions are on Friday and Saturday evenings, meaning it’s a handy springboard for a night out (if that’s your kind of thing).

It’s taking place at The Print Works in Dublin Castle at the following times:

  • Friday 6-9pm
  • Saturday 2-5pm
  • Saturday 6-9pm

They’ll have 50 winemakers in attendance presenting over 200 of their wines, making it a sort of wine-based speed dating event in a way.

And the cherry on the icing is that the proceeds all go to charity, with Down Syndrome Ireland and LauraLynn, Ireland’s Children’s Hospice all benefiting this year.

Tickets can be bought in their stores or else ONLINE HERE.

Enjoy!!

There’s an Alp for That…

As I began to write this piece on wines from the Alps it struck me that, rather neatly, the topography of the region was as good an analogy as any for the wines it produces.

The Alps are difficult to get to. They’re not easily accessible, a little inconvenient you might say, and a visit there is not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s not cheap either. But for many, the effort is so worth it. Once you taste the Alpine air you can never go back; once you experience the headiness of the snow-capped vistas then many other landscapes pale in comparison.

Likewise, wines from the Alps – be they French, Swiss, Italian or otherwise – share similar characteristics. They’re hard to find, made from varieties you’ve likely never heard of, and often taste like nothing you’ve had before. Whether that’s a good thing or not is – of course – down to personal preference. But to those with a keen curiosity and open mind, they’re a revelation.

I was lucky to be allowed to dip my toe into the world of Alpine wine thanks to a small informal tasting in Ely Wine bar recently, hosted by two fantastic wine importers, Nomad and Tyrrels, who plied their Alpine wares from France and Switzerland respectively.


SWITZERLAND: DOUZE POINTS

You may not have come across Swiss wines here in Ireland before, and likely for good reason. Wines imported into Switzerland were subject to stringent tariffs until the 1990s and finally abolished in 2006; that means that until 10 years ago it was easier and cheaper for the Swiss to buy their own wine rather than Chilean or Australian imports, leaving little left over for the rest of us to enjoy. There simply wasn’t really a need to export.

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The Alps

Other factors conspire against Swiss wine. For one the ownership structure is highly fragmented: the Valais region for example, from where our wines below are sourced, counts 5,137 hectares of vines owned by 22,000 people in 80,000 parcels or plots. That sort of set-up requires a lot of time and effort to pull together commercially-viable quantities of wine, let alone enough to make exporting worthwhile.

Then there’s the geography: the slopes are so steep in places that elaborate monorail systems are needed to transport equipment and grapes. Sometimes they need helicopters. The gradient means that grape picking usually needs to be by hand. And to top it all off the Swiss authorities limit how many grapes each vine can yield. Cheap and easy it ‘aint.

But, like all good things in life, the effort is always worth it. Swiss wines – or at least the ones I tasted that day in Ely – can be electric, exciting and intriguing, not to mention cerebrally stimulating given their history, provenance and hyper-locality.

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The Alps

FRANCE: SAVVY SAVOIE

Comparatively, Alpine France – in particular the Savoie region – has an easier time of it than Switzerland. Yes, their vineyards can be similarly steep and awkward to access, but the gentler run-in from the French side is somewhat easier to manage than the almost persistently elevated nature of the Swiss wine regions.

But oddly, wines were rarely exported from Savoie until recently, a situation similar to Switzerland, but for a very different reason: the dramatic countryside is such a popular, year-round attraction that the constant flow of tourists usually drink the stocks dry.

Savoie has an admirable roll call of local grape varieties rarely found elsewhere, which many attribute to the fact the region only actually became part of France in 1860. For whites they’ve the likes of Jacquère, Altesse, Malvoisie and Mondeuse Blanche; while for reds they’ve Persan and Mondeuse Noire. Nope, I hadn’t heard of any of them before either.

Given the slightly off-piste location and abundance of local varieties, Savoie is riddled with small, passionate, boutique wine producers with many practicing organic or biodynamic principals and old-school winemaking. Many may call them ‘artisan’ or even ‘hipster’ winemakers – in truth they’re just passionate and returning to a more honest and lo-fi way of making wine. Either way, the results are rarely uninteresting.

alp1

THE EU CONVENTION AT ELY

That day in Ely, Irishman Simon Tyrrell held court behind four wines – two white and two red – from Domaine René Favre et Fils of Chamoson in the Valais region of Switzerland, nestled between the borders of France and Italy, run by brothers John & Mike Favre.

To his right was Frenchman Charles Derain of Nomad Wine Importers and in front of him were six wines from Domaine Des Ardoisières, a winery that sources its grapes entirely from only two single vineyard sites in the Vin des Allobroges designation of Savoie: Cevins and St. Pierre de Soucy.

Cevins is perhaps the more notable of the two sites, if not because of its history. The domaine encompasses a steep hill rising above the town which was planted with vines during Roman times, before passing through the hands of Tamié monks and eventually into private ownership. But the infamous phylloxera louse that devastated much of Europe’s vineyards in the mid nineteenth century took its toll here too, and shortly afterwards the two World Wars the country had to contend with spelled the end of winemaking on this awkwardly steep hill.

alp2

But in 1998 a group of enthusiasts began clearing the site and reinstated the old Roman terraces that helped put structured order on the slope. It was a huge effort to unite no less than 400 landowners for an area of less than 10 hectares, an unusual display of selflessness for a common good. They planted mostly the local grape varieties mentioned earlier and farmed using only biodynamic principals, with the first vintage harvested in 2003.

St. Pierre de Soucy, meanwhile, is 50 kms down the valley and a little lower in altitude. This area is farmed organically instead of biodynamically but still provides the clay (or “argile”) soil that so intrigues Domaine Des Ardoisières winemaker Brice Omont.

With the humour and generosity typical of both Charles and Simon, we got to taste through some amazing examples of the region from two fantastic producers; here are a few of my picks…


THREE TO TRY FROM THE SWISS ALPS

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The AlpsDomaine René Favre et Fils, Petite Arvine
€28.95 from Searsons Wine Merchants Monkstown and Donnybrook Fair

Jancis Robinson calls this grape variety “the finest of the indigenous grape specialities of the Valais in Switzerland.” I haven’t tasted any other indigenous white varieties from Switzerland but I do have to say this was damn good. It has a beautiful texture that was almost creamy, despite being tank fermented (maybe some contact with the lees?), followed by a razor sharp, precise acidity and minerality.

A delicious wine and a fantastic experience.

 

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The AlpsDomaine René Favre et Fils, Petite Arvine ‘Grande Année St. Pierre’
€42.95 from Searsons Wine Merchants Monkstown and Donnybrook Fair

And if the Petite Arvine wasn’t good enough, along came its ‘big brother’. Fermented and aged in oak, this was beautiful and Burgundian in style.

Think crisp green apple coated in butter. It was textural, fresh, rich and long, all at once. Transcendental.

 

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The AlpsDomaine René Favre et Fils, Humagne Rouge
€29.95 from Searsons Wine Merchants Monkstown and Donnybrook Fair

Humagne Rouge is a relatively rare variety from Valais which I found to be wild and rustic with its slight vegetal notes (think green pepper) diffusing into smoke and black pepper.

The palate was surprisingly soft and smooth and juicy with nice acidity at the end. Again another fantastic experience if you’re keen to try obscure grape varieties.

 

THREE TO TRY FROM THE FRENCH ALPS

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The AlpsDomaine des Ardoisières, St Pierre de Soucy, “Argile” Blanc
€30 from Mitchell & Son, Blackrock Cellar, 64wine and Jus de Vine

A blend of 40% Jacquère, 30% Chardonnay & 30% Mondeuse Blanche.

This is beautifully crisp and clean and pure, though for me there was also an interesting, slightly funky, earthy undertone – call it terroir if you will.

 

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The AlpsDomaine des Ardoisières, Cevins, “Schiste” Blanc
€50 from select off-licences

A blend of 40% Jacquère, 30% Roussanne & 30% Malvasia. A wilder wine with fennel, yellow apple and artichoke aromas. Again a feral note but much more noticeable this time.

Fresh and lively, its acidity is razor-sharp but it all softens to a slightly buttery finish from its time in barrel. A remarkable wine.

 

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The AlpsDomaine des Ardoisières, St Pierre de Soucy, “Argile” Rouge
€30 from Mitchell & Son, Blackrock Cellar, 64Wine and Jus de Vine

A blend of 80% Gamay (Beaujolais is just 50kms away after all) and 20% of the local Persan grape. A very characterful wine, light but complex, bursting with juicy fruit and a very distinct twist of black pepper.

Black forest fruit and black cherry abound, and it has a slightly bitter, dry twist at the end. Wonderful.

 

This article originally appeared on TheTaste.ie.

Penfolds: A Liaison with a Legend

Wine regions are often classified as either “Old World” or “New World”, a convenient, if blunt, dichotomy that in reality means Europe and everywhere else, respectively.

But many “New World” producers are quite uncomfortable with being called ‘new’, given a lot of them have been around for over a century. They’re also wary of the negative connotations the label has with most regular consumers, where it is often thought that the ‘new’ can’t ever be as good as the ‘old’.

But until a more satisfactory and snappy categorisation can be agreed on, then the old Eurocentric terminology will be with us for some time yet. That doesn’t stop New World producers understandably raising the issue in exasperation every now and then, however.

Once such occasion was in 2013, when Australian winery Penfolds was named Best New World Winery by the respected Wine Enthusiast magazine in the US. At the same time the publication also named the famous Spanish producer Marqués de Riscal as their European Winery of the Year, colloquially known to all involved as the ‘Old World Winery of the Year Award’.

penfolds-collage-1

Peter Gago, the Penfolds Chief Winemaker, accepted the award in New York on behalf of the winery, and though he was truthfully very honoured he couldn’t help but raise the old bête noire in his acceptance speech.

Gago pointed out that the ‘historic’ Marqués de Riscal was founded in 1858, a full fourteen years after Dr. Christopher Rawson Penfold established a small winery at Magill Estate, near Adelaide in South Australia, in 1844.

So, effectively, the best “New World” winery that year was older than the best “Old World” winery. And though Gago didn’t labour the point, the inference was crystal clear: the hackneyed terminology we so casually use is not only condescending and potentially damaging, it’s also simply factually incorrect in many cases.

Though it was generous of Gago to raise the flag once again for the “New World”, he personally didn’t need to fret as his winery has perhaps done more than most to take on the big boys of the “Old World”, often winning out in many cases. For Penfolds is one of those wineries that induce misty-eyed admiration from all creeds of wine lovers, given their history, prominence and aspirations – and now thanks to a new innovation by their Irish importers we’ll have a chance to ‘Experience’ Penfolds more easily this Autumn.

In The Mix

Sam Stephens, European Brand Manager for Penfolds, relayed the above anecdote to us this August while he was in Dublin to launch for the first time a set of four mixed cases of wine dubbed The Penfolds Experience Collection.

Tackling the range of Penfolds wines can be a bit daunting, it has to be said. Apart from their critically acclaimed Koonunga Hill range at the introductory level, the vast majority of their wines are known by their ‘bin numbers’, which historically indicated where in the warehouse they were stored.But there isn’t any hierarchy nor any obvious pattern to the numbering, so getting your head around the Bin Range can often be a case of rote learning rather than deduction.

penfolds-collage-2

This is where this new collection of mixed cases comes in. Bringing “learning by doing” to a new context, Irish consumers now have the opportunity to taste through themed cases of Penfolds wines rather than choosing one – often at random – from your off-licence shelf.

 

A Journey of a Thousand Sips…

The experience begins with The Explorer’s Collection, a set of five wines that serve as a wide-ranging introduction to the rarefied world of Penfolds’ Bins, allowing a glimpse of Penfolds’s blending prowess, a taster of a number of grapes they’re adept at producing, and a side-by-side comparison of two takes on that most Australian of grapes, Shiraz.

The case contains the Bin 8 Cabernet Shiraz, their approachable version of the famous “Aussie Blend”; the Bin 138 Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre, Penfolds’s take on the famous trilogy of grapes that call the Rhône their home; the Bin 2 Shiraz Mourvedre, originally released in 1960 and again recently reinstated after hiatus of a few decades; and finally two ‘straight’ Shirazes: Bin 128 which is sourced exclusively from Coonawarra, and Bin 28 Kalimna which is a multi-regional blend.

As the name suggests this is the perfect set from which to start your Penfolds exploration and, despite being from the same producer, offers a wide range of styles to enjoy. Ideal for Christmas, if I may be allowed to mention ‘The C Word” this early!

penfolds-collage-3

A Good Year

Things start to get serious pretty quickly from then on in. Next up is The 2013 Vintage Collection, a set of three pairs of wines retailing at €350 which – you guessed it – were all harvested three years ago.

But it’s not a random assortment, thankfully, and it’s clear some thought has gone into the wines that make up the mix: a 100% Cabernet in the guise of Bin 407, the 100% Shiraz Bin 150 Marananga, and then a Cabernet / Shiraz blend via the famous Bin 389.

This innovative assembly not only allows the chance to hold your own ‘horizontal tasting’ – that is, sampling wines across a common vintage – but it also allows the opportunity to experience two 100% varietal wines before seeing what they taste like blended together. It’s almost like being a winemaker for the day. Almost.

 

The Wine from Dr. Penfold’s Back Garden

If you were paying attention earlier then the name ‘Magill’ will ring a bell – yes, it’s where Dr. Christopher Rawson Penfold established his winery in 1844, so these wines are literally from where it all started.

I’d highly recommend searching for “Penfolds Magill Estate Winery” on Google Maps to witness the unusual sight of what is today a fully-fledged vineyard and winery in the suburbs of a major city, an oddity resulting from the city gradually extending out to – and eventually around – the original Magill Estate vineyard.

The Magill Experience Collection contains three pairs of vintages of the eponymous wine – 2008, 2010 and 2011 – allowing the superb opportunity to taste through the seasons of this tiny walled vineyard that is a mere 8kms from Adelaide city centre.

It’s truly the serious collector’s case and a chance to taste 170 years of history.

 

The Wine at the End of the Earth

The pinnacle. The zenith. The wine that was initially made in secret, such was its revelatory approach. The wine that is only one of a handful in the world to ever achieve 100 points in both the Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator for the same vintage. One of the most collectible wines in the world and the only wine to be listed as a Heritage Icon by the South Australian National Trust, such is its prominence.

fg-cr17628-copy

So Penfolds Grange is an important wine, to say the least; a legend in the truest sense. Many wine lovers would consider themselves lucky to even taste Grange, let alone get their hands on a flight of three different vintages.

But that opportunity is a distinct possibility today, thanks to The Grange Experience Collection. Though not cheap at a hearty €3,000, to buy a single bottle on its own can cost roughly €700-€800, depending on the retailer. If you can find a bottle, that is.

The 2009 is best enjoyed first with its generous lush fruit. Then you can argue over whether to sample the concentrated and intense plum and baking spice of the 2010, or the supple eucalypt tinge of the 2011.

Or, indeed, get the Coravin out and enjoy a tasting glass of each over the course of a decade or more. Either way, these wines are in for the long haul.


THREE TO TRY

The Explorer’s Collection
€180 from select specialist off-licences this Autumn.
This really is an excellent intro to the world of Penfolds.

Penfolds: The Australian Wine Legend you Can Count On

The 2013 Vintage Collection
€350 from select specialist off-licences this Autumn
I really enjoyed the thoughtful, straight-forward approach of this case, from the rich but elegantly balanced Bin 407 Cabernet to the heady and opulent Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz, finishing at the famous “Baby Grange” that is the decadently delicate Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz.

Penfolds: The Australian Wine Legend you Can Count On

The Magill Experience Collection
€600 from select specialist off-licences this Autumn
A real collector’s case, offering three different styles of wine from three distinctly different vintages. Start with the austere, maturing 2008 then move on to the fuller but still restrained 2011 vintage, before finishing on the opulent 2011 tinged with baking spice and blackberry.

Penfolds: The Australian Wine Legend you Can Count On

 

This post originally appeared on TheTaste.ie

French Double-Whammy at Ely this September

In one of my earliest posts I waxed lyrical about an initiative that the ever-excellent ely wine bars were running whereby you could enjoy one of two incredible bottles of wine in ely’s cosy Ely Place home for close to the same price you could buy them in the shops.

But why not just buy it in the shop then? Well, throw in the service, excellent glassware and atmosphere of ely, along with the opportunity to grab a really delicious bite to eat there too, then you’re practically making money with the offer.

Well, I was delighted to see that ely are again offering two outstanding wines at silly prices: the sumptuous Les Héritiers du Comte Lafon Mâcon ‘Milly Lamartine’ from Burgundy for €49 and La Reserve de Léoville Barton from St. Julien in Bordeaux for just €59.

Given that the La Reserve de Léoville Barton is €50 retail, for example, then €59 in a wine bar – especially one like ely – is a downright bargain. What’s more, the glass price – €14.75 – is exactly a quarter of the full bottle price, another big thumbs up.

Very highly recommended. I mean, just look at them!

Credit: @elywinebars on Twitter
But Wait! There’s More!

ely is on the Léoville Barton buzz it seems: on Tuesday 13th September they’re hosting what can only be described as a decadently old-school Bordeaux dinner featuring Châteaux Léoville & Langoa Barton and Château Coutet.

I won’t get to go myself but it’s something I would have loved to attend, and it would unmissable for any wine lover. And at the time of writing there’s still a handful of seats available too, but they’re sure to disappear sharpish over the weekend.

The price seems hefty at €110, but some really incredible wines will be served along with ely’s always-outstanding food; put it this way: knowing ely, you won’t be found wanting by the end of it.

Credit: @IBrosnan on Twitter

Here’s the full blurb:

ely wine bar on Ely Place welcomes world-renowned wine producers to Dublin this September, with an exclusive wine dinner with Château Léoville Barton, Château Langoa Barton and Château Coutet on September 13th.

Join Lilian Barton-Sartorius of Château Langoa and Château Léoville-Barton, along with Aline Baly from Château Coutet, the outstanding Barsac estate, as they introduce a selection of their magnificent wines on the night. Beginning with an apéritif from Château Coutet, guests will then sample four reds from Château Léoville Barton and Château Langoa Barton throughout the meal, finishing with a spectacular 1997 Château Coutet.

Great wine calls for great food and ely wine bar executive head chef Ryan Stringer has created a menu which includes organic meats from the family farm in the Burren, designed to fully complement the wines being enjoyed at this celebratory dinner.

Representing some of the most highly regarded Irish ‘Wine Geese’, the Irish connections of Château Léoville Barton and Château Langoa Barton stretch right back into the Fermanagh of the 1700s, the birthplace of Thomas Barton. Initially establishing his wine broking business in Bordeaux, Thomas’ grandson Hugh began the development of the estate as it is today, beginning with the purchase of Château Langoa in 1826 and later adding the Léoville estate.

Current owner Antony Barton was born in Straffan in 1930 and inherited the estate in 1983. He continues to run Château Léoville Barton and Châteaux Langoa with his daughter Lilian, with worldwide recognition for making some of the most exciting and scintillating wines in the St. Julien appellation.

25 miles southeast of the city of Bordeaux on the left bank, Château Coutet is one of the oldest Sauternes producing vineyards, whose sensational elegant golden wines were also added to by a first-of-its kind dry white wine from Barsac in 2010, produced in limited quantities from the heart of this Premier Grand Cru.

Whether you know and love these wines already or want to expand your wine knowledge, the Châteaux Léoville & Langoa Barton and Château Coutet dinner at ely promises to be a relaxed and informative evening of outstanding wines and excellent food.

Tickets cost €110 per person with limited spaces available. For more information or to make a booking contact 01 6787867 or visit http://www.elywinebar.com.

Some Picks from the O’Brien’s September Wine Sale

So the O’Brien’s September wine sale started yesterday, timed to coincide with our newly-acquired, post-holiday, sure-it-might-as-well-be-winter mentality.

Thankfully they have a great batch of wines at keen offers to help us through the rut. I haven’t tasted all the wines on offer but below are some I tasted at the Spring Wine Fair that I’d highly recommend…

 

Domaine Duffour, Cos de la Roque
Was €12.95 now €9.00

I’ve waxed lyrical about Domaine Duffour’s Blanc Cotes de Gascogne before,  and now they’ve their newer cuvée on sale for the frankly ridiculous price of €9. I wonder how the Duffours survive at all at prices like this. Again this is a blend of the regional Colombard and Ugni Blanc varieties (the latter usually used for Cognac) – expect crunchy limey apple fruit flavours and plenty of easy drinking.

 

Jaspi Blanc
Was €16.45, now €9.00

I really love the characterful, simple, cheap wines expressive of their locality. The Duffour above is one example, and this Grenache Blanc and Macabeo blend from Catalunya is another. It’s not exactly complex and brooding, but then again that’s not the style you enjoy in the sunshine with friends, great food and a bit of music. Instead it’s fresh and expressive, easy-drinking yet structured, and just really nice to drink. For €9 you’re laughing.

 

Leyda Sauvignon Garuma
Was €16.95 now €11.95

Very vivacious green pea and asparagus, definitely a New World Savvie and not for lovers of the often more austere Sancerre style. This still has a lovely core of acidity though, so good marks all round.

 

Chanson Mâcon-Villages
Was €16.95 now €12.95

If you like your Chardonnay on the more restrained end of the spectrum then this is great value from a notable region. Expect shy fruit and coy flavours, but with expressive clarity and focus.

 

Bethany Cabernet/Merlot
Was €20.95 now €11.95

I love the Bethany wines from Australia. I’m not sure of this wine’s merits at €20.95, but at €11.95 it’s an absolute steal. Expect leafy blackcurrant and blackberry flavours and general all-round goodness, a really fantastic wine for €12.

 

Torres Celeste Ribero del Duero
Was €21.95 now €16.95

Whenever this is on offer you’d be mad to miss it. Celeste is a family favourite in my house – originally we loved its lush glossy fruit, and as our tastes matured so did the winemaking style. Now you can still expect lots of rich fruit but a bit more toned down and now with a core of nervy energy and tannic grip. It’s just one of those wines: you can’t but love it, and it’s right for every occasion. Also the label is gorgeous and the price is keen. What’s not to love?

 

Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Merlot
Was €27.95 now €22.95

Not for the faint of heart! This is a very decadent merlot, rich and ripe. Lots of menthol and chewy black fruit. But what amazed me was its balance: despite being a massive wine it still has nice grippy tannin and decent supporting acidity. So a blockbuster but in ballet flats, so to speak. I’m rambling. Grab a bottle and find out for yourself. I know I’ll be having “some fucking Merlot!”

Crafting History: Glendalough Distillery

As worthy as the craft drinks boom has been in recent years, it’s hard not to be cynical about how abused the term ‘craft’ has become of late.

It didn’t take too long for the large multinational corporations to jump on the bandwagon and apply the adjective to their products, if not literally then by association via clever marketing campaigns showing folksy, happy people enjoying enigmatically-named products in honest-to-goodness packaging.

So if you’re suffering from a bit of ‘craft’ fatigue and you’re not familiar with Glendalough Distillery, then you may understandably be a bit suspicious of their “Ireland’s First Craft Distillery” tagline, especially given their comprehensive range of award-winning products in slick bottles.

However I recently had the rare chance to tour the Glendalough Distillery – both in its current and future iterations – and was relieved to find that the company’s claim is a refreshingly honest one…

Crafting History: Glendalough Distillery

The Past

Glendalough Distillery was set up by five friends from Dublin and Wicklow who, along with a passion for spirits, also had savvy business nous and an eye for something big about to erupt.

Thus Glendalough Distillery was founded and the mystical Saint Kevin adopted as their mascot, an emblem representing not only the history of the area but also the rewards of patience, perseverance, and a steadfast commitment to an ideal.

Before their award-winning whiskeys they produced Poitín, whiskey’s predecessor and again a neat link to Ireland’s past, before more recently releasing the four seasonal gins that arguably has made their name, at least to a public soaked in the gin craze that has swept the world in recent years.

Crafting History: Glendalough Distillery

 

The Present

Crafting History: Glendalough Distillery

So that was one of them – where were the rest? I looked around the poky unit which – apart from this delivery area and the corner that housed the still – counted only an office and a space above it which Glendalough crew turned into a shebeen of sorts.

Up until that visit my only distillery experiences had been the Midleton behemoth and the tasteful, albeit also quite large, new Tullamore Distillery, so understandably I assumed at that point that any spirits company with any ambitions of scale needed more than just the one still.

And this is where the ‘craft’ of Glendalough Distillery comes in, for they actually can’t produce more than what that single 500 litres Holstein gives them, making their in-house products truly batch-produced, artisan labours of love.

The process is pretty much entirely manual: they shovel in the botanicals by hand, detect the cut points mostly by taste, and control flow among the various pipes by turning levers and twisting knobs – there wasn’t, as far as I could see, any piece of IT technology anywhere. And if that isn’t the definition of ‘craft’ then I don’t know what is.

Crafting History: Glendalough Distillery

 

The Future

Any time now they are about to release a Sloe Gin variant which they’ve been resting for about a year, and in the pipeline they have “some very experimental gins” of which ‘beech leaf’ will be the first.

They’re also currently ageing some 10 year old single malt in barrels that previously held Dublin’s 5 Lamps Brewery’s “Black Pitts Porter”, their own take on a burgeoning trend of finishing whisky in barrels that previously held other beverages such as beer, cider and wine.

Interesting times ahead indeed.

 


The Times They Are A Chan-gin

While we were at Glendalough Distillery they were in the process of producing their Spring Gin, one of their seasonal gins that have garnered widespread acclaim both home and abroad – indeed, in the last few weeks they won three medals in the three categories they entered in the “Oscars of Gin” that is the Global Gin Masters: silver medals each in the ultra premium and organic categories, and a gold medal in the micro distillery category.

Peering into the porthole of the Holstein where we could see, swirling about inside, a stew of juniper berries, orange peels, thorny gorse flowers, pine needles, leaves of various descriptions and much more.

For, you see, Glendalough Distillery’s botanicals – at least the non-exotic ones – are locally-foraged. Yes, another of those controversial terms: it seems you can’t move nowadays but for all the foraging. But again, as we’ve seen so far,

Every season the team at Glendalough Distillery work with renowned local forager Geraldine Kavanagh of wicklowwildfoods.com where they spend a week in the wilds of the Wicklow countryside foraging for the freshest and most interesting local botanicals, berries and fruit.

That means, of course, that every year the seasonal gins change, which is precisely the point – the concept of terroir defined. With each release you literally taste the season just gone.

These foraged botanicals are then gathered and left macerate with six of the basic ingredients of gin — juniper, coriander, angelica root, orange peel, bitter almond and orris root – for two weeks before being distilled in the aforementioned Holstein still and finally bottled.

At the end of our tour everyone scattered hurriedly back to their day jobs; I however, hung around to pick the brains of distiller Ciarán Rooney, a.k.a. “Rowdy Rooney”. With amazing grace and patience he let me sniff and sample all the botanicals he had to hand, including the mysterious angelica root and orris root, allowing me a true ‘deconstructed gin’ experience.

I was the last to leave the unit, which by then had become as still and quiet as St Kevin’s chapel. As I was about to duck under the roller door I turned to see Ciarán bent over a thorny gorse bush next to the Holstein still, his gloved hands picking the flowers from it one by one, destined for the next batch of Spring Gin.

As clichéd as ‘hand-produced, artisan, batch, craft distilling’ sounds, that was nevertheless exactly the last thing I saw when leaving Glendalough Distillery.

 


Three to Try

Crafting History: Glendalough DistilleryGlendalough Premium Irish Poitín

My first taste of (legal) Poitín, Glendalough’s version is disarmingly smooth, sweet and moreish.

Produced with barley and not potatoes – as potatoes arrived in Ireland about 1,000 years after the first Poitín was produced – it’s unctuous and unexpectedly herbal.

RSP €37.99 from Celtic Whiskey Shop Dublin, James Fox, Dublin, Mitchell & Sons; McHugh’s of Kilbarrack & Howth.

 

Glendalough 7 Year Old Whiskey

My personal favourite of the three Glendalough whiskies: rich butterscotch, honey, vanilla and spice with a mysteriously smoky undertone.

RSP €48.99 from Celtic Whiskey Shop Dublin, O’Brien’s; McHugh’s of Kilbarrack & Howth, James Fox, Dublin; Mitchell & Sons, Martin’s of Fairview, Castle Off-Licence of Tralee, and other good independent off-licences.

 

Crafting History: Glendalough DistilleryGlendalough Spring Gin

There’s juniper, of course, but also a slight coconuttniess from the gorse and sweet, sappiness from the pine needles, finished of with a nice refreshing citric note.

RSP €43.49 from Celtic Whiskey Shop Dublin; O’Brien’s; McHugh’s of Kilbarrack & Howth, Martin’s of Fairview; James Fox of Dublin, Mitchell & Sons, Baggot Street Wines, Greenacres Wexford, Castle Off-Licence of Tralee, and other good independent off-licences.

 

This post first appeared on TheTaste.ie.

BeTomish: Another Irish Wine Success Story

Picture the scene: the sun is shining on the azure Mediterranean, you and your friends scoot around historic villages without a care, sailing, surfing and visiting art galleries before finally meeting up for a carefree al fresco meal in the warm summer breeze with some great, fuss-free wine.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Well this is the lifestyle of Tom Gallagher, originally from Boyle in Co. Roscommon before he moved to Sitges near Barcelona in 2001 with his family.

He played rugby in New Zealand until 2014 before returning to Spain at the fresh age of 24 where he hatched a plan with his brother Eoin (29) to launch their own wine range under the name “BeTomish”, a brand name Tom was already using for some time beforehand for a number of products he used to sell locally.

The name seems odd at first but when spoken aloud and correctly pronounced it is clear what is being conveyed: not a name, but a directive … literally, you can “be Tom-ish” by enjoying his sunny take on living through carefully-selected products that reflect his way of life.

Even the logo – which has the primeval look of a man squatting – is actually a hieroglyph of his name: look closely and you’ll see the letters T, O and M making up the humanoid shape.

So it was only time then, given the location of his adopted home, that wine would become a part of the BeTomish family; and now, thanks to importers Honest2Goodness, we have both BeTomish Wines readily available on the Irish market.

And little did they know but they automatically became part of what is known as the “Wine Geese”, Irish men and women who over the centuries have emigrated and found a new life abroad in the wine trade. You might know many of them already – Lynch-Bages and Leoville-Barton in Bordeaux and Hennessey in Cognac spring to mind – and now you can add the Gallagher brothers of Sitges to this illustrious list.

The Wines

But the Gallagher brothers are not winemakers, and indeed they had little knowledge of the trade before starting out. Instead they spent six months meeting grape growers, producers and wine makers from the Priorat, Penedès and Montsant regions in Catalonia under the direction of mentor and business partner Pere Martorell, owner of De Muller Winery, in order to source their wines.

BeTomish 2

The result was finally hitting on both a red and white from organic vineyards that they felt accurately reflected both the ideals of the brand and the regions the wines were from – in other words two wines they felt were “Tom-ish” enough to package under their eye-catchingly minimalist labels. Their first vintage was destined solely for the domestic market – Barcelona and Ibiza primarily – and it sold out in its entirety, a success by any measure.

What sets BeTomish apart from other ‘lifestyle wine brands’ is the passion and drive of brothers: while Tom manages relationships in Spain, Eoin is the Sales/Marketing/Export manager whose enthusiasm for the brand is infectious. Then there’s the brand message and packaging: no family history, no over-stylised bottles, no essays on the back labels – just simple, good wine, representative of the region they’re from and cleanly presented.

So far they have just the two wines – a white from Tarragona and a red from Priorat, both reviewed below – but they have their sights set on other regions such as Montsant, where they intend on buying their first vineyards soon, and Rueda shortly after that if all goes well, with others no doubt in the pipeline.

And it doesn’t stop there – the Gallagher brothers are continuing to extend their BeTomish brand and way of life to other areas as diverse as property rentals via BeTomish Homes, which already has a number of properties in its portfolio.

Enjoying a BeTomish wine in a BeTomish home in sunny Sitges – what can be more “be-Tom-ish” than that?

TWO TO TRY

BeTomish RedBeTomish Priorat Crianza
RSP €22.95
Priorat has the tendency to be a big, taut, punchy wine, so I was pleasantly surprised by this version: it was approachably juicy and smooth but with a drying, well-integrated tannic streak at the end, the latter being an undeniable homage to the style of the area. This is an excellent introduction to the Priorat style, an approach confirmed by Eoin when he called it “Priorat for Beginners”.
A blend of 60% Garnacha, 20% Merlot, 10% Syrah, 10% Samsó, the grapes come from a 30 hectare plot in the area of El Molar, with vine age 20-30 years on average.

BeTomish Blanco Tarragona
RSP €15.95
BeTomish WhiteAn usual blend (for me at least) of 70% Macabeo, 20% Muscat, 10% Sauvignon Blanc, this is fresh a easy-drinking, but its gloriously low 11% alcohol makes it an ideal summer sipper.

Stockists
Baggot St Wines; Blackrock Cellars; Clontarf Wines; The Corkscrew; Donnybrook Fair; Honest2Goodness Market (Saturdays only); Daly’s of Boyle, Co Roscommon; World Wide Wines, Waterford

 

This article originally appeared on TheTaste.ie.