Tag Archives: Dublin

Isole e Olena: Forward-Thinking in Traditional Tuscany

While on holiday by Lake Garda a couple of years ago, my wife and I dined al fresco at Pizzeria Leon d’Oro, a stereotypically bustling Italian restaurant squeezed into one of Riva Del Garda’s many narrow, winding streets.

Negotiating wine lists in Italy can be a tricky affair, given each region’s unwavering commitment to its own – usually esoteric and obscure – local grape varieties and wineries. The result is like reading someone else’s shorthand notes: you can take a stab at some recognisable elements, but overall coherence is unlikely.

Luckily for me that night I did spy a well-known and highly-regarded name: Isole e Olena from Tuscany. Though I hadn’t tasted it before, the winery’s reputation preceded it, and thankfully it delivered on all levels, providing characteristic Italian cherry fruit but with the concentration, balance and finesse befitting the estate’s esteemed status.

However since that day in 2013, I for some inexplicable reason failed to get my hands on the wine again, despite being easy enough to find. Imagine my delight, then, when none other than Paolo de Marchi himself, proprietor of Isole e Olena, was in Ireland at the end of last year for an open meet-and-greet in the excellent Terroirs wine shop.

And so it was on a dark cold November night in Dublin I got the chance to rekindle some dolce vita once again … albeit this time in Donnybrook.

Isole e Olena Wines: Forward-Thinking from Traditional Tuscany

“You Won’t Fool the Children of the Revolution”

The Isole e Olena estate is located in the heart of the Chianti Classico region at the midway point between Siena and Florence, and the name came about in the 1950s when the De Marchifamily purchased and combined two adjoining estates, ‘Isole’ and ‘Olena’, each of which dated back hundreds of years – indeed, the earliest documentation of the village of Olena goes as far back as the 12th century.

The De Marchi family are actually from Piedmonte in the north-west of the country, an area known for its Barolo, perhaps the single most famous Italian fine wine style. After establishing the new Isole e Olena estate, the De Marchi family immediately set about rejuvenating the vineyards and updating the winery in a quality drive that was novel to the region at the time.

Paolo is the fourth winemaking generation of his family, taking over the reins at Isole e Olena in 1976, which he still runs it today with his wife Marta. Their eldest son, Luca, now runs the family estate in Piedmonte, Proprieta Sperino.

When Paolo arrived from Piedmonte, fresh from a degree in Agriculture at the University of Turin followed by several harvests in California and France, he found much need for improvement and modernisation in Chianti. To say that the region was beset by inertia and apathy at the time is an understatement – Chianti by the 1970s was terribly outmoded, with quantity preferred over quality and much plonk produced. None of this seemed to bother the region’s producers however, who were still selling their wine by the truckload to homesick Italian emigrants in the US and elsewhere.

But none of this sat well with Paolo the perfectionist, who tore up the unwritten rule book and set about with the aim of elevating Chianti to the heights he felt befitted the region he fell in love with.

The “Extra Tuscan”

Isole e Olena Wines: Forward-Thinking from Traditional Tuscany

Indeed, his zeal for improvement and experimentation coincided with the rise of what became called the “Super Tuscan” movement. Spearheaded by Piero Antinori and his now-iconic Tignanello, the Super Tuscans defied tradition and regulation by growing ‘international’ varieties such as Cabernet and Merlot and either blending them with native Italian grapes or indeed excluding them all together.

In the eyes of the antiquated and outdated wine regulatory body, these acts were considered scurrilous, and Super Tuscans were downgraded to ‘table wine’ designation.

Nevertheless, wine critics and lovers worldwide loved the results, leading to a revolution in the quality of Italian wines and the amendment of once-immovable regulations around wine production in Italy. The Super Tuscans are now considered icons and change hands for the same prices as the classed Bordeauxs they sought to imitate.

Paolo similarly planted international varieties at Isole e Olena, and to much success, but he tended away from the “Bordeaux Blend” of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot which many other Super Tuscans were striving to replicate.

Instead he was one of the early pioneers of Syrah in Tuscany, a small drop of which finds its way into his benchmark Chianti Classico, as well as establishing an outstanding Chardonnay (more of which below).

But it’s Sangiovese and its distinctive expression in Chianti that is the true passion for Paolo, something evident in almost every account written on him to date. At all times he has striven to make the purest Chianti possible, updating tecnhiques and m

odernising methods as much as possible yet maintaining as much of the distinctive and much-loved qualities of traditional Chianti.

The apogee of this effort is manifested in Cepparello, a barrique-aged Sangiovese classified as an IGT – a designation usually reserved for basic weekday wine – because at the time of its creation in the 1980s a wine comprising 100% Sangiovese could not legally be labelled as Chianti.

But just like the Super Tuscans, Paolo felt that in order to create the best wine possible the rules had to be ignored, and so it was that Cepparello, a love-letter to the Sangiovese grape and its Tuscan home, has since become a legend in the Italian wine world … indeed, some have playfully given it the fitting moniker “Extra Tuscan”.

 

A Legend in Tweed

Isole e Olena Wines: Forward-Thinking from Traditional Tuscany

Given Paolo’s reputation for single-minded attention to detail, his pursuit for perfection and his bloody-mindedness in challenging the establishment, you might be forgiven for assuming he’s a difficult character in person.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Standing in Terroirs that day in November was one of the most affable and charming people you’d ever have the pleasure to meet.

A diminutive character with tousled silver hair and tweed jacket, Paolo de Marchi seemingly never stops smiling. The fact that he is a genuine wine celebrity seems to have had no effect on him, and he gave his time easily and generously to anyone who wanted it.

Interestingly, owners of Terroirs Seán and Françoise Gilley have known Paolo’s family personally for a number of years: Marta, Paolo’s wife, came to Ireland in July 1999 to study English and the Gilleys soon became very good friends with her, often having her around to their home for long dinners paired with some stellar wine from around the world. In the words of Françoise, “Marta and Paolo have remained lovely friends and we are delighted to have their splendid wines and olive oil on our shelves.”

Of course, I couldn’t meet a winemaker without having a bottle signed, and naturally Paolo did so with great enthusiasm. While he was about to hand over the bottle of Isole e Olena Chianti Classico I recounted the memory of last enjoying his wine in Riva Del Garda. This inspired Paolo to suggest he dedicate the bottle to my wife, fittingly completing the circle so to speak.

And so it is that I have a treasured bottle of one of the finest Chianti Classicos on my shelf at home, on which is written in gold: “To Helen, Paolo de Marchi”. So now, for me and my rekindled relationship with Isole e Olena, a quote Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca comes to mind: “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

 

THREE TO TRY

Isole e Olena Wines: Forward-Thinking from Traditional TuscanyIsole e Olena, Chianti Classico

€29.50 from Terroirs

A blend of 85% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo and 5% Syrah, this is one of those wines I like to call ‘experiential’ – there isn’t one element that catches your attention, and instead it’s the wine’s overall purity, balance and elegance which strikes a chord.

Of course there’s lots of fresh cherry fruit, perfect tannin and delicate oak, but to reduce this wine to a list of flavours wouldn’t do it justice. Just buy a bottle and see what I mean.

Isole e Olena Wines: Forward-Thinking from Traditional TuscanyIsole e Olena, Cepparello

€79.50 from Terroirs

As mentioned above this is 100% Sangiovese, and is a more intense, serious version of their Chianti Classico.

The wine I tried was the 2008 vintage and even at eight years old I felt it was still too young to drink. A tautly-wound, concentrated wine which isn’t giving up much at the moment, you can be sure that this will start to sing in a few years’ time.

 

Isole e Olena Wines: Forward-Thinking from Traditional TuscanyIsole e Olena ‘Collezione Privata’ Chardonnay

€45.50 from Terroirs

This really took me by surprise. Terroirs co-owner Seán Gilley introduced the wine as being akin to Meursault, which was a neat summation of what was a decadently poised, textural and experiential wine.

It’s so well balanced, with oak, fruit and minerality all playing their part in equal measure. Oaked Chardonnay gets a bad rep nowadays, but a glass of this would convert any naysayers.

This article first appeared on TheTaste.ie

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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!!

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…

A Busy Week for Wine in Ireland

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Rhône Wine Week Ireland 2015

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

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

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

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

CORK: Tuesday 3rd November
L’Atitude 51 in Cork city will host an evening with Jean Louis from Famille Quoit. To book please call 021 239 0219 or email info@latitude51.ie.

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

DUBLIN: Thursday 5th November
Hatch & Sons host wine heavyweights John Wilson and Mary Dowey as they join winemakers Denis Deschamps of Les Vignerons d’Estezargues and Thomas Schmittel of Domaine Graillot for a 3 course meal including wines. €35pp. for more info and to book please email hatchandsons1@gmail.com or call 01 661 0075.

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

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

 

International Sherry Week Dublin 2015

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 


 

Ely

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

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

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

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


 

Fallon & Byrne

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

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

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

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


 

Olesya’s

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

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

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

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

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


 

KC Peaches Wine Cave

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

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

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

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


 

Bagots Hutton

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

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

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

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


 

Stanley’s

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

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

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

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