Tag Archives: Ireland

Lidl’s Value-for-Money Bubbly for Valentine’s Day

Prosecco, eh? We’re drowning in the stuff here in Ireland. The vast majority of it though – and I’m talking 90%-95% at least – is thin, insipid plonk. So why do we love it so?

Setting aside our inexplicable love of flavourless things (I’m looking at you too, Pinot Grigio), the famous Italian bubbly is relatively cheap. Prosecco either comes as spumante (full fizz) or frizzante (light fizz). The latter falls under the duty bracket for ‘still wine’, which is exactly half that of fully sparkling wine (don’t get me started on that palaver), meaning that you can get your bubbly kicks for cheap with Prosecco frizzante.

How do you tell the difference? Easy: Prosecco frizzante – the cheap stuff – has a tacky string over the cork, which itself needs a corkscrew to extract it, given that the low pressure isn’t enough to push out the cork itself (and thereby give the satisfying ‘pop’ we know and love).

So when I was offered a sample of Lidl’s new organic Prosecco spumante just before New Year’s, I was interested, and expected something nice but unremarkable to be honest. What I got instead was something rare: Prosecco with actual flavour built-in. It has a creamy, biscuity butteriness that might be described as autolytic, had it been bottle-matured, but that’s highly doubtful. However it’s made – for Lidl wine details are infamously opaque – it doesn’t really matter, as it’s really quite tasty.

Some may baulk at the €14.99 price, and eye up instead a €7 bottle of Prosecco frizzante next to it. Don’t. Remember that this is fully sparkling and so the bubbles will last much longer in the glass. It’s also far more than twice as good as something half the price. And, need it be said, it’s organic to boot, meaning you’re practically saving the planet drinking the stuff.

Viticoltori Organic Prosecco is €14.99 from 154 Lidl stores nationwide.

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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

The Aldi Wine Lover’s Sale, August 2017

I was grateful to be invited to the Aldi Wine Lover’s Sale preview last week, a first glance at a range of wines the German discounter has brought into Ireland for a limited run.

There wasn’t a massive offering, which made the tasting gloriously concise. On a similar note, this post will be similarly as brief, highlighting some of my picks rather than detailing every wine tasted.

These are available in all 129 Aldi stores nationwide from yesterday, Thursday 3rd August, while stocks last. For other opinions on the sale, check out these

Tom Doorley
John Wilson
Carol from Gin & Griddle
John from ProperFood
Cathal from Glass of Red Wine


My Top Red Pick
El Casatero, Old Vines Garnacha, Spain. €9.99

I’m not the only one to single out this wine as either the best of the bunch, or at least very close. Old vines tend to give more concentrated and ‘serious’ wines, and El Casatero is an exemplar of this.

For a cent shy of a tenner you’re getting ripe, concentrated strawberry and blackberry fruit, with a density and length you wouldn’t expect for this price. Excellent – grab a few bottles if there’s any left this weekend.

 

One To Impress Your Friends
Uva Pirata, Petit Verdot, Spain. €11.99

… if your friends like edgy, alternative packaging that is. The bottle is undoubtedly an eye-catcher, but thankfully the juice lives up to the promise too.

This has bright and crunchy red and blue fruit flavours, with a warm and spicy body and even a nice light bite of tannin coming through. It’s a great package, and sure to impress.

 

The High-Octane One
The Restless Wine Merchant, Shiraz, Australia. €10.99

There is a significant market out there that enjoys nothing more than full-throttle, chunky, balls-to-the-wall red wines, and this one would hit the spot nicely for them. Thankfully for everyone else, it’s heavy but not overbearing, meaning it won’t be a struggle to get it down your gullet.

It’s a full-on, typically Aussie shiraz, with tons of distinctive menthol and lush blackberry fruit. Definitely one for the barbie. Strewth!

 

The Contemplative One
Punta de Lobos, Carménère Gran Reserva, Chile. €9.99

It’s the bouquet on this one that most appealed to me: there was attractive lavender, blueberry and herbal tinges in this fragrant and calming wine. The palate was soft and juicy and dense, appealing to richer tastes, and though the palate didn’t quite match up to the nose it was a pleasant all-round experience nevertheless.

 

The Party Wine
Grand Sud Merlot, France. €8.99 for 1 litre (equates to €6.74 for a regular-sized bottle)

It looks cheap, it is cheap, but it’s great value for the price. It’s nothing more than pleasantly drinkable, which is far more than you’d expect at this price. Perfect for glugging at parties.

 

The Top White Pick
The Forgotten Row, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand. €9.99

Yawn. Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc – I’m pretty tired of the style at this point, despite its unprecedented and ongoing popularity generally.

But what’s this? An inexpensive Savvie from NZ that not a tropical fruit-bomb? Yes please!

OK, so it’s still quite ripe and flavoursome, but in the herbal, pea-and-asparagus style that nods to the grape’s European roots. A nice refreshing alternative for any Kiwi Sauv Blanc lover.

 

The Sparkling One
Gardo & Morris, Sparkling Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand. €19.99

It’s Sauvignon Blanc passed through the commercial winery’s version of a Soda Stream, basically. If you love Savvie, you’ll love this. Quite fun and interesting, though at near €20 there are a few Cavas I could recommend in it’s place. A curiosity.

 

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!”

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.

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…