Tag Archives: Donnybrook Fair

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

TheTaste.ie: Wines for Autumn

Some of you may know that I contribute to TheTaste.ie, easily the foremost food & drink website in Ireland. I’ve often thought I should re-post those articles here on TheMotleyCru.com, 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 TheTaste.ie 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 Cases.ie

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!

A Foray into Niepoort

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

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

Exchequer Charcuterie
Charcuterie … lots and lots of charcuterie

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Niepoort PoeirinhoPoeirinho, Bairrada 2012
€39.95 from The Corkscrew

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

 

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

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

 

Syrah, Bairrada 2012
€39.95 but not available in Ireland

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

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

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

Judeka and Sampietrana – Italian Wines, Not Pacific Islands

I really didn’t know what to expect when I saw the names Judeka and Sampietrana for the first time. Were they, as I alluded to in the title, small islands in the Pacific? Or somewhere in the Caribbean near Trinidad and Tobago perhaps?

But no, given that the Tweet in which I first saw the names was from The Wine Workshop then they had to be wine-related. A half a second research revealed them to  be Italian, another half a second showed they were imported by the fantastically-named (and fantastically-talented) Enrico Fantasia of GrapeCircus, and the final half second showed that it was free. Sold!

I’m sure it’s probably looking a bit suspicious now, but I’m not in any way associated with or paid by The Wine Workshop. With that out of the way, let me wax lyrical about how well this tasting was set up. Despite being free to attend, there were generous bowls full of delicious olives and olive oils accompanies by platesful of doughy bread, the glasses used were proper Riedel ones, and there weren’t just a few wines but six of them in total. Though quite simple in execution it was obvious that real care and attention went into the evening, much like the shop itself.

Wine Workshop Glasses
Now that’s how you set up a wine tasting… (Image via @MorganVanderkam)
The Wines

So, on to the wines. First thing that struck me – apart from the odd names (to me at least) – was how young both companies were: Cantina Sampietrana was started in 1952 while Judeka is only a bábóg, having set up only in 2007. Bearing in mind that two Italians I have close associations with, Antinori and Masi, were established in 1180 and the late 18th century respectively, you can see the difficulty I have in getting my head around how youthful these guys are…!

The second thing that struck me is how consistently good the wines were, and as a result what great value they turned out to be when I checked their prices a few days later. Enrico must really be commended for sourcing such interesting wines at such good prices, and I’d really encourage anyone to grab a bottle of any of the below as soon as they spot them.


Judeka Logo Judeka

Increased  interest in Sicilian wines has meant many producers there rushed to vinify their wines to appeal to an international (read, American) palate. That is to say, over-extracted and over-oaked. I was surprised to learn that Judeka, however, don’t use any oak at all. Reducing oak ageing significantly is fair enough, and indeed it’s the trend of the last few years, but to completely absolve from any oak at all is quite radical I think, at least in my (limited) experience. Judeka instead stick religiously to stainless steel and are trying out terracotta and some ceramic too. This allows the purity of fruit to show through, though also means that the wines aren’t built for ageing.

I asked if this young firm was established perhaps as a rebellion against the recent trend towards international grape varieties and global tastes, and I was assured it wasn’t. However Judeka’s apparently dogmatic approach to Sicilian wine seems to suggest otherwise. They grow almost exclusively Sicilian varieties such as Insolia, Nero d’Avola, Grillo, Frappato and Zibibbo, with Syrah the only outsider in their stable. They practice organic viticulture and, as mentioned, don’t use oak in their vinification and are experimenting with traditional terracotta and ceramic. Add in some very modern twists – photovoltaic cells, natural irrigation and more – and you have a very exciting young winery. One to watch.

 

Judeka Insolia 'Angelica'Judeka Insolia ‘Angelica’ 2013
€14.99 from Sheridans’ Cheesemongers (in store and online)
I started with this, the only white of the night. After a couple of sips and listening to the spiel, I asked what the grape variety it was. There was a brief pause and some polite hesitation before I was told it was insolia, which was printed in large on the label I was directly looking at. I had never heard of insolia before, but this is one of dozens, if not hundreds, of indigenous Italian grapes that don’t often see the light of day outside the country, so I could take some small solace in that fact. Didn’t make it any less embarrassing though.

This was a lovely, light, fresh, lemon-and-lime wine with some apricot. It was deliciously refreshing, and I couldn’t get over how light, both in colour and texture, it was, but without feeling insipid. Would be amazing on a warm spring or summer day.

 

Judeka Nero d'Avola 'Orlando'Judeka Nero d’Avola ‘Orlando’ 2013
€14.99 from Sheridans’ Cheesemongers (in store and online)
This is the accompanying red to the white above – indeed, this is the Orlando of Orlando Innamorato (Orlando in Love), an epic poem published in 1482 by the Italian Renaissance author Matteo Maria Boiardo. Angelica (above) was a princess and the love interest in the tale. These two characters are beautifully rendered on the labels and it’s always great to have a little story behind them too. Read more about the tale on Wikipedia here.

But, what about the juice? I’m delighted to say it was just as appealing as the labels (phew!). This differed so much from Nero d’Avolas I’ve had before which tended to be big, hot and spicy. This was deliciously fresh and light with bright juicy red fruits. It had nice integrated acidity: enough to be noticed, and to go really well with food, but not too much to be a major factor. A touch of dustiness and salinity underneath the juicy fruits added a distant allure to an otherwise delightfully appealing wine.

Apparently this is how Nero d’Avola used to taste before the oak brigade took over (see intro) and it makes me wonder why they ever diverged from the standard. The Judeka Orlando sees no oak at all which retains its purity of fruit and that delightful fresh characteristic. A pleasure to experience. I’m glad that we have the opportunity now to taste what Nero d’Avola was originally meant to be like.

 

Judeka Cerasuolo di Vittoria

Judeka Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2012
€22.99 from Sheridans’ Cheesemongers (in store and online)Donnybrook Fair

This was another new one for me (a common theme that night). I was told that Cerasuolo di Vittoria is the only D.O.C.G. in Sicily, which struck me as surprising. This is made of 60% Nero d’Avola and 40% Frappato, the latter being another unknown before that evening.

And again, the label: apparently the area in which Cerasuolo di Vittoria is produced is famous for its colourful ceramics, the style of which is produced beautifully on this label (and also the company’s website). Caltagirone, one of the major towns in the region, has a pretty epic staircase showcasing this local expertise.

This was a beautiful, fragrant and elegant wine, lovely and light but with depth too. Crunchy red fruits like cherry and raspberry were evident, but it was the intangibles that got me, its clean, fresh, ethereal elegance. A delight.

 


Sampietrana LogoCantina Sampietrana

From Sicily to Puglia, the ‘heel’ in Italy’s ‘boot’, and from young bucks to someone a little more traditional you could say. Cantina Sampietrana doesn’t seem to have as much of a story as Judeka does, as far as I can see, which may be down to the fact that they’re a co-op (unionised grape-growers hardly gives rise to exciting backstories), so we’ll let the wines speak for themselves…

 

Sampietrana Primitivo 'Ambasciatori'Sampietrana Primitivo ‘Ambasciatori’ 2012
€12.99 from The Wine Workshop, Dublin; Sheridans’ Cheesemongers (in store and online); John R’s, Listowel, Co. Kerry
Ambasciatori translates as, er, ‘ambassadors’, an odd name perhaps for an entry-level wine. Still, dress for the job you want and not the job you have, as they say.

Primitivo is known as Zinfandel in the US. Yep, that quintessentially American grape was originally brought over by an Italian emigrant but unidentified until long after its new name was too established to be changed. Mind you, Primitivo itself is said to have descended from either Croatian grapes Crljenak Kaštelanski or Tribidrag, so who’s keeping check?

Spicy damson, prune and a touch of leather. Lighter than expected and a little bit short on the finish, but for the price it’s forgivable. A decent mid-week quaffer that comes in a disappointingly cheap, Lidl-like bottle.

 

Sampietrana Negroamaro 'Principe Moro'Sampietrana Negroamaro ‘Principe Moro’ 2009
€15.99 from The Wine Workshop, Dublin; Sheridans’ Cheesemongers (in store and online); Mitchell & Sons, Dublin; The Blackrock Wine Cellar, Dublin; Listons Delicatessen, Dublin; Ardkeen Quality Food Store, Waterford
Principe Moro = Dark Prince. That’s more like it. Negroamaro itself means something like “black bitter”, so it’s all dark and gloomy here, which showed in the wine too. Dark and brooding aromas of smoke, coffee, clove, cinnamon and black tea. Deep and intriguing.

The palate was grippy and mouthwatering, savoury and moreish. Delicious, “like Christmas cake in a glass” as someone said out loud, but the length could have been a little longer. Still, for this price it’s excellent value, and you could make up for the medium length by just buying another bottle.

 

Sampietrana  Vigna delle MonacheSampietrana Salice Salentino, Vigna delle Monache 
€18.99 from The Wine Workshop, Dublin; Sheridans’ Cheesemongers (in store and online); Mitchell & Sons, Dublin; Ardkeen Quality Food Store, Waterford
This is another Negroamaro, but from the Salice Salentino D.O.C. and also a riserva, meaning it spent 12 months in barrel versus the 6-9 months of the IGT Negroamaro above (exact details are hard to find). To be honest it doesn’t warrant the €3 premium in my opinion, and I’d much rather the Principe Moro if both were offered to me. The nose on this was concentrated and a little overpowering, with a little violet giving some respite.

On the palate it’s more intensity but without focus, just all toast and vanilla from all that oak ageing, which itself is very evident in the flavour profile. Though it finishes a little lighter and crisper, this is precisely the sort of over-worked, big-boned wine that Judeka is judiciously avoiding. It will undoubtedly suit many tastes, but after the exercise in lightness and beauty beforehand this came across as very clunky.

 

Wine Workshop
The tasting in full flight. (Image via @MorganVanderkam)