Goodbye, hello and thank you

Goodbye…

Mixed feelings  — I got ’em. I’ve wound up my wine, beer and cider columns in the Irish Examiner Weekend and the final ones appeared on Saturday October 20, 2012.

Hello…

More to the point, I hope you will join me in offering a hearty welcome to Leslie Williams (see final bullet point at the end of this post) who begins fresh new drinks columns in the Irish Examiner on Saturday, October 27, 2012. His survey of what’s what on the drinks shelves kicks off with his pick of the best from the National Off-Licence Association Gold Star Awards.

Thank you.

° Thank you to everyone who has read my columns, and to those who have responded with complaints or compliments, tips and suggestions.
° Thank you to the importers, distributors, retailers and PR people for supplying samples, pictures, information – and especially tasting opportunities.
° Thank you to groups as diverse as the Sexual Violence Centre, Cork Skeptics and St Luke’s ICA for hosting me at events where I attempted to help unwind the true qualities of our drinks from the sometimes misleading reputations that surround them.
° Most of all, I am indebted to the Irish Examiner’s editor Tim Vaughan and features editor Vickie Maye – and her predecessor, Fionnuala Quinlan – for giving me the freedom to explore this fascinating topic. It has been a privilege and a pleasure and I hope at least some of that enthusiasm has rubbed off on readers.

The above are the main points but there’s a bit more detail below if you want it. 
Wine tasting

Not only are open-ended ‘silent’ wine tastings vital for any decent wine firm – they can be invaluable to us consumers too. Picture: Blake Creedon.

♦ Earlier this year I decided to bring to an end my regular columns about wine and beer in the Irish Examiner Weekend. It wasn’t a sudden epiphany — I had been coming to the conclusion that it was reaching the end of its usefulness. There’s also a practical purpose. I wanted to scale back, for now at least, my working week: Of the various things I do, these columns were the most neatly discrete component and thus the easiest to excise. And so they had to go.

Beer

It’s only when you shed the values imposed by branding that you get a feel for how good your beer really is.

♦ So here ends my affection for wine and beer? Eh… Hardly! I am hoping to continue doing as an amateur one of the things I’d been doing as a pro… I wasn’t joking all those times I recommended readers to go check out open-ended tastings. Seriously. When you begin to actively sniff and taste and compare wines a few dozen at a time, you step into another world. Working your way uninterrupted through a non-tutored tasting is a bit like sending your nose to the movies. As some bloggers will know, for some time I’ve been encouraging bloggers to get themselves invited to such trade & media  tastings, and encouraging wine businesses to invite them – so at least I am being consistent.

♦ I don’t plan to recommence writing in any capacity in the near future. Nor will I be looking for work of any kind with any drinks business. I remain working at various roles in the backroom of the Irish Examiner.

♦ In one way, dropping these columns has been the easy way out for me.  I believe I’ve been most useful as a map, assisting readers get a sense of the lay of the land, rather than as a signpost, directing them towards specific destination bottles. Yes I do believe there is value in the latter, and stand over every bottle I’ve ever highlighted.  But informed scepticism is infinitely more valuable than someone else’s conclusions — no matter how well-placed. That’s true for consumer food and drink, but also with far more serious matters. We are far too eager to hand our sovereignty over to whatever credible-sounding authority figure currently has the mic — with ultimately disastrous results, as will be obvious to anyone observing the Irish economy, abuse cover-ups etc. What’s on your dining room table is hardly as grave an issue as those — but it does entail the same process: credulity versus sovereignty. Feedback suggests I may not have been as successful at nudging readers towards a more sceptical outlook as I’d have liked. If I do go back into the field again, that’s what I’d want to work at.

Finally, I hope you will always have good quality and value-for-money stuff in your glass. Because you’re worth it.


♦ If you have any queries or comments for me, leave a comment below.
If you want the contact details for Leslie and other food & drinks columnists, events listings etc, contact the Irish Examiner Features desk.

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Beer, wine and cider tasting events

Deveney's beer festival

Click for details of Deveney’s festival, one of the events exploring Irish and international beers.

Wine, beer, cider and food are on the menu at all sorts of public events coming up all over Ireland – from highly structured tutored tastings and dinners through to the open wander-aboutery of fairs and festivals..

Many of them are great value, and give us consumers an invaluable opportunity to sample what’s out there. As well as being fun, you could think of it as tastebud gym.

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As of October 2012, I am no longer drinks columnist with the Irish Examiner Weekend. See the home page of this blog for more details. I’m leaving much of the info I posted here in case it might be helpful. Thank you.

 

█ Fri Aug 31 – Italian night in Cork

Curious Wines kick off their incredibly busy season of courses, dinners and tastings with an Italian night from 5pm to 9pm at The Bowery on Tuckey Street in Cork. It’s hosted by Francesco Riccardi of  Borgo Magredo, one of whose proseccos I reckon is one of the best-value bubblies around.

It’s a packed programme so for now here’s just the first month’s worth.

█ Thu Sept 6 – Australian Night with Peter Perrin (Bleasdale) at
Meades 126, Oliver Plunkett St., Cork. 7pm to 10pm. Admission free.
█ Fri Sept 21 – McLaren Vale with Scott Collett (Woodstock) at
Hayfield Manor, Cork. 7.30pm-9.30pm. Tickets €15.
█ Thu Oct 4 – Tapas Night w/ Ivan Acebes García, Castelo de Medina at
Cafe Gusto, Washington St., Cork.  7.30pm-9.00pm. Admission free.
I’ll add the rest and more details later.  And see curiouswines.ie.
 

█ Wed Sept 5 – Winemaker Dinner at Donnybrook Fair

César Morales Navia, the oenological manager of Emiliana in Chile is the latest in a pretty illustrious list of winemakers to host a dinner at The Restaurant at Donnybrook Fair at 89, Morehampton Road, Dublin 4. Emiliana produces some outstanding wines, principally the biodynamic Coyam which I’ve occasionally enjoyed down the years. With a well-established nous for making good wines, including a growing acreage under organic and biodynamic grapes, Emiliana’s reputation has been heading in one direction only. Check them out yourself at stockists including O’Briens and independents, or in pleasant company with a good dinner in Donnybrook, all presented by César.

It takes place on Wednesday September 5 at 7.45pm. Book (€60 a head or €100 for two) on 01-6144849, by email at restaurant@donnybrookfair.ie or online if you click here.

█ Sept 5 to 8 – McGuigan City Vineyard, Dublin

From Wednesday to Saturday, McGuigan Wines present their bold and imaginative City Vineyard project in Dublin. Open daily from noon to 7pm, it consists of dozens of living vines transplanted to a temporary perch in Meeting House Square, Temple Bar, Dublin 2.

Also there will be members of the McGuigan family who will present tastings of quite a wide range of their wines. The family’s been in wine business for decades — first under the Penfold’s marque but more recently under their own name, building to their present status as one of the big brands on the market. They’re imported by Barry & Fitzwilliam who mainly sell their Black Label range into independents, and also by Tesco which sells a more extensive range.

The city vineyard is similar to wine dinners: to wine firms, it’s an opportunity for deep marketing; to us, it’s an unusual (and in this instance, unique) opportunity for wine-related fun. If you haven’t gotten round to visiting real working wine lands, this could be a fun and interesting introduction — I reckon it would be particularly attractive to wine fans and gardeners.

It’s free, and you can just turn up. But make sure you check the conditions beforehand on this website. For one thing, no-one under 18 is allowed in, and that includes babes in arms or in buggies. You might brush the hair too as they may be filming for broadcast, and turning up implies consent to being filmed. Also, such is the persistence of the internet, there’s still some incorrect info around the place – the vineyard has been moved from the site originally mooted, across the river at the IFSC.

█ Aug 30 to Sept 9 – Irish Craft Beer Week
█ Sept 7 to Sept 9 – Irish Craft Beer Festival

After its brief turn around the IFSC, the annual Irish Craft Beer Festival returns to RDS in Dublin from September 7 to 9, 2012.

Beoir Chorca Dhuibhne

Beoir Chorca Dhuibhne, one of the breweries pouring good beers and ciders from cask, keg and bottle at the RDS.

This year, the bash in Dublin is the culmination of the first Craft Beer Week when participating pubs, off-licences and restaurants nationwide will have special offers, tastings and expert talks on Irish craft beer. The website below has details of both the week and the weekend festival.

At the RDS event, more than 20 of our craft breweries and cider producers will be showcasing beers and ciders for you to taste. They’re joined this year for the first time by some guest breweries from out foreign — a brilliant move in my opinion, as I think it’s vital for beer fans and brewers alike to keep comparing notes with the wider beer world as we reinvent the traditions we nearly lost.

The whole effect at the RDS is a bit like an Irish take on a Bierhalle, complete with live music and artisan food stalls. At the time of writing, the Irish contingent comprises O’Hara’s, Dungarvan, White Gypsy, Eight Degrees, Trouble, Franciscan Well, Porter House, Dingle and Beoir Chorca Dhuibhne aka West Kerry Brewery. There may be more.

The festival returns to the RDS again this year.

Guest breweries include Sierra Nevada and Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale. And the night before the festival proper, there will be a beer and food pairing event exploring the character of Irish beers and the food they go best with.
Festival tickets start at €10 per day and you can get them at participating pubs and shops or at Ticketmaster.
Tickets for the beer and food pairing evening on September 6 are available directly from info@IrishCraftBeerFestival.com.
 For more information on both the Irish Craft Beer Festival and Irish Craft Beer Week, see their website at IrishCraftBeerFestival.com.

█ Sun Sept 9 – Clare comes to East Cork

At 6pm on Sunday September 9 at Ballymaloe, Winemaker Dave Palmer, Skillogalee Wines, Clare Valley, South Australia, and Birgitta Curtin, Burren Smokehouse, Co Clare come together to present their respective wine and food under the title ‘It’s a long way from Clare to here – A Taste of Clare in East Cork’.  Get tickets (€18) and more information from 021 4652531,  colm@ballymaloe.ie or www.ballymaloe.ie.  Other events there include…

[] Sun Sept 16, 4.30pm – New Zealand winemakers Larry McKenna, Escarpment Wines, Martinborough & John Hancock, Trinity Hill Wines, Hawkes Bay present a tutored tasting of their wines (€15).
[] Thurs, Sept 27 Margaret River experience – surfing on Shanagarry Strand and cricket with the East Cork Cricket Club, followed by wine tasting and food with Australian winemaker David Hohnen, Ted Berner’s Wildside fire-cooking, and music. €35 all in.

As of October 2012, I am no longer drinks columnist with the Irish Examiner Weekend. See the home page of this blog for more details. I’m leaving much of the info I posted here in case it might be helpful. Thank you.

 

█ Sept 13 to 22* – Oktoberfest Beag, Cork

Kudos to whoever came up with the name. The annual event at the former Beamish & Crawford Brewery on South Main Street in Cork centres on Paulaner, one of the six Munich breweries which host the original Oktoberfest in their home city. And compared to that blow-out, it is small (‘beag’ in Irish). But it’s not to be sneezed at either, being eight days of, well, beer, food and drindl-und-lederhosen-themed entertainment.

It’s €11 in, including booking fee, but you also have the option of reserving seats (which must be taken up by 7pm). For instance, the Gold ticket for €26 gets you in, two drink vouchers, a substantial dish and guaranteed seating. You need a minimum of six people to book a table.

We here in Ireland and Britain tend to associate the great German breweries with just one or two styles (such as hefe and kristall) but they typically make a whole spectrum including seasonal one-off brews. Happily, the choice in off-licences has been flowering. And events like Oktoberfest Beag provide a unique opportunity to try out a wider range. As of now, as well of course as wine and soft drinks, the website only mentions the special Paulaner Oktoberfest Bier, and Paulaner Weissebier. By the latter I presume they mean the one we’re most familiar with, the naturally-cloudy Hefe Weissbier Naturtrüb.  I expect though that Oktoberfest Beag will in fact run out a wider selection of Paulaner’s dozen or so brews. If so, don’t pass up the opportunity!

* The festival runs from Sept 13 to 22 with the exception of Tues and Wed Sept 18 and 19, when it’s closed. Opening hours are 5pm to 10pm each day, apart from both Saturdays when it opens an hour earlier. For more information, phone 0867248284 (9.30am to 5pm), email reservations@oktoberfestbeag.ie and see oktoberfestbeag.ie.

█ Sept 15 – Deveney’s Beer festival

Deveney’s are clearly trying to put me off the scent. Their fourth annual craft beer festival has a new name, new venue and new date – but I’m on to them, the rascals. It takes place this year at Pembroke Square in Dundrum Town Centre on Saturday September 15 from 2.30pm to 10pm. It’s ticket-only and, naturally, over-18s only. But you knew that.

One of the early adopters promoting Irish and world craft beers on a large scale, they promise to have hundreds of craft beers from around the world on offer in the garden marquee, live music, and beer-friendly food from some of the best restaurants in the area including Siam Thai, Harvey Nichols, Cortina’s Mexican, Wagamama and, of course, The Port House. Tickets (€20) include a festival tankard; three beer vouchers and a festival booklet. Book now at www.beerfestival.ie or their blog; by phone on 01-2984288; or in 3-D by dropping into Deveney’s of Dundrum at 31, Main Street, Dundrum, D16.

You can also get tickets at these off-licences and wine shops – Redmond’s of Ranelagh; Deveney’s of Rathmines; Jus de Vin Portmarnock; The Corkscrew; McHugh’s on Malahide Road; The Vintry, Rathgar and Martin’s of Fairview.

█  Fri Sept 21– Beer club in Cork

Paddy Cullen at the No 21 Off-Licence on Coburg Street (at the foot of St Patrick’s Hill) in Cork is still mulling over which beers to sample at the next meeting of the No 21 Beer Club at 7pm on Sept 21.
To give you an idea of what they do, last time round it was a tutored tasting led by Phil Tavey of distributor Four Corners of six beers from the USA (Brooklyn Brewery and Magic Hat) and Scotland (Brewdog).

Get more info and make your own suggestions in store or by emailing Paddy at no21offlicence@gmail.com or on Twitter at @no21cork.

As of October 2012, I am no longer drinks columnist with the Irish Examiner Weekend. See the home page of this blog for more details. I’m leaving much of the info I posted here in case it might be helpful. Thank you.

█ Sat Sept 22 – Wine fundamentals in Cork

L’Atitude 51 wine café is kicking off a series of Wine Fundamentals sessions in its beautiful  upstairs room overlooking the River Lee on four successive Saturday afternoons from September 22 at 3.30pm. The price per session is €25, or book all four for €90. You don’t need any prior knowledge to take part. Full details are in a PDF on their new website at  www.latitude51.ie, phone 021-2390219, email them at info@latitude51.ie or just drop in to l’Atitude 51, 1 Union Quay, Cork.

█ Wed Sept 26 – Glassware comparative tasting

The size and shape of your glass has an enormous influence on your wine. Really. There’s more about that over on this post including the reasons I’m more than happy with one range of glasses costing only a fiver a go. But if you can stretch to €60, I think you’ll enjoy and benefit from a glassware comparative tasting hosted by Riedel from 6.30pm at The Miele Gallery, Citywest, Dublin 24. The ticket price (€60 from Mitchells on 01 6125540 or www.mitchellandson.com) includes a Riedel Vinum tasting set which normally costs about €96 apparently. 

█ Weekend beer fest

This weekend (Friday to Sunday August 24 to 26, 2012) an Irish Craft Beerfest takes place in Doolin, Co Clare. Participants include Carlow Brewing; Dungarvan; Eight Degrees; Franciscan Well; Stonewell Cider; Trouble Brewing; White Gypsy. Tickets €5 at the door. Larks and antics a-baa. For more, see their website at www.irishcraftbeerfestival.com.

Cheers for a cracking new stout

Edit: As of October 2012, I am no longer drinks columnist with the Irish Examiner Weekend. See the home page of this blog for more details. I’m leaving much of the info I posted here in case it might be helpful. Thank you. 

My beer of the week over in the Irish Examiner today (Saturday June 23 — print edition only) is Elbow Lane Angel Stout. It joins a growing band of fine Irish stouts and porters from the likes of Porterhouse, Beoir Chorca Dhuibhne and Carlow Brewing Company.

There’s another novelty about Angel: it’s a cleanskin. That is, the label doesn’t name the brewery in which it was made. It does say it was brewed in Cork though, so that narrows it down a bit and I can only think of one likely candidate.  While many cleanskins are own-label (where an existing product is rebranded in new packaging) Angel Stout seems to have been commissioned and made specifically for the people behind Elbow Lane.

It’s being marketed by two restaurants in Cork — the Castle Café at Blackrock Castle and Market Lane on Oliver Plunkett Street. At first I thought it was only going to be available in those places, but it turns out it’s also stocked by Bradley’s on North Main Street, which is apt as that shop is one of Cork’s two astonishingly comprehensive beer collections, the other being The Abbot’s Ale House on Devonshire Street North across the river from the Opera House. I’m not sure if the latter will also stock Angel. If they and further stockists are added, I’ll add that info here.

We’re more used to the cleanskin concept from the wine world, which is where the word comes from. For instance, once upon a time M&S didn’t disclose where their wines were made. Nowadays they do — to their advantage, I’d imagine, as there are some great names in tiny writing on back labels on their shelves. If I recall correctly, Aldi’s cracking O’Sheas Stout is also a clearskin – made by the aforementioned Carlow Brewing (aka O’Haras), a fact which I think isn’t disclosed on the label. Must check next time.

♦ Also today in The Irish Examiner Weekend, I’m picking out my highlights from a tasting through 50 or thereabouts wines at O’Briens. It was a pretty impressive tasting, and I’ll have to come back at a later date to a few more of those wines, as well as two interesting themes I just didn’t have room for in the column — namely ‘natural’ wines, and a whole lotta rosés. The latter requires a summer so that  might be on hold for quite a while.

Edit: As of October 2012, I am no longer drinks columnist with the Irish Examiner Weekend. See the home page of this blog for more details. I’m leaving much of the info I posted here in case it might be helpful. Thank you. 

Wine and beer – June, 2012

This morning in The Irish Examiner I’m looking at a new summer seasonal bitter, Dungarvan Brewing Company’s Comeragh Challenger. (Paper edition only, as the beer column doesn’t go online). So. What’s this bitter thing all about then?

The beer styles native to these islands are absolutely crucial to the Irish microbrewery boom. Yes, the types of beer which evolved on the mainland are certainly an important part of the mix — after all, the Franciscan Well, one of Ireland’s oldest brewpubs, made its name with a weissbier. But along with oh, you know, making a living, our small breweries are doing a great and barely celebrated service to our national cuisine by reviving and reinvigorating the beers characteristic of this corner of Europe. Mainly they’ve been exploring ales and stouts — but in this instance, a lovely bright, light little bitter.

Comeragh Challenger is also a moderate 3.8% alcohol so you can enjoy a few bottles — the perfect accompaniment to the surprise outburst of sunshine around some parts of the country. Hurrah for both, and hope it’s shining where you are. Pop over to Dungarvan Brewing Company’s website for a map and list of stockists nationwide. [Saturday, June 9, 2012]

Wine tastings and dinners – June 2012

Sadly I sometimes get information too late for inclusion over in the column in the Irish Examiner. If you’re hosting a beer tasting, wine dinner etc, please drop me a line as soon as you confirm the date. Please put ‘events’ in the subject line. There’s no need to send menus, graphics etc – just an idea of what customers might expect, especially date and price, and perhaps also who’s involved, the number of courses etc.

[June 14] Italian class in Dublin

Liberty Wines, who are helping host the celebration at Fenn’s Quay above, are also behind this event on June 14 – a wine dinner with Giovanni Manetti of Tenuta Fontodi (Chianti Classico) at Ely Wine Bar, Ely Place, Dublin 2. Beginning at 6.45pm, it costs €65 per head and booking is open on 01-6768986. See http://www.elywinebar.ie/about/wine-apreciation/ely-wine-tastings/ for more.

[June 26] Spanish wine dinner in Donnybrook

Donnybrook Fair on the Morehampton Road, Dublin 2, is hosting a wine dinner on Tuesday June 26 7.30pm when Daniel Castano will present his wines from the Yecla denominación. It costs €60 per head or €100 per couple. Book now on 01-6144849 or email restaurant@donnybrookfair.ie.


[May 30] New Zealand wine dinner in Cork

Despite the warning at the end of investment adverts, I reckon past performance can sometimes be a useful indication of what to expect.

I’m not up to date on New Zealand’s Forrest Estate (imported by James Nicholson www.jnwine.com) – but my experience with their range prompts me to sit up and take notice any time they’re being poured. On Wednesday May 30 at 7pm, Annie’s Bar on Sunday’s Well in Cork, is hosting a New Zealand Wine & Dine Evening — a three-course dinner accompanied by wines made by Forrest Estate. (I believe the wines will be presented by someone from the winery, but I’m not sure who). The evening is a bargain at only €45 all told. Early booking, on 021-4398384, is essential.

The last time I tasted Forrest Estate’s wines, back in early 2009 – at the annual New Zealand wine tasting – I highlighted a remarkable three of their wines, along with other stars from the likes of Staete Landt, Glazebrook and Paddy Borthwick. To put it in context, that’s three out of what I reckoned to be the best dozen, having tasted perhaps 140 or 150 wines. (For the record, the ones I highlighted then were the Forrest Dry Riesling Marlborough 2006; Forrest Pinot Gris Marlborough 2007; Forrest Pinot Noir Marlborough 2005). But never mind them. History. Get along to an event in Cork this week to see what they’re pouring now.

[May 31] Celebrate a restaurant’s new wine list in Cork

On May 31 there will be a five-course wine dinner to launch the new wine list at Fenn’s Quay Restaurant, Cork. It promises to be a cracker as importers Liberty Wines, whose range is often featured in my column, are involved. Starting with an introductory wine tasting at 7.30 it’s only €45 per head. Book now on 021 427 9527.

Beaujolias in Cork

L’Atitude 51 is on the corner of Union Quay and Anglesea Street in Cork (the venue’s previous occupants range from Heaphy’s pub via The Lobby Bar to An Crúibín). The new occupants have been making quite a name for themselves. They’re making great use of the Vacuvin nitrogen system which permits any bar interested in doing so to maintain a significant wine list. As well as serving an extensive menu of interesting wines in varying sizes (so you can try a little of a few rather than a full glass of one) they’ve also introduced a dedicated wine tasting room upstairs.

l’Atitude 51 on the corner of Anglesea St and Union Quay in Cork.

Having already hosted events focused on New Zealand and the Rhône valley, they’re continuing with two further regions well worth exploring. On Thursday, May 10 (note the date, as some info in circulation about this event may be incorrect) they are hosting a Beaujolais tasting in association with Karwig’s Wines. Loic Teymond of Chateau de Chatelard which produces wines in the Fleurie, Moulin à Vent and Brouilly appellations, will present a tutored tasting of four of his wines

It takes place on Thursday May 10 from 7pm to 8.30pm. Tickets are €10 per person. Phone 021-2390219, mail them on info@latitude51.ie or click through to their website here www.latitude51.ie.

If you’re hosting a tasting event wine dinner, food festival etc open to the
public, please drop me an email about it as soon as you have the details.

Lebanese wine dinner at Star Anise in Cork

Star Anise on Bridge Street in Cork (www.staranise.ie; 021-4551635) is celebrating its 10th birthday this year and one of the events to mark it is a visit by Sami Ghosn from Massaya Wines in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley on Wednesday May 16. I can all but guarantee this will be a treat. Star Anise is top class in any circumstances. And while I need to catch up on their current vintages, Massaya has proved to be an outstanding producer: the menu on the night will include wines from the top ‘silver’ and ‘gold’ tiers of their range. After a sparkling wine reception, Sami will present a five-course dinner with matching wines for €65.

Many are surprised that wine is made in Lebanon at all. Well, that’s because we’ve very short memories: The Phoenicians – the forebears of the Lebanese people – introduced winemaking, probably from around Georgia and Turkey, to the region some 2,500 years ago, and went on to introduce this new-fangled technology to the Greeks and Romans. I’ve heard Sami speak about this ancient tradition, and about living and working in the recent past in that country, and it promises to be memorable evening.

The Riesling Revolution

The Grain Store at Ballymaloe, Co Cork from 7pm on Thursday May 17, 2012.
The world’s three great riesling regions are brought together for a unique tutored tasting. Join Carl Ehrhard (Rheingau, Germany) Tim Adams (Clare Valley, Australia) and Séverine Schlumberger (Alsace, France) for a tutored tasting exploring this great wine varietal. Book tickets (€25) on res@ballymaloe.ie or 021 4652531. For more information, contact Colm@Ballymaloe.ie or Ireland@wineaustralia.com.

Frankland River in Cork

On Wednesday May 23 (note the date as info circulated about this event earlier was incorrect) L’Atitude 51 will host a tasting of wines from the the Frankland River region of Western Australia in association with Wines Direct. Sandy and Rod Hallett of Alkoomi Wines will tutored tasting of six of their wines from 6.30pm to 8pm, and tickets cost €15 per person. Phone 021-2390219, mail them on info@latitude51.ie or click on their website here http://www.latitude51.ie. See the Beaujolias event above for more about the venue.

[June 7] Tasting the good life in East Cork

Today’s newspaper [Saturday May 29] comes with instructions as follows. Drive to nearest beach. Open the driver’s door and stick one leg out. Place newspaper over your head and nod off accompanied by the sports programme on the radio.

When you’re done with that, you might like to take a look at some of the delicious food and drink in the Weekend section. There’s a special feature by Joe McNamee on foraging for food; Darina Allen is championing offal such as liver and sweetbreads; Pól Ó Conghaile is dining out at The Copper Hen in Fenor, Co Waterford; Michelle Darmody is putting together a week’s worth of delicious meals from a single shopping trip; and, out in the garden, Donal Skehan is tending the vegetable plot.

As ever, I’m to be found hovering over by the drinks cabinet wondering if it’s wine o’clock yet, and kick things off by wishing a happy birthday to the Quay Co-Op on Sullivan’s Quay in Cork (www.quaycoop.com). Established in 1982, the worker’s co-operative has been providing resources and campaigning in a host of fields including feminist and LGBT issues. But it’s perhaps best known and loved by the people of Cork as a friendly wholefood shop and restaurant stuffed with all sorts of deliciousness. Many years ago when ‘local-and-in-season’ was neither popular nor profitable [© Flann O’Brien] diners at the Co-Op were tucking into delicious ice-cream made with milk from their own cow. That’s what I call traceability.

I picked up three of today’s featured wines at the Co-Op – all of them distributed in Ireland by Kenmare-based Mary Pawle Wines.

Mary is also behind a wine tasting event at the Grain Store, Ballymaloe, Co Cork on Thursday, Jun 7, at 7pm. Sunday Business Post wine columnist Tomás Clancy will be telling the tale of the ‘Wine Geese’, as featured in Ted Murphy’s book of the same name, the past and present generations of Irish people involved in winemaking around the world. Better again, his co-host will be winemaker and author Caroline Feely who, with her husband Sean, moved from Dublin seven years ago to Saussignac, a short hop from Bordeaux. That’s where they make highly-regarded organic and biodynamic wines at Chateau Haut-Garrigue. (www.hautgarrigue.com). The event costs €10, and there are special rates on accommodation. Contact Ballymaloe (021-4652531 or colm@ballymaloe.ie) to book or to get more information.

Buy directly from Mary Pawle Wines, Kenmare, Co Kerry (064-6641443) or online at www.marypawlewines.com.
Or buy from stockists she supplies including the following. Clare The Grainey, Scarriff. Cork O’Donovans; Quay Co-Op; Ballymaloe; Fields, Skibbereen; The Olive Branch, Clonakilty; Roaring Water, Schull; Organico, Bantry; Taste, Castletownbere; Manning’s, Ballylickey. Dublin Lilac Wines, Fairview; Liston’s, Camden St. Galway Morton’s; Connemara Hamper, Clifden. Limerick Nature’s Hand. Kerry Mannings, Killarney.

http://www.winefoodbeer.com/

Let’s get fizzical

In last Saturday’s Weekend section of The Irish Examiner (April 21, 2012) I took a look at a recent tasting through some 80 wines at Marks & Spencer.  I mentioned in the column that one of the wines I’d wholeheartedly recommend, Organic Okhre Natur Brut Cava NV (€9.29), comes with a caveat – that the style won’t please everyone – and promised to expand on that here. So here goes.

At blind tastings, many consumers (the majority, I reckon) express a preference for crisp, fruity bubbly uncluttered, shall we say, by a certain yeasty breadiness commonly found in Champagne-style sparkling wines. Caused by the second fermentation in bottle, it’s prized by sommeliers and other wine aficionados who are used to tasting expensive sparklers.

But many of the rest of us find the flavour a bit intrusive. In part, this may be because many drinkers won’t have sensed it in any still wines, and it won’t be particularly pronounced in most good, approachably-priced sparklers. Indeed I believe many people actually misdiagnose it as a fault, linking it to not-entirely-dissimilar musty odours.

So consumers are wrong and must learn to like the bready style, spend more money ideally switch to expensive Champagne.  While the foregoing line is clearly a parody, it is not far from the way some people seem to think.  It is nonsense of course. Who’s in charge? You are, not some buff. Chacun à son goût. I don’t see why one person’s habituation (to bready styles) should trump another person’s (to clearer styles). And anyway, some people who do occasionally taste upmarket, bready, yeasty Champagnes prefer the less breadier styles. Me, for instance.

Arthur Mayne

Mayne's is a new bar in a former chemist's shop

However, in small doses, I do find the effect delicious, offering a contrasting backbeat of grainy breadth to the acidity, adding an engaging and appetising extra dimension to your glass of bubbly. And that is a fair description of what I found in the Okhre Cava at last week’s tasting. I think it’s a terrific sparkling wine by any standards, and great value – but suggest you try one bottle before backing the car up to M&S and filling the boot. By the way, it turns out the branch nearest me (Merchant’s Quay in Cork) didn’t have this particular sparkler in stock on Friday. I expect they’ll have it back in again soon, and will amend this post when I know it’s back.

For now though, over here is a post about Arthur Mayne Pharmacist, a new wine bar in Cork with not one but two twists. And over here are the latest wine and beer tastings and dinners open to all.

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Moveable Feast at Brown Thomas

Searsons, one of Ireland’s old-skool family wine merchants has brilliantly made the transition into the 21st century. They’re hosting a smart wine dinner on Monday April 23 with not one but four chefs at Brown Thomas Dublin. Domini Kemp (The Restaurant at Brown Thomas), Ross Lewis (Chapter One), Paul Flynn (The Tannery) and Graham Neville (The Residence) is the all-star team preparing the five courses, each accompanied by wines from Searsons’ terrific list, presented by the highly entertaining Charles Searson. It kicks off with bubbly and canapés. At €120 per person it’s not cheap, but I reckon it’s really good value for what you’re getting. Book now on moveablefeast@brownthomas.ie.

If you’re involved in events related to beer, wine or cider, please email brief details to me as soon as you have them confirmed.  In general I get all of them onto this blog and /or my drinks columns in the Irish Examiner.  Thank you.

The Loire in Donnybrook

On Wednesday April 25, The Restaurant at Donnybrook Fair at 89 Morehampton Road, Dublin 4 presents a Loire evening in association with Tindal Wine Merchants. Paul-Henry Pelle will present his wines from the Sancerre and Menetou Salon appellations.  Book now (€60 per person / €100 for 2 people) on  01 614 4849 or at http://www.donnybrookfair.ie/therestaurant/winedinners

In-store tastings in Dublin, Carrigaline, Fermoy and Midleton

♦ On Thursday, April 26 from 6.30pm to 8.30pm at Baggot Street Wines (formerly Oddbins at 17 Upper Baggot St, Dublin 4, which was taken over and revived last year by a get-up-and-go team of former staff), Chris Pfeiffer will introduce some of his wines, including a tremendous rich, sweet muscat that I love. It’s free. Just turn up. Baggot Street Wines 17 Upr Baggot St Dublin 4. Phone 01-667-3033.
♦ And on Saturday April 28, Chris will be presenting his wines all day in Karwigs, Carrigaline.

♦ There are in-store tastings of Nugan Estate wines (including the super McLaren Parish Shiraz 2008 which I think is good enough value at its regular price of €17 but which is reduced now to €12) at the following venues.

Friday, April 27 – SuperValu Fermoy from 4pm to 7pm
Saturday April 28 –
SuperValu Midleton from noon to 3pm;
SuperValu Carrigaline from 3.30pm to 6pm.

Rieslings to be cheerful

As of October 2012, I am no longer drinks columnist with the Irish Examiner Weekend. See the home page of this blog for more details. Thank you.

Phew. Been a bit busy recently so had to temporarily suspend the blogging til now.

But the fun and flavour have continued as usual on the food and drink pages in the Irish Examiner Weekend. I might put up further details on some of the stuff  in the column over the last few weeks. But for now there’s just one link – about a remarkable eye-opener of a tasting that I covered on March 10.  I’d urge you to check it out as you might save yourself a bundle on good quality wine.

Speaking of tastings, below are some details of a few public events that may interest you.

+   Rieslings to be cheerful – April 7  +

In today’s column in the Irish Examiner I’m looking forward to a unique tutored tasting. An initiative of Wine Australia, it brings together winemakers from the three most important sources of quality Riesling wines.

The Riesling Revolution
The Grain Store at Ballymaloe
7pm on Thursday May 17, 2012.
Join Carl Ehrhard (Rheingau, Germany)  Tim Adams (Clare Valley, Australia) and Séverine Schlumberger (Alsace, France) for a tutored tasting exploring this great wine varietal.  Book tickets (€25) on res@ballymaloe.ie or 021 4652531. For more information, contact Colm@Ballymaloe.ie or Ireland@wineaustralia.com.

I’m also looking at a handful of terrific accessibly-priced rieslings I’d recommend.

As of October 2012, I am no longer drinks columnist with the Irish Examiner Weekend. See the home page of this blog for more details. Thank you.

You really do need Riesling in your wine repertoire. While we love many big kitchen-sink styles of reds and whites, there is nothing like the rifle-shot pinpoint accuracy of an elegant white, and Riesling is widely regarded as the chief among them. (Although in my view there are other contenders such as pinot blanc and chenin blanc).

Riesling is hardly ever oaked (but I have tasted commendable ones which were) nor blended (and again there are exceptions – sparklers mainly – on our shelves particularly from Chile and Australia). While wine fans should neither fear nor regret the way wines are manipulated in the winery (it’s all about human intervention after all) good riesling really is made on the vine, much of the winemaker’s attention being paid to the degrees of natural ripeness the grapes achieve.

Carl Ehrhard riesling - back labels

The two rieslings by Carl Ehrhard featured in today’s Irish Examiner

This is reflected  in one of the treasures of the wine world, the German tradition which ranks wines first by the ripeness of grapes at harvest, and then by dryness caused by the way it’s fermented.

If you’re seeking wine as we know it, dryish, one of the key words to look out for is Trocken meaning dry (with Feinherb or Halbtrocken meaning off-dry).

The higher QmP standard stipulates one of six ascending order of grape ripeness, and ascending order of rarity, as winemakers can’t depend every year on achieving the conditions for making the latter three. The six, well worth getting familiar with, are as follows.

As of October 2012, I am no longer drinks columnist with the Irish Examiner Weekend. See the home page of this blog for more details. Thank you.

Kabinett means that the wine has been made from fully ripened grapes. Usually fresh and low in alcohol.
Spätlese: made from riper late-harvest grapes. Again, these wines are more intense in flavour and concentration, and are usually but not necessarily sweet. For instance, the back label on the left above, indicates the wine is made with late harvest grapes but crucially, spells out that it’s been fermented “Trocken” or dry.
Auslese: made from very ripe bunches of selected grapes. Makes intense, usually sweet wine.
Beerenauslese: wines made from individually-selected, overripe grapes — and usually infected by noble rot, Botrytis cinerea. One of the effects of this is in drawing water out of the berries, thus concentrating sugars and the flavours. Made only in exceptional years when the weather has favoured ripeness and rot, such wines tend to be rich and very sweet.
Eiswein: What the rot does for Beerenauslese, freezing conditions do for the grapes used in Eiswein — they have to be harvested and pressed while frozen on the vine. A unique process which has been much emulated by winemakers in Canada (and, yes, they do). It tends to produce highly concentrated sweet wines.
Trockenbeerenauslese means that individual overripe grapes have been hand-picked — they will also usually be infected by noble rot.

As of October 2012, I am no longer drinks columnist with the Irish Examiner Weekend. See the home page of this blog for more details. Thank you.

By the way, Germany isn’t unique in having a strong tradition of slightly sweet wines. You might notice New Zealand rieslings on wine shop shelves described on the label as ‘dry riesling’. Why would they specify that when dry’s what we’d expect anyway? Because, perhaps surprisingly, the traditional default setting for aromatic whites in New Zealand is in fact off-dry, and they need to spell out which ones are at the more commonly anticipated level of dryness.

Franciscan Well microbrewery 2012 Easter Beerfest

Beerfest, Cork 

Today and tomorrow, April 7 and 8, the Franciscan Well microbrewery on North Mall in Cork is playing host again to its legendary Easter Beerfest, featuring some of the finest brews being made in this country today.

Galway Food Festival

Galway Food Festival continues until Monday April 9 featuring open-air markets promoting local produce and producers, restaurant trails, cookery demonstrations, food tours to local artisan producers, foraging workshops, tastings, wine workshops, a meet-the-producers forum and more. See www.galwayfoodfestival.com  for more details.

Blindfold tasting dinners – free event

Cork, April 4 / Galway, April 19 / Waterford, April 26

There’s a very special event coming up in Cork, Galway and Waterford over the next few weeks. Jacob’s Creek is inviting 50 guests free of charge to their See Beyond The Label roadshow at pop-up restaurants in atmospheric venues in each of those cities. At each, a highly-regarded chef will be putting together a dinner, each course of which will be accompanied by matching wines — and even better, a fascinating sensory exercise presented by TV3’s wine expert David Whelehan.

Blindfold tastings could help hone your senses….

As well as hints and tips about wine tasting, David will help diners focus properly on their senses, firstly with a simple comparison test in which each diner is presented with a pair of wines — for instance a chardonnay and a sauvignon blanc; or a merlot and a cabernet sauvignon if opting for red — and will try to identify which wine is which.

Later in the evening another dimension will be introduced with a second, more specific, test — not with wines but bottles essences of aromas — when a volunteer from each table will try to identify the various scents. The exercises sound simple, and they are. But we are so used to allowing other factors cloud our senses that being compelled to listen to what your nose and palate says can offer a radically new insight into both what we’re tasting and how our own senses work.

The chefs and venues are as follows. Apr 4: Cork City Gaol (Canice Sharkey, Isaacs). Apr 19: Galway City Museum (JP McManus, Cava & Aniar Restaurant). Apr 26: Greyfriars Gallery, Waterford (Robbie Krawczyk, O’Brien’s Chophouse).

To enter the draw for a reservation at one of these special events, see facebook.com/jacobscreekireland or email jacobscreek@idl.ie (with Jacob’s Creek ‘Wine & Dine Experience’ in the subject line) naming which venue you’d like to attend, your name, date of birth (as drinks will be served) and contact details for you and one guest.

As of October 2012, I am no longer drinks columnist with the Irish Examiner Weekend. See the home page of this blog for more details. Thank you.

Whipping The Herring Out Of Town

Cork, Easter Sunday

“Whipping The Herring…” at the Crawford gallery.

Again this Sunday the butchers’ apprentices of Cork will mark Easter Sunday — and the end of a slack month of Lenten no-meat misery — with music, mirth and wild celebrations, the centrepiece of which involves attaching a herring to a long pole which is then paraded around the city walls affording the town’s urchins an opportunity to flake the bejaysus out of it like some piscine piñata….

Okay this event isn’t actually happening. But it should. It’s a traditional Easter celebration which used to take place in various parts of Ireland.

It’s depicted in this small but wonderful painting, Whipping The Herring Out of Town by Nathanial Grogan (c1760) which is in the collection of the Crawford Art Gallery on Emmet Place in Cork. The painting is featured in the current exhibition, A Question of Attribution: The Arcadian Landscapes of Nathaniel Grogan and John Butts which ends on April 7, 2012.

The picture is so vivid you can almost hear the racket. I love the detail. One lad is drawing back his cudgel to take a swipe at the poor fish. I imagine the child staring at the spectacle is about to burst into tears, terrified by the mad procession bearing down on him. The woman at the lower left who seems to have been upended by a runaway dog (and is that a pig running alongside?) is pure Beryl Cook.

Digression: By the way, the arched building you see in the background is an accurate representation of the city’s south gate, which survives only in the name of South Gate Bridge. The first picture of the bridge on that Cork City Library link is Nat Grogan’s more sober daytime illustration, complete with one of his signature flourishes, a romantic John Hinde-style overhanging tree, on the right hand side. Apart from the river and the bridge, it doesn’t look much like today’s view. To orient yourself in that picture, you’re looking East from the intersection of Proby’s Quay, Crosse’s Green and French’s Quay — with St Fin Barre’s Cathedral behind you, and the Quay Co-Op on the right, further along the river. Yes, I will post a pic.

The Irish tradition depicted by Grogan reminds me of a Spanish custom which still takes place each year at the start of the Easter season. Around 1810, Goya recorded on canvas the Burial Of The Sardine parade in Madrid. The Wikipedia entry here includes a photo of the painting.  Well worth a look.

And for good measure you can find out more about Grogan and his picture of Cork’s whipping the herring tradition here on www.crawfordartgallery.ie. ♦

http://www.corkpastandpresent.ie/mapsimages/corkphotographs/michaelolearyphotos/southgatebridge/

As of October 2012, I am no longer drinks columnist with the Irish Examiner Weekend. See the home page of this blog for more details. Thank you.

Food and drinks events

As of October 2012, I am no longer drinks columnist with the Irish Examiner Weekend. See the home page of this blog for more details. Thank you.

HERE are some delicious food and drinks events you might enjoy, while over here on this post I’m following up on my column in the Irish Examiner about last week’s New Zealand Wine Fair with further Kiwi whites I’d recommend.

█ Feb 10 to 12 — Cask-conditioned beers in Cork

The Franciscan Well pub and brewery is celebrating the revival of a lost tradition with a weekend showcase of cask-conditioned winter beers. Nowadays, the industry standard is for draught beers that are all but inert, pumped by gas into your pint glass.  In contrast, these are ‘live’ beers which undergo fermentation in cask.
You can’t turn back time but, side-by-side with their more obviously commercial and popular bottled or kegged beers,  our best and most forward-looking small breweries  in Ireland and the UK are championing hand-pumped cask beers. This weekend, the Franciscan Well is showcasing 15 of them, all dispensed according to the standards specified by CAMRA. I haven’t seen the line-up of brews and breweries yet but, being a selection of winter beers, you can expect pints from the darker, deeper end of the spectrum.  Think of it as a last hurrah of wintertime as we hurtle towards spring.

♦ The Franciscan Well Brewery & Brew Pub, North Mall, Cork (021-4393434;  www.franciscanwellbrewery.com) is open daily at 3pm, closing at 11.30pm daily except Saturdays (12.30am) and Sundays (11pm).

As of October 2012, I am no longer drinks columnist with the Irish Examiner Weekend. See the home page of this blog for more details. Thank you..

█ Feb 14 — Love and romance in the English Market, Cork 

Valentine’s Night Threshold fundraiser at the Farm Gate in the English Market, Cork.

St Valentine’s night is all about dinner à deux whether at home or, unburdened by kitchen anxiety, in a restaurant. And here’s to more of that.

But many people feel excluded by the whole two-by-two thing. Whether you’re in the tentative connected-but-uncommitted early days, or settled into a well-worn relationship, it can all be a bit much. Let alone the many people single by chance or by choice. Plus, many couples grabbing a rare night out (I’m particularly thinking of parents here) who’d love to dine out together — but in the company of their friends.

Which is where Threshold and the Farm Gate Café come in.

They’re hosting a fundraising dinner and celebration from 7pm on Valentine’s night that ought to appeal to everyone — couples, singles or whatever. The award-winning restaurant will serve up top-class food, drinks (the latter supported by Irish Distillers, whose wine list included the likes of Brancott Estate and Campo Viejo) and entertainment — and all for only €50 a head.

Threshold is a national organisation providing free, confidential advice and advocacy in relation to housing and tenancy. The registered charity also campaigns on the issues, and — as a glance at their site at www.threshold.ie will tell you — is an invaluable source of practical, sensible information

The restaurant is of course normally open only 9am to 5pm during the market’s working day, so it’s a rare opportunity to dine at nighttime in the atmospheric market building. See corkenglishmarket.ie for more about the restaurant and the market. Couples will be accommodated of course but much of the seating will be at shared big tables. It sounds like a lot of fun and, who knows, new romance could bloom on the night!

For tickets, drop into the Farm Gate, email advicecork@threshold.ie or call Threshold on 021-4278848.

█ Feb 14Valentine’s night at On The Pig’s Back Café

On The Pig’s Back, market neighbours of the Farm Gate – are decamping to their Douglas venue for a night of love and – intriguingly – murder. Greenshine (Noel Shine, Mary Greene and Ellie Shine) will present a night of love songs and murder ballads on Tues  Feb 14 from 8pm at On the Pig’s Back Café Deli in St Patrick’s Mills, Douglas, Cork. Booking (€10 from either of the On The Pig’s Back outlets or on 021-4617832) is essential. And a menu of bubbles, wines & chocolates is available too.

As of October 2012, I am no longer drinks columnist with the Irish Examiner Weekend. See the home page of this blog for more details. Thank you.

Feb 17 – Big tasting at ely, Dublin

Try out more than 80 wines in a big open tasting at ely bar & brasserie, IFSC. Tickets are €20 and choose either 6pm or 8pm.

█ Feb 23 — Wine dinner at Hayfield Manor, Cork

The next date in the dairy for Hayfield Manor Wine Society is on Thursday, February 23 with a dinner paired with wines from the Santa Sofia winery in Italy. Executive chef Graeme Campbell and sommelière Sandra Biret-Crowley have matched each of the five courses to five wines. It begins with aperitifs at 7pm, and dinner is served from 7.30pm. The event costs  €79 per person. Book on 021-4845909 or at events@hayfieldmanor.ie.

█ Feb 29 to Mar 2 — Pop-up dinners in three cities

From Vineyards Direct is hosting a series of ‘pop-up ‘ dinners (that is, in locations that aren’t normally restaurants) featuring the wines of the Castello di Potentino vineyards at Monte Amiata near Brunello in Tuscany as follows.
February 29 – Cork City Gaol – 6.30pm to 9pm
March 1 – Limerick City Gallery – 6.30pm to 9pm
March 2 – Dublin, Science Gallery – 6.30pm to 8pm
The latter event is part of the Science Gallery’s Edible exhibit which apparently examines relationships among food, wine, science and nature. Ooh. Interesting. All three events sound attractive especially (to me) the Science Gallery bit. I’ll be looking into this and popping more information up here as I get it.

█ March 5 — Rhone wine tasting and dinner in Cork

On Monday, March 5 from 7.30pm, the Wine Store – aka Simon and Emma Tyrrell – is taking a road trip to Cork’s L’Atitude 51, the new wine café in what used to be The Lobby, as outlined at the top of this page.

There are two parts to the evening. First, Simon will talk guests through six wines (mainly from the Rhône Valley) accompanied by tasty morsels of tapas from L’Atitude’s kitchen.  €15 per person. There will also be the option to stay on for a set menu dinner for just another €15. To book a place for either or both, call L’Atitude 51 on 021 2390219. And see http://thewinestoreireland.wordpress.com/ for more details.   ♦

As of October 2012, I am no longer drinks columnist with the Irish Examiner Weekend. See the home page of this blog for more details. Thank you.

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