Whipping the herring

As of October 2012, I am no longer drinks columnist with the Irish Examiner Weekend. If that’s why you’re here, please see the home page of this blog for more details. Thank you.

ONCE upon a time, the butchers’ apprentices in parts of Ireland would mark Easter Sunday — and the end of a slack month of Lenten no-meat misery — with music, mirth and wild celebrations. Drink may have been taken too. A fiesta always comes after a fast of course, but I imagine there would have been an added cause for celebration for people whose livelihood depended on the consumption of meat. The picture here records the tradition in Cork in the mid-18th century. The centrepiece of the festivities involved attaching a herring to the top of a long pole which was then paraded around the city walls, affording the local urchins (basically me, 250 years ago) an opportunity to flake the bejaysus out of it like some piscine piñata.

“Whipping The Herring…” at the Crawford gallery.

This tiny but delightful painting, Whipping The Herring Out of Town (c1760) is by Nathanial Grogan, and it’s in the collection of the Crawford Art Gallery on Emmet Place in Cork. The picture was featured in the exhibition at the Crawford, A Question of Attribution: The Arcadian Landscapes of Nathaniel Grogan and John Butts which ended on April 7, 2012. To the best of my knowledge, it’s on permanent display in the gallery. Well it’s always there any time I look, on my way around the contemporary exhibitions, or on my way to check in on the Penrose collection. Go take a look.

I warn you, Whipping the Herring… is tiny. Arguably, you’ll see more detail in the excellently-photographed pic on the Crawford’s site and in their catalogue, which you can buy. But then, no matter how slick a recording is, you just can’t beat a live gig. So if you find yourself in Cork, please do go see it.

The picture is so vivid you can almost hear the racket. I love the detail. Walking while playing the fiddle at the head of a parade is no mean feat. One old fella who should know better is drawing back his cudgel to take a good swipe at the fish. I imagine the child with his back to us is about to burst into tears, terrified by the crazy, noisy 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, legs akimbo. The same beasts are being pursued by a man in a natty red coat who seems to be convulsed with mirth and horror at the same time. Think of all of them the next time you see some fella, wearing a traffic cone on his head, cavorting in the Berwick fountain on the Grand Parade at midnight.

All of this contained in a picture smaller than the sleeve of a 10-inch EP.

Despite the energy and chaos, 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 also by Nat Grogan – a much 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, Elizabeth Fort to your right, and George’s Quay and the Quay Co-Op further down the river. To your left is the site of the former Beamish & Crawford brewery which is tipped to be redeveloped as a concert venue.

The spot depicted in the painting is close to two historic sites – the thriving port city of Cork’s Viking era which was trading internationally 1,000 years ago, and which was only discovered during archaeological excavations from 2003 to 2005, and Sir Henry’s nightclub. Yes, I will post a pic from the same spot when I get round to taking it.

The Irish tradition depicted by Grogan reminds me of a Spanish custom which still takes place each year at the start of Lent. 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.

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

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.

Edit: I added a few lines about Whipping The Herring to a post about a wine and beer tasting before Easter this year (2012). The tradition deserves a bit more attention, so I’m re-posting an expanded version above. For this weekend’s post about Elbow Lane Angel Stout, click here https://blakecreedon.wordpress.com/2012/06/21/cheers-for-a-cracking-new-stout/

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. 

Beer and food at the Cornstore

HERE’S an event promising delicious grub, great value — and an eye-opener if you only ever consider wine for the dinner table.
Food & Beer dinner in the Cornstore restaurant, Cornmarket Street, Cork, on Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 7.30pm.
Reservations on 021-4274777 or reservations@cornstorecork.com. €24.95 a head. Also see http://www.thisisbeer.ie.

While wine is my main interest, overlooking good beer and cider as accompaniments to food is frankly nuts. Just like wine, beers grew up alongside the food traditions on these islands and elsewhere and can be  perfectly suited to the dinner table. I’m particularly thinking good ales and stouts, but really there’s a whole world of beer styles that can be perfect with food.  Fermented grape, fermented grain. Your call.

Each of three courses on Wednesday is matched to a selection of the international beers marketed by Heineken Ireland.  Some of the company’s previous food-and-beer promotions were tutored tastings. I’m not sure if that’s the case this time. But the info Heineken did send includes the tasty-looking menu below. To me this looks like a great value night out.

STARTERS

 Duck liver parfait with brioche, Wild mushroom and brown bread dumpling
 Goats cheese crostini with sundried tomato pesto
 Mini white bean and bacon soup
with Paulaner or Zywiec

MAINS

Roast hake on braised leeks and sautéed samphire with a champagne, crab and coral sauce with Heineken or Tiger
Chicken breast with a mushroom duxell, roast swede, scallion mash, savoy cabbage and truffle jus with Zywiec or Coors Light
Slow-roasted pork belly  with roast potatoes, sauerkraut, candied walnuts and a cider reduction with Tiger, Affligem or Zywiec
Braised lamb shank with roast orange sweet potato, celeriac and green beans with
Affligem or Zywiec
Cannelloni of butternut squash with goats cheese, spinach and figs with sun dried tomato pesto, rocket salad with Birra Moretti

DESSERT

White chocolate mousse with raspberry sorbet, flourless chocolate cake and lemon posset, with Paulaner or Affligem 

Finally, In my column in the Irish Examiner today (Saturday January 14, 2012) I’m looking at a fascinating book, The Wine Trials, which may change the way you view the wine world. I’ll be posting more about that book, as well as a guide to blind tasting later today.

It ties in with the approach to wine this blog strives to promote, so you might like to start here with this heap of links for the sceptical wine lover♦ 

Buying wine online

Buying wine online


HERE’s a list of Ireland’s best wine websites and below are some  general guidelines to getting good wine delivered to your door in time for Christmas day. You should of course bear in mind all the usual caveats when shopping at an online wine retailer. The criteria I’d suggest you consider include…

1. The quality and value of the range of wines it sells;
2. Comprehensive information on each wine, including useful notes;
3. Free or reasonably priced delivery;
4. A range of styles sufficiently substantial to cope with different needs or occasions;
5. Ease of use of the site;
6. Fun and/or useful extras such as blogs, links and more information about wine.

There is also one overriding hygiene factor: clear and accurate information on price, delivery, terms and conditions made clear to the shopper before s/he starts the purchasing process. If any of those issues are in question, forget about it.

Specifically, any wine website worth looking at should be…

VERSATILE: Most sites offer two ways to buy: You can choose one of their pre-picked selections, or you can put together your own mixed cases will-nilly.

INFORMATIVE:It’ll list every wine’s full name, vintage and regional designation. It ought to have a little bit of further information about the wine’s producer and the region.

UNAMBIGUOUS: One of the things you should check immediately – that the site has unambiguous information about
1 minimum order
2 delivery charge, if any.*

3 extra costs, if any.
*The first two points can be related, as often delivery is free if you order over a certain value or volume.
The third point is ultra-important. There should be no extra costs, end of story.
*

AUTHORITATIVE: If there are notes about the wines, ask yourself if someone has actually tasted the wine and tried to communicate something of its character. Or is it just vaguely positive-sounding blurb.

UP TO DATE: It’s quite possible that a site promising “sizzling bargains for summer 2007” might be selling top class wines at good prices. But really you’d have more confidence in the ones that have accurate up-to-date information.

I’d be highly sceptical of any site that pops in a cost such as insurance on top of the list price. In particular, watch out for VAT. It is an offence for a retailer to advertise consumer goods without its VAT component.

Yet one site, http://www.throughthegrapevine.ie, (which should not be confused with the estimable http://www.onthegrapevine.ie) promotes itself as supplying individual customers, providing wedding wines etc. However, it does not include VAT in its list prices, that component being added in later in the purchase process. Some people (yes I mean me) get a bit fuzzy about numbers when they go into three figures and I can imagine a less-than-alert wine buyer innocently clicking ‘buy’ without realising his or her wines have gotten a whole lot dearer.
How can this site justify this? Well it also sells business-to-business and as such is entitled to show ex-VAT prices. But by rights they should emulate those flyers from Dell which clearly show both prices for business and private customers.

Through The Grapevine may not be doing anything illegal but really it is a bit cheesy to say the least and you don’t need people like that in your life. Puh.

El Coto Crianza

El Coto Crianza

Oh and apart from all that, the corporate or private shopper may do better elsewhere anyway. Last time I compared, Through The Grapevine listed El Coto De Rioja Crianza 2004/05 as €120 for a 6-bottle case. Add in €25.80  in VAT and the total comes to €145.80, meaning you’re stumping up over €24 every time you brandish your corkscrew. A high-end premium wine then? Break it out for special occasions?

Well hang on, look up another site,  www.karwigwines.ie, and there it is, El Coto Crianza [not to be confused with the Gran Reserva] the same wine for €14.15 a bottle straight up, VAT included. Delivery is free if you buy the right quantity. And even if you’re buying less than that, the €9.50 delivery charge is swallowed up by the 5% case discount  or the 10% discount on orders worth more than €200.

The point is — tame your credulity and shop around. If you’ve any comments or questions, please add a comment below. ♦

AUTHORITATIVE

Tasty food and drinks events

Slow Food is hosting a wild food festival in co Wicklow.

December 2 – Immigrant support groups’ wine tasting

NASC and Cois Tine are getting together to present an evening of delicious wine and food  from 6.30pm on Friday December 2 at Cois Tine, beside St Mary’s Dominican church on Pope’s Quay, Cork.
Michal Lewandowski will present a selection of wines (courtesy of O’Donovan’s off-licences) accompanied by grub from (drool) three fine food specialists in the English Market — On The Pig’s Back, Heaven’s Cake and Iago.

Tickets are €19.10 – a fee that wasn’t picked at random: that’s the weekly allowance asylum-seekers receive.

[] Cois Tine (pronounced kush tinn-eh, it’s an Irish language term meaning ‘by the fireside’ chosen to signify hospitality) is a Christian multicultural organisation working to promote “the integration of people from all communities, cultures and faiths”. It works primarily with asylum-seekers and refugees, particularly those of African origin. See www.coistine.ie for more.
[] Nasc (it’s an Irish word meaning ‘link’) is The Irish Immigrant Support Board. It links immigrants to their rights, and works across a wide variety of fronts including combating racism, promoting the Cork City Integration Strategy through to direct provision of services.  See www.nascireland.org for more.

December 2 & 3 – Curious Wines Christmas Wine Fair, Cork

THE Christmas Wine Fair at Curious Wines on the Kinsale road in Cork takes place from 4pm to 8pm on Friday, and from noon until 6pm on Saturday, with more than 100 wines open for tasting, along with tasty gourmet food. Tickets cost €10, and all proceeds go to Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind. Phone 1800-991844 or click here www.curiouswines.ie for more details.

This is precisely the sort of tasting I keep urging wine fans to check into. Yes, it’s a commercial showcase of one particular retailer’s range. But it’s also the sole opportunity you will get to dive in and sample any or all of this wide range of wines, free of commentary, advertising, and the suggestions of bloggers and columnists. And if you don’t often dip into such tastings, you may find some useful tips in my post suggesting how to get best use out of open wine tastings.

December 6 – Stickies and fortifieds at Hayfield Manor, Cork
December 7Stickies and fortifieds at Ely IFSC, Dublin

THERE’s any number of lesser-visited wine styles I’d urge everyone to check out. Off-dry riesling. Dry riesling. Portuguese wines (all of them).  Loire reds and whites.  Sometimes it feels like a hopeless mission to persuade people to try out dessert wines or port. Understandable really. After all, what more do you want towards the end of a good dinner than more of the same — a good white or red that you’ve been enjoying?

But discover how a dinner can be turned into a banquet — with tiny glasses of cold botrytis semillon as a beautiful foil to hot bitter coffee, or a rich round spicy port  on the couch — and you’ll never look back.

If you’d like some inspiration, there’s an event next week at venues in Dublin and Cork — Ely bar & brasserie, IFSC, and Hayfield Manor Hotel respectively — that you shouldn’t miss. Courtesy of Wine Australia Ireland, they’re hosting a tutored tasting presented by winemaker Chris Pfeiffer whose Rutherglen Muscat has featured in my column a few times. He’ll present a top line-up of Australian stickies and fortifieds, accompanied by nibbles. The tastings in both venues cost €20 per person and begins at 7pm.

For the Cork tasting, book on ireland@wineaustralia.com or 065-7077264.
For the Dublin event, book on wineclub@elywinebar.com or  01-676 8986.
And if you want any further information on either, contact John at the Wine Australia contact details above.

December 8Martin’s Christmas Crackers Tasting
(Note change of date)

Martin Moran MW (who presents movies and booze on Newstalk with Sean Moncrieff) has put together an event that sounds practical and inspirational in equal measure. He’s trawled the shelves of the major supermarkets and put together a shortlist of approximately 25 wines chosen to compliment seasonal foods and parties.
But as Martin explains on his site, there’s more to it than that and if you want it, he can customise your choices and give you advice on hundreds more wines from the supermarkets’ ranges.

It all takes place at Darc Space Gallery, 26 North Great Georges Street, Dublin 1 from 6.30pm to 8.30pm. Tickets cost €10, or €15 for two.

December 8Red Nose portfolio tasting, Clonmel

ON Thursday, December 8, Rudolph the Red Nose Wine Shop Red Nose Wine is hosting a portfolio tasting  from 8pm at Hickey’s Cafe, Westgate, Clonmel.   Tickets are €15, or free if you buy a €50 voucher – a handy money-saving idea. Click on www.rednosewine.com for details.  Last time I checked in, Gary was putting a list of the wines opening on Facebook – and says he’s open to suggestions from customers of further bottles to add to the tasting. Check it out!  ♦

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November 15 – Beer and food in Cork

EACH Tuesday in November, The Cornstore in Cornmarket Street, Cork is playing host to beer and food pairing events matching menu with beers such as Birra Moretti, Paulaner and Tiger, in association with Heineken Ireland. At each event a beer and food expert will be on hand to take you through the tasting of beers from around the world and how they match with the food on a specially designed menu. A three-course set menu with beer tasting is €24.95, it kicks off at 7.30pm and you can find out more on 021-4274777.

November 17 – Cases Wine Warehouse Christmas Wine* Fair

The great big annual wine* fair at Cases Wine Warehouse on the Tuam Road, Galway takes place from 6.30pm to 10pm on Thursday November 17. There will be about 120 wines open for tasting on the night, and there’ll be tasty food provided by Cava restaurant. Other antics include Cases annual blind tasting competition and live music….
*Kudos to Cases for putting good beer centre stage, as they’ve announced the tasting includes a range of delicious beers from Irish artisan beweries including Galway Hooker, O’Hara’s, Dungarvan Brewing and 8 Degrees from Mitchelstown. Tickets, €20, (with all proceeds going to Self Help Africa) from Cases on 091-764 701 or at info@cases.ie.

November 17 to 19 – Simply Wines tastings

SIMPLY WINES is probably best known as an online store but you can shop in person there too, and if you’re in the parish I’d strongly suggest you check out their wine fair. They’re holding it over three days with extended opening hours (until 9pm on both the Thursday and Friday, and until 7pm on the Saturday) to showcase more than 80 wines in their range.

You’ll find Simply Wines at Unit 2, Ballyogan Business Park, Ballyogan Road, D18, just around the corner from The Park retail centre, Carrickmines. There’s more details about the wine tasting opportunity here, and a map and stuff here.

And now for something completely different…

November 19 & 20 – Wild & Slow, Macreddin, Co Wicklow

This is big. The BrookLodge Hotel, Macreddin Village, Co Wicklow, is the HQ for a busy weekend of food inspiration from 11am to 8pm on Saturday and Sunday November 19 and 20. In addition to the food on sale from the stalls, there is a programme of wild-food workshops, tastings, talks and demonstrations around Macreddin presented by Slow Food and sponsored by Fáilte Ireland and Bord Bia.

Harvesting hedgerows – what is available for free, where to look for it, and when it is best harvested.
Photo safari in the National Park – a strenuous hike in and around Wicklow, to stalk and photograph the resident wild deer herd and game birds.
Handling and plucking game – a masterclass with licensed game dealer Mick Healy, including a visit to the Wild Irish Game premises in nearby Glenmalure valley.
Game tasting workshop – Taste pheasant that’s been hung for one, two and three weeks cooked for parallel tasting by Ross Lewis of Chapter One.
Game tasting workshop – Tim Daly from BrookLodge presents a sensoray evalutation of three wild meats, rabbit, hare and venison.
Matching game with wines – Martina Delaney, sommelier at l’Ecrivain  will host a workshop pairing gamey wines with these traditional meats.
Wild fish workshop – Mick Murphy, licensed traditional snap-net fisherman explores issues of seasonality and sustainability and fisheries management.
♦ Herbalists Freda Wolfe & Clodagh Mulvey on foraging from among more than 400 plant species used in mainstream medicine and alternative therapies alike.
♦ The gamekeeper’s year – Keith Wooldridge, the retired head gamekeeper of Ballinacor Estate will talk you through the year from preparations in spring through to winter shoots, with an emphasis on habitat and environmental management.

For more, see
http://wildandslow.com
www.slowfoodireland.com

November 24Cork Wine Fair

THE 11th Cork Wine Fair, organised by O’Donvans Off-Licences, takes place on Thursday November 24 from 4pm to 9pm at the Clarion Hotel, Lapps Quay, Cork. About 400 wines as well as beers and spirits will be open for tasting, and there will also be samples of gourmet foods. Two masterclasses, led by two of Ireland’s leading experts, will take place in a side room during the show, featuring the wines of Australia (John McDonnell) and New Zealand (Jean Smullen). All proceeds from tickets (€10) go to the Simon Community in Cork. Booking/enquiries at any of O’Donovan’s 16 stores in Cork city and county or phone 021 4296060.

Heineken Ireland is bringing beer and food tasting to top restaurants in Dublin and Cork. Ely Bar and Brasserie, Siam Thai and Roly’s Bistro in Dublin and The Cornstore in Cork will give food lovers and beer fans the chance to come together and sample the natural pairing of beer and food with beers from around the world like Birra Moretti, Paulaner and Tiger. At each event a beer and food expert will be on hand to take you through the tasting of beers from around the world and how they match with the food on a specially designed menu. So whether you’re a beer lover or have never even thought of drinking a beer with your food, there is a beer for you that will add a new dimension to the food you know and love.

Food and drink events

These are in the past tense but I’ve left them up here as a sort-of diary. For the latest events, see here.

The wine and beer events here range from dinners showcasing particular wine ranges, through to massive open-ended freestyle wine tastings,  and a beerfest next weekend. Any of them would be well worth getting to, and a few are in my view particularly good value for fans of fun and flavour.  To add an event, email me – firstname. lastname @examiner.ie – using my name of course. You might also like to take a look here at my guide to making best use of open wine tastings.

October 22 and 34 Halloween apple picking, Co Tipp

A small deviation from the wine, beer and cider — but something that is closely connected: The Apple Farm is offering a great way for families to celebrate Halloween with pick-your-own days this weekend. From 2pm to 5pm on Saturday and Sunday, they’re opening the youngest orchard meaning it’s the smallest and easiest to-reach trees (and a memorable hands-on reminder of where our food comes from). There’s no cover charge — you only pay for what you pick. €1 per kg with a minimum of 10kg. See their website here for more details.

October 24 Portuguese Wine Fair, Dublin

One of the highlights on the calendar is the Portuguese Wine Fair which this year takes place at the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, Dublin 8 on Monday October 24 from 6.30pm to 8.30pm. Phone 086-8168468 or email jean@jeansmullen.com for details.

October 24 Dylan supper club: wine through the ages

The latest in the current series of cleverly-themed wine and food event at the Dylan Hotel (Eastmoreland Place, Dublin 4) is a vertical comparison of vintages from what they say are ‘renowned vineyards’, paired with a four-course supper. €55 per person. From 7pm. Email: reservations@dylan.ie or phone 01 660 3000.

October 26 – Port and chocolate tasting, Port House, Dublin

Graham’s Port and Lily O’Briens chocolates are collaborating to present a port and chocolate masterclass with Henry Shutton, winemaker with Graham’s Port in The Port House, Dublin 2 on Wednesday October 26 at 5.30pm. Out-of-towners – make sure you don’t confuse the venue with the equally splendid Porterhouse in Temple Bar. The Port House tapas bar is at 64a South William Street, Dublin 2, near the Powerscourt Townhouse. Phone 01 6770298 or see www.porthouse.ie. Speaking of porter…

█ October 28 to 30 – Octoberfest Cork 

WHILE the Franciscan Well microbrewery’s big Easter event is all about indigenous beers, its autumn/winter counterpart is a showcase of international craft beers – with one exception: the brewery’s brand-new limited edition Shandon Century Extra Stout. Whatever way this beer turned out, its launch is enormously significant as it’s the first one the Franciscan Well has ever put in bottle. This is an enormously significant move, as it means the brewery might now begin to address the many many people who can’t (or don’t want to) savour its wares in pubs. Hurrah! 

I haven’t tasted it yet and look forward to doing so. I’ll keep you updated in my beer and cider columnlet in the food pages of the Irish Examiner Weekend.  [Update – Saturday October 22] I got to try it since this post went up, and it features as my Beer Of The Week in the Irish Examiner today. That ferocious full-throated alcohol level is certainly at the upper end of the scale, and your palate will feel it. Crucially though, the whole is really well balanced:  Pouring with a short-lived foamy head, the stout is dense and viscous with (surprisingly) quite a delicately fragrant, hoppy liquorice aroma. Would I stand in a pub with a pint of Shandon Century Extra Stout? No I would not. But I certainly would consider sharing it at the dinner table replacing, say, a sinewey shiraz to accompany a rich roast or a few steaks.

As well as the Franciscan Well’s own pub on Cork’s North Mall, you will find Shandon Century Extra Stout at the Bull & Castle in Dublin. Retailing at just under a tenner, the only off-trade shop they’ve told me about so far is Bradley’s off-licence just a stone’s throw from the brewery on North Main Street, Cork. There’s a note about Bradley’s and its beers here.

Beerfest is back at the Franciscan Well in Cork at this weekend.

Anyway, back to the festival: On the Saturday between 3pm and 6pm, the Franciscan Well, in conjunction with Bord Bia, will present a cheese and beer tasting, pairing local artisan cheeses with various beers, ales and stouts.

You’ll find the brewpub on the North Mall in Cork city. Visit  them online here or phone the bar on 021-4393434 or the brewery on 021-4210130.

November 2 Wine dinner at Star Anise, Cork

ON Wednesday November 2, Tim and Judy Finn from the Neudorf Winery in Nelson, New Zealand, present a wine dinner at Star Anise restaurant, Bridge Street, Cork.

I haven’t yet encountered the wines from that estate (something I hope to remedy soon) but four factors suggest this will be a particularly promising and great value wine dinner.

(1) While price certainly isn’t everything, you may take the €20+ per bottle retail price of these wines as some indication of the level they play at. (2) They are imported by the multi-award-winning James Nicholson Wines www.jnwine.com whose range I regard as one of the best on this island. (3) The venue: Even with its various awards and highly reviews, Star Anise is one of the most underrated restaurants I’ve ever visited — exquisitely-prepared food served with cheery informality.  (4) Value: After a glass of James Nicholson bubbly you’ll be dining from a menu created to match some of the Neudorf wines, all for only €65 a head.
To book, call Star Anise on 021-4551635.

November 17 – Cases Wine Warehouse Christmas Wine* Fair

The great big annual wine* fair at Cases Wine Warehouse on the Tuam Road, Galway takes place from 6.30pm to 10pm on Thursday November 17. There will be about 120 wines open for tasting on the night, and there’ll be tasty food provided by Cava restaurant. Other antics include Cases annual blind tasting competition and live music….
*Kudos to Cases for putting good beer centre stage, as they’ve announced the tasting includes a range of delicious beers from Irish artisan beweries including Galway Hooker, O’Hara’s, Dungarvan Brewing and 8 Degrees from Mitchelstown. Tickets, €20, (with all proceeds going to Self Help Africa) from Cases on 091-764 701 or at info@cases.ie.

November 24Cork Wine Fair

THE 11th Cork Wine Fair, organised by O’Donvans Off-Licences, takes place on Thursday November 24 from 4pm to 9pm at the Clarion Hotel, Lapps Quay, Cork. About 400 wines as well as beers and spirits will be open for tasting, and there will also be samples of gourmet foods. Two masterclasses, led by two of Ireland’s leading experts, will take place in a side room during the show, featuring the wines of Australia (John McDonnell) and New Zealand (Jean Smullen). All proceeds from tickets (€10) go to the Simon Community in Cork. Booking/enquiries at any of O’Donovan’s 16 stores in Cork city and county or phone 021 4296060.  ♦

Unmissable Spanish wine tasting in Cork

THERE are lots of public tastings, festivals and dinners coming up. Many of them are the best value night out you’ll have in ages so if you’ve never (or rarely) been to open-ended wine tastings I’d suggest you should do, and you may first want to take a look at this guide to how wine tastings work.

But first let’s start with one of the undisputed highlights (the info for which arrived too late for iniclusion in today’s column). This year, wine fans in the deep south have even less of an excuse to miss one of Ireland’s best annual wine tastings.

Wines From Spain 2010 in the Shelbourne. This year's tasting takes place in Cork on September 15. Pic: http://www.sherwood.ie.

The Wines From Spain open public tasting, organised by the Spanish Embassy, has upped sticks and moved to Cork. Named Wines From Spain: Changing Ways, the tasting takes place at the Imperial Hotel, South Mall, Cork, from 5.30pm to 7pm on Thursday, September 15, 2011, and anyone over 18 is welcome. More than 180 wines will be open to taste, running the gamut of the fabulous modern Spanish wine tradition, and 17 Irish importing companies will be pouring everything from good everyday fare to premium wines. Tickets, €20, are available from Sarah Currey on 01-2405387 or by email to scurrey@harmonia.ie.

If one wine fan’s affection for Spain, Spanish wines, and this annual tasting might whet your appetite, here’s my post about last year’s event.

The tasting format (laid out in great detail here) is the simplest: You’re provided with a glass and are encouraged to wander from table to table. Some participants will pick a theme and stick to it – for instance those looking for fish-friendly whites. Others will  skim through the entire range starting with the whites, moving on to reds, taking in the fabulous Spanish Cava sparkling wines along the way and, if you’re so inclined, Spain’s unique oxidised Jerez-Xeres-Sherry tradition.

Either way, you could think of it as a sort of wine speed-dating.

As always, the event is in two parts — an invitation-only trade fair earlier on the same day aimed primarily at restaurateurs and retailers, and the public expo event aimed at consumers as detailed above. (The Spanish embassy will be repeating the trade fair section, expanded to include wineries seeking representation on the Irish market, in Dublin in October).

I presume the embassy chose to switch to Cork this year simply because so much of the market is down south in Munster. But, perhaps surprisingly, quite a few of the participants, all big players in Spanish wines in Ireland, are also Munster-based. These include Approach Trade (Tipperary) Barry & Fitzwilliam; Bubble Brothers; Classic Drinks and Karwig’s (Cork) and Mary Pawle (Kerry).

The surprise announcement that the public Spanish tasting has moved to Cork marks the beginning of a busy autumn season of wine tastings and dinners all over the country. While such events may sound like an extravagant indulgence, many of them in fact provide consumer-friendly value-for-money opportunities for food and drink fans to test and taste what’s out there. Check out my column in the Irish Examiner Weekend this Saturday for further tastings and dinners this autumn.  ♦

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