Tag Archives: Wine

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.

 

Brosé, Pink Wine, Blush: A Rosé By Any Other Name…

We seem to have an unusual aversion to rosé wines here in Ireland. Only 3% of all the wine we drink is pink, which is some distance off the 10%-11% figure recorded by our neighbours in Britain; even the US is experiencing a boom in the style, with the hashtag “#Brosé” doing its best to undo old perceptions of rosé as being “just a girls’ drink”.

The lack of knowledge about rosé might be a factor. Many believe that it’s just red and white wine mixed together, whereas in fact that’s rarely the case (though I’ve one such rarity below) and in fact it’s illegal to do so in Europe (except Champagne, but that’s another story). Others apparently believe that rosé is just red wine that’s been ‘watered down’.

Brosé, Pink Wine, Blush A Rosé By Any Other Name…

In fact, since red wine gets its colour and flavour from its skins, then the less time the grape juice spends in contact with them then the lighter the colour of the wine. So in theory rosé can be considered a really light red wine … simple really (well, it can get a little technical, but that’s for another day).

Either way, the inference of these popular misconceptions is that rosé is somewhat inferior, which couldn’t be further from the truth: instead of comparing them to reds and whites, rosé needs to be considered a style in itself rather than a pale (or dark) imitation of the others.

So if you’re looking for a nice rosé this Valentine’s Day, look no further than the list below. But before you do, I’ve a huge admission: I’m not such a big fan of rosé myself.

I do appreciate the style, but I don’t instinctively seek it out. If anything though, this should serve as a stronger commendation to the below wines – if they’ve managed to bowl me over, then they’re sure to turn even the most sceptical wine drinker.

And, of course, these would all work great around the world’s annual celebration of love. Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

Brosé, Pink Wine, Blush A Rosé By Any Other Name…JN Sparkling Saumur Rosé

RSP €23.95 from JNwines.com

First, a pink bubbly: this is a special bottling for importer/retailer JN Wines made by Bouvet-Ladubay of the Loire region in France and made from the often-overlooked Cabernet Franc grape (and I’d really highly recommend their regular white sparkling too).

It has a lovely ripe strawberry-and-cream character, and the palate has a  deliciously creamy mousse also. Thankfully it manages to avoid the cloying sweetness than can befall sparkling rosés at this price point, and indeed it has a slight bitter edge at the finish, which sounds off-putting but is actually great asset to have when it comes to pairing with food: think poached salmon or charcuterie.

Brosé, Pink Wine, Blush A Rosé By Any Other Name…Miguel Torres Santa Digna Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon Rosado

RSP €13.99 and widely available: e.g. Mitchell & Son, Dublin; Jus De Vine, Portmarnock, Co. Dublin; Sweeneys  of Glasnevin, Dublin; Ardkeen Stores, Waterford; Bradley’s, North Main Street, Cork; O’Driscoll’s of Ballinlough, Cork; Amber of Fermoy, Co. Cork

Though not necessarily unusual, a rosé (or Rosado in Spanish) made from Cabernet Sauvignon is nevertheless not common, at least here in Ireland. Which is a shame really, as the result can be spectacular, such as this one from the Chilean outpost of the famous Torres family.

Expect blackcurrant, of course, but also some cranberry and redcurrant that only Pacific Cabernet Sauvignon rosés can offer.  It is also somewhat weightier than most rosés that we’re familiar with – so much so you could say it’s not too far off a light red wine. Delicious with cured sausages, meat pies and many pasta dishes … and, remarkably, it’s even perfect with notoriously difficult sweet-and-sour Chinese dishes.

Brosé, Pink Wine, Blush A Rosé By Any Other Name…Kir-Yianni Akakies Rosé

RSP €16 from Grapevine, Dalkey

I recommended this rosé before, and I was so impressed I felt it beared repeating, especially given the pink theme for this time of year.

Similar to the Miguel Torres above, this 100% Xinomavro from Greece is more akin to a light red than a rosé, but it dials up the beefy, meatiness more than its Chilean counterpart above.

The Amyndeon appellation in north-western Greece, from which this wine is sourced, is the only Greek PDO for rosé wines. It has smoky, macerated strawberry and raspberry aromas with a balanced medium body. Again it would be great with some charcuterie and even lighter meat dishes such as pork.

Brosé, Pink Wine, Blush A Rosé By Any Other Name…Masi Rosa dei Masi

RSP €18.99 from Baggot Street Wines, Dublin; Ardkeen Stores, Waterford; Fine Wines, Limerick; Nolans of Clontarf, Dublin; Redmonds of Ranelagh, Dublin

I’m a long-time fan of the family-owned Masi winery in Italy’s Veneto. They’re most famous for establishing the ‘ripasso’ tradition with Campofiorin as well as their beefy Amarone Costasera.

A couple of years ago they released an innovative rosé made 100% with the native Venetian Refosco grape, produced by semi-drying a portion of these grapes on traditional bamboo racks using the ‘appassimento’ technique. This process helped soften out the often harsh aspects of the Refosco grape and added some ripeness and complexity of the final blend.

It has fresh raspberries and wild cherries over a zippy palate, making it great with food such as antipasti, light pasta dishes, shellfish and seafood. It’s worth mentioning its elaborate rococo label too, perfectly romantic for this time of year.

Brosé, Pink Wine, Blush A Rosé By Any Other Name…Flaxbourne Sauvignon Blanc Rosé

€15.99 from Marks & Spencer

Here’s an unusual one for you. There’s no denying that we’re a nation of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc lovers, so why not go off-piste a little with a rosé version?

They’re cheating a little here in that it’s actually a blend of 97.5% regular Sauvignon Blanc that’s ‘tinted’ with 2.5% Merlot, but the result is a not-unpleasant strawberry-tinged version of the New Zealand ‘savvie’ that we’ve come to know and love.

So if you or a loved one are a die-hard Marlborough Sauvignon fan, add a twist and a bit of spice to Valentine’s Day this year with this approachable oddity.

This article first appeared on TheTaste.ie

Tasting the Past: The Port From 1916

“Epic” is a grossly over-used adjective nowadays, which is unfortunate since it is the most appropriate word I can think of for an incredible event I attended recently.

The occasion in question, held by Tindals Wine Merchants, was billed as an exciting but nevertheless not uncommon tasting of a range of old Dow’s Port vintages. But it actually turned out to be an intensely familial affair that involved history, war, revolution, fire and tongs, a long-lost treasure, a travel through time and a heartfelt toast to those gone and those yet to come.

What caused this tasting to be more than a relatively straightforward retrospective was the inclusion of an exceedingly rare and long-forgotten bottle of Port from 1916. Not only was it a century old, but its significance was heightened by the resonance that particular year has on us Irish.

The more experienced and established wine writers have at least one vinous experience in their lives that was for them transformational or transcendental, or both. I thought it would be some time yet until I had mine – until this event, that is.

Tasting The Past: The 100 Year Old Port

 

Out of the Frying Pan…

In case enough stops weren’t pulled out by Tindals, the venue was One Pico, a restaurant I highly admire but ashamedly hadn’t been to in some years. What’s more I was welcomed on arrival with a glass of Champagne Henriot Brut Souverain, a very fine and elegant Champagne which I also have to admit I hadn’t tried previously, but one I’m sure to revisit many times again.

After some small talk with the always-ebullient members of the Tindal family I was introduced to a gentleman I didn’t recognise but whose name immediately rang bells: Johnny Symington, of the eponymous family who own a host of the most well-known Port brands such as Graham’s, Cockburns, Dow’s, Warre’s, Quinto do Vesuvio, and more.

Johnny was an absolute gentleman, a disposition that seems to bestow itself liberally on the family members of winemaking dynasties. He burned with keen interest in everyone he spoke to, and spoke eloquently about his family’s wines and history over the meal.

port1

Ah yes, the meal. The food was sublime. Really, One Pico is a true Dublin icon, and I urge everyone to make it their next destination for a meal out. In the noise generated by the Michelin stars and edgy, modern openings, it’s easy to forget the restaurants that are just simply classically excellent, day in, day out.

We started with the largest slab of foie gras parfait I’ve ever faced, and doubts about my ability to finish it were quickly dispelled via warm toasted brioche and fig chutney. This was paired with the Dow’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port (see below for tasting notes), a sublimely decadent treat.

Next was an autumnal Wicklow venison with beetroot, Roscoff onion, chanterelles and blackberries, a hearty and lusciously savoury dish paired excellently with the Quinta do Vesuvio DOC Douro (again see below for tasting notes), a dense wine that shared many of the characteristics of the dish.

The final course, a selection of cheeses, was to be paired with the flight of Ports about to be presented to us. But first, there was the matter of opening that bottle of 1916.

port2

… into the Fire

The moment arrived for the grand opening of this piece of history. There were no markings on the bottle, apart from a barely legible “1916” imprinted into the cork. But the corks on these antique bottles are now so brittle that corkscrews would easily disintegrate them – how then to access the ancient liquid inside?

The answer, as befitting the occasion, was quite dramatic. A pair of long-handled tongs was heated over a gas burner (with great patience!) by Nigel Werner, the Tindals Director of Fine Wine. Once red-hot, they were clamped around the neck of the bottle for a short while, before quickly being replaced by a cloth soaked in iced water.

The sudden change in temperature splits the neck of the bottle in a razor-sharp, clean line, with no shards or splinters to worry about. It’s quite a sight to behold.

Tasting The Past: The 100 Year Old Port

Now opened, we were each treated to a not insignificant measure of this rarity, a 100-year-old wine. Though everyone present was grateful for the chance to witness its release from its century-old tomb, not many held too much hope for a successful end product: it was stored upright all that time and not exactly in cellar-like conditions, so the odds were definitely stacked against it.

The liquid that poured from the neck of the unlabeled bottle into my glass was a pale tawny in colour and tasted … well it tasted really quite excellent, actually. In fact it was really delicious. The air in the room changed perceptibly as everyone else realised that they had, as the American saying goes, “lucked out”.

The 1916 Dow’s Port was light and ethereal, round and long, with coffee, toffee and pipe smoke flavours. Johnny noted that it was quite feminine in style, in contrast to the more concentrated Vintage Ports we’re used to today. It was an experiential treat, and one surely to be unrivaled.

 

The past beats inside me like a second heart” (John Banville, The Sea)

The 1916 bottle had an interesting history to it, as you might expect. It was donated to the tasting by siblings Sofia and Toby Couchman from Carlow, who discovered it in the back of a press in their family home. It was purchased by their grandfather some time ago and ‘tidied away’ by their grandmother, which goes some way to explaining how it may have been forgotten until now.

port3

Johnny introduced the rarity by informing us all that it was his great-grandfather, Andrew James Symington, who made the wine, most likely with his son, Johnny’s grandfather, at his side. In his preparation for its big reveal, Johnny delved into the archives to see what his grandfather made of the wine at harvest.

As it turned out, AJ Symington’s prediction was eerily prescient: “This vintage was quite good – I can see these wines lasting for some time.” I thought it touching to envisage Johnny reading his great grandfather’s hand-written notes of a wine that he now had in front of him.

It was time to toast the occasion. Picture the scene: we all held aloft glasses of a pale tawny liquid that came to life in the year that our own young country was awakening. Indeed, mere metres from where we were standing young men fought and died for a freedom that we enjoy today. Elsewhere in Europe, many, many others were perishing for a much greater cause.

A few years later a man bought a bottle of wine as a treat to himself; today, two of his grandchildren were sharing it with the great grandson of the person who made that very same drink.

We were all literally drinking the past, and what’s more it tasted alive, elegant, deferential … so very present. The past was now living on inside us, beating like a second heart.

And lest we ever forget about our own transient appearance on this earth, Johnny Symington signed off with the most resonant toast on this most symbolic of afternoons: “Here’s to the next hundred years.”

 

THREE TO TRY

Tasting The Past: The 100 Year Old PortDow’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port

€48 from Searsons

I’ve really taken to Tawny Port this year and it’s guaranteed I’ll have some on my Christmas table this December.

Tawny differs from other Port styles in that it’s aged in barrel rather than in the bottle, meaning it loses its bright red colouring and takes on a nutty, dried fruit character. What’s amazing about this (and other Tawnys) is its balance: sweet but refreshing, never cloying, decadent yet elegant, and just so moreish.

Tasting The Past: The 100 Year Old PortQuinta do Vesuvio DOC Douro

€60 from Searsons

Quinta do Vesuvio is another Symington family property.

Most well known for their very highly-regarded Ports, this is one of the two still red wine offering from the property.

It was very dense and intense, with dark plum, blackberry and chocolate. A chunky but elegant wine, and ideal with the venison that day.

 

Tasting The Past: The 100 Year Old PortDow’s 1994 Vintage Port

€180 (Magnum) from Searsons (in-store only)

The fact that you can pick up a magnum of 22-year-old Vintage Port from Dow’s for €180 is a travesty, but one anyone with half a wine brain should gleefully exploit. Though I didn’t get to taste the actual 1994 on the day I couldn’t let this recommendation slip by, and having tasted the Dow’s Ports back to 1916, 1947, 1963 and more, I can however absolutely attest to its longevity. The Wine Advocate give this 96 points this year, too – need any more reasons to pick up this beauty for Christmas?

This article first appeared on TheTaste.ie

An Odyssey of Kir-Yianni Wines from Greece

I think I’m lucky to have come into the wine game when I did. I’m now 33 and started in the wine trade eight years ago, meaning that I managed to avoid a great number of wine-related hang-ups and prejudices that most wine drinkers the generation above me seem to carry around with them.

I love Chardonnay, for example, in direct contravention of the Anything But Chardonnay ideology that seems to have afflicted those stung by the mistakes of the Aussies in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Similarly, I was never tainted by what I hear were wines of questionable quality from Greece, nor has their famous (but much-maligned) retsina crossed my lips.

So while at the Ely Big Tasting I came across a wine called Ramnista from Kir-Yianni, made from a grape new to me called Xinomavro, I was bowled over. Never did I think that Greek wines could taste like this, and from indigenous varieties too.

How lucky I was then that Gabriel Cooney of Grapevine in Dalkey, who imports Kir-Yianni wines here to Ireland, invited me to taste the full range of their wines at a jovial consumer evening in October. The night was hosted by Lambros Papadimitriou, officially Kir-Yianni’s Sales & Marketing Director but also their de facto export manager.

Accompanied by bread and some delicious 220 Trees olive oil – another Grecian import by Grapevine – we started into eleven of Kir-Yianni’s finest.

kir-yianni-1

Greek Wine: Long History, Short Tradition

Lambros began by deftly leading us through a brief history of Greek wine, proudly claiming that the first appellation system was established in Greece, with Homer’s extensive writings on the subject held up as evidence. Pramnian and Ismarian wines were particularly good at the time, apparently.

The wines of those times were sweet, for better preservation (and a result of incomplete fermentation I would guess), as well as being ultra-concentrated, resulting in the requirement that they be watered down before consumption. Indeed, only uncouth barbarians such as the Scythians of Crimea would drink undiluted wine at the time – savages!

kir-yianni-2

But it is what he said next that struck a chord: when it came to wine, the region “has a long history but a short tradition”. He extrapolated by explaining that, despite making wine since the 7th century BC, Greece produced nothing remarkable until the 1990’s, when a slew of educated and aspirational young winemakers decided to revamp and modernise the country’s wine offering.

These “New Old World” winemakers made a conscious decision to improve the quality of Greek wine for the better, introducing new technologies, better clonal selection, updated practices in both the vineyard and the winery, and, equally importantly, some much-needed EU funding.

A New Wave in an Old World

So it was came to be that Yiannis Boutaris founded Kir-Yianni winery, originally as a spin-off from the Boutari group founded by his grandfather, but which went completely independent of the famous drinks company in 1997.

Yiannis Boutaris is an interesting character we’re told. As well as naming the winery after himself – “Kir Yianni” roughly translates as “Sir Yianni” or “Sir John” – the now 74 year old apparently has an impressive collection of tattoos and rocked Greece society when he became the first public figure to admit to alcoholism, an affliction he has now thankfully overcome, though not before changing public attitudes towards the condition. Oh, and he’s also the mayor of Greece’s second-largest city, Thessaloniki. Interesting indeed.

Yiannis was one of the first proponents of single vineyard wine-making in Greece and a driving force for the revival of the much prized Naoussa appellation and its unique local variety Xinomavro. Today his son Stellios Boutaris, the fifth generation of this winemaking family, runs the show.

They practice sustainable agriculture, which is essentially organic by everything but name; or, as Lambros put it: “as much as necessary but as little as possible”.

The Wines

We began the evening with a sparkling wine, something that took me by surprise as I never associated Greece with bubbles. The Paranga Sparkling is a blend of Chardonnay, Xinomavro and Muscat, with the latter’s aromatics and pear drop aromas most distinct. A light and lively, semi-dry refresher to kick the night off.

From there we tasted four whites: Paranga White (€16 from Grapevine), a soft, tropical fruit-flavoured blend of Greece’s native Malagouzia and Roditis grapes; Ktima Kir-Yianni Samaropetra, a more sprightly blend of Roditis and Sauvignon Blanc with an Old World herbaceousness; the more serious and flinty, almond-tinged Droumo Sauvignon Blanc; and finally the punchy and ultra-buttery Palpo Chardonnay, a bruising wine that ramps the Burgundian style up to 11.

We transitioned to the reds via the delicious Akakies Rosé, detailed more extensively below, before moving on to the Paranga Red (€16 from Grapevine), a fun a simple wine with a surprisingly refreshing acidity. The Ktima Kir-Yianni Yianakohori Hills and Ramnista were next, my favourites of the night which I cover later, with the red flight finishing on Diaporos, a Xinomavro and Syrah blend giving a meaty, textural, and age-worthy ‘icon’ wine.

As we sipped the very last wine – a fresh and floral, honeyed Late Harvest Gewurztraminer called Chrysogerakas – Lambros, ever the gracious host, signed off a fantastic evening of Grecian pleasures by second-guessing what is perhaps a common query put to him after many a wine is sipped: how is Greece, paragon of the financial crisis, faring nowadays

Cautious of being flippantly upbeat, he left us with a nugget of relative optimism: “wine is booming in Greece, so let’s focus on the positives”.

If their wines are anything to go by, there’s a bright future yet for Greece.

 

THREE TO TRY

Kir-Yianni Akakies Rosé
RSP €16 from Grapevine, Dalkey (coming soon)

I’m not the biggest fan of rosé, but this 100% Xinomavro gives a big, meaty version that’s more akin to a light red than the more light-bodied examples we’re usually used to. The Amyndeon appellation in north-western Greece, from which this wine is sourced, is the only Greek PDO for rosé wines. It has smoky, macerated strawberry and raspberry aromas with a balanced medium body. It would be fab with salmon.

 

Ktima Kir-Yianni Yianakohori Hills
RSP €19 from Grapevine, Dalkey (coming soon)

“Ktima” roughly translates as “Estate” in Greek, and for some reason I wasn’t expecting much from this wine as I awaited a sip the winery’s excellent Ramnista. I was delighted to be proved wrong: this was supremely balanced and elegant, yet with a charm and grace that allowed it not to be taken too seriously. Made from 50% Xinomavro, 30% Merlot and 20% Syrah, it had distinct blueberry, leather, violet and vanilla aromas. It’s sourced from different plots individually vinified and blended. A lot of work goes into this wine, which is reflected in the glass but not in the price, oddly. A bargain.

 

Kir-Yianni Ramnista
RSP €21 from Grapevine, Dalkey

This is the wine that brought me all the way to Dalkey on a dark Thursday night. A 100% Xinomavro from select parcels of old vines in the high-quality region of Naoussa, this is an intense yet balanced wine. A lovely, deeply savoury experience, it combines light red berry fruit with tar, leather, tobacco and baking spice. Long and complex, it keeps evolving and satisfying. Outstanding, and again a bargain.

 

This article originally appeared on TheTaste.ie

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.

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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.