Irish online wine shops

There’s an updated introduction to Irish online wine retailers below, while elsewhere on this blog is a suggested checklist for choosing an online shop, and I hope both are of some practical use to you. (There was one glaring omission in this list which I’ve rectified this morning. If you see any other amendments you think I ought to make please let me know by leaving a comment below).

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.

A well-chosen line-up of rosés at O’Brien’s most recent tasting. Click it to see my review in the Irish Examiner.

While I was revising the list of shops, the thought struck me that, like the dog in the night-time, many wine business sites are interesting for what they don’t do. I’m thinking particularly of stores which don’t trade online at all.

While obviously not of direct relevance to someone who wants to shop online right now, the thought is germane to people interested in wine, which is why I’m starting with that footnote.

Many retailers, large and small, are missing a trick. I wish those trading only from physical shops would put their wines on the net in the same way as online shops do. Even though we customers obviously wouldn’t have the opportunity to click through to a till, I think the shops in question would benefit greatly from proffering that virtual shelf online. And we wine fans (and perhaps wine itself) would benefit setting such information free.

Certainly, an online placeholder might be of some use to a retailer – a rudimentary site with a store finder, opening hours, contact details etc. But by not showing the actual wines, such stores are passing up on the unique opportunity presented by the internet. Browsing a wine business’ site which doesn’t have a proper database of the wines it sells is like walking into a carefully planned shop designed by architects, laid out by professional display artists and  illumined by lighting engineers – but which doesn’t show what’s on sale nor how much it costs.

I’m thinking in particular of big retailers such as Dunnes, and franchises such as SuperValu and Carry-Out.

Often the nearest you’ll get to wine range is a PDF of the current ‘special offer’ leaflet – usually headlined by big brands (led by spirits and slabs of lager) thereby sidelining the store’s own exclusive wines. At best you’ll see only a handful of wines, rarely kept up to date and often without key specific information such as vintage. I’ve encountered cracking wines from all and would love to be able to point to a link on their sites. And so would other shoppers. Look around at social media where people are sharing hints and tips: Even a shop’s biggest fan really couldn’t be arsed putting up a link directing their friends to a site which essentially says ‘buy from us, we’re great’.   No, we want the specifics. What customers are saying online is “Got a great sauv blanc from WineCo – here’s a link with the details”.

And then there’s the search engines. Shops looking at search engine traffic will quickly discover that, in general, we aren’t searching for what the wine shop thinks of itself

award-winning red… delicious wine… small, family-owned winery… serving Ireland since 1922… you’ve tried the rest now buy the best… enjoy a drink in relaxing surroundings…

We’re far more likely to be looking for terms specific to us, such as

chenin blanc… cava… Bordeaux available in Mullingar… Chateau Wotsit 2011 half bottle…

We’re not landing on the vague sites. Or if we are, we’ll find little or nothing about what the store is selling right now.

For all the foregoing reasons, I hope wine shops, wholesalers and shoppers alike take a look at the first site here – even though it doesn’t actually sell wine.

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.

www.searsons.com

Searsons has been in the wine trade for about 90 years, having bought into the Davy family’s grocery business which had been operating around Dublin for most of the 19th century. They remain one of Ireland’s best importers and wholesalers, equally adept at posh high-end wines for special occasions and good solid wines at relatively approachable entry-level prices.

Unlike the wine stores listed below, the site is not a click-and-buy, but rather a shop window linking to retailers that Searson’s supplies. The site used to be the least sophisticated wine site in the world ever – merely a series of PDFs and a phone number. But it’s now a proper site allowing you browse wines and view a map showing stockists nationwide. Crucially, it also has the full name, rank and serial number (well ok, full name, appellation and vintage) of every wine. As it doesn’t sell directly, the site can’t of course tell you what the retail price is: that contract is between you and the retailer. But it does helpfully give an rrp (recommended retail price) for each. It workd as an excellent support for the independent retailers the company supplies, and a wine-finder resource for us.

There’s no such restriction on big non-online retailers, which could easily offer all the specifics and, for instance, update special offer and multiple-buy info with a few keystrokes. (Indeed there’s no reason such publicly available info couldn’t be integrated with their stock control system).

And franchises could just as easily emulate the wholesaler Searsons. Some have gone part of the way. For instance, the Carry-Out site has an excellent, well-organised interactive map of all its 50-plus franchises with full contact details. Yes there’s a special offer leaflet as described above. But no indication of its basic range.

That’s a pity. There’s nothing preventing all the franchisees agreeing to stock say a dozen or twenty basics, each in an agreed, tight price band. Suddenly anyone – bloggers, columnists, Facebookers, tweeters, TV radio pundits – could feel confident in saying ‘cracking pinot blanc in Carry-Out for €x’ knowing that it actually means something to anyone, anywhere in the country.

Now on to the online wine retailers proper, starting with the top six that I would choose first if I were buying wine for delivery right now.

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.

Irish online wine shops

Curious Wines website

www.curiouswines.ie

Curious Wines is an exemplary, comprehensively searchable and informative website.

Between their participation in big tastings, and snapshot samplings of parts of their range (most recently a handful of discounted wines from Bordeaux and Spain) I’ve found the store offers many terrific, good value wines.

Nicholson's

http://www.jnwine.com

Stunning list operating out of James Nicholson’s award-winning shop in Crossgar, Co Down. You’ll also find some of these at Parsons’ Wine Warehouse, Carrigaline Co Cork as well as in selected restaurants such as Star Anise on Bridge Street in Cork. In brief, Nicholsons sell a disproportionately large number of my favourite wines on the Irish market. As far as I’m aware it has another distinction as the only site that allows you to buy and deliver anywhere in Ireland or the UK — I’ve found it a godsend for sending gifts to England. Finally, make sure you select the right jurisdiction in the “Delivery Location” tab on the opening page so you see the wines priced in the right currency.

www.obrienswine.ie

The growing off-licence chain (with stores all over Leinster plus one-off outposts in Galway, Limerick and now also in Douglas, Cork) has a winning wine selection, and is also a great one-stop shop, as it also stocks a wide range of good beers and ciders too. Their most recent tasting  confirmed again its expertise with an imaginative well-chosen range including some cracking good value.

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.

www.wineonline.ie

Excellent site featuring hundreds of wines from everyday sippers to special interest bottles.

www.winesdirect.ie

One of the first wine retailers online (now in its 20th year) Paddy Keogh’s site is excellent in terms of functionality and its wine-list. Check out Sticks Chardonnay, Viognier Yarra Valley 2006, €12.90 or rich ripe spicy Chateau Haut Rian Cuvée Prestige Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux 2005, €13.70.

www.simplywines.ie

Ian Dornan’s smashing list is very well worth returning to for its frequently top-class wines – backed up by a money-back guarantee.

++++

www.bubblebrothers.com

Began exclusively with Champagne, hence the name, but now sells a wide range of classic wines. Also has a drive-in warehouse at Marina Commercial Park, Cork as well as its original store in the English Market in the city centre.

www.karwigwines.ie

Award-winning wine list also sold from their store at Carrigaline, Co Cork. Smashing affordable wines from all over but I am particuarly fond of several of Joe’s wines from Italy, Germany and Portugal.

www.lecaveau.ie

Extensive list also available at its store in Kilkenny.

www.marypawlewines.com

Ireland’s longest-established importer of organic wines. I’m agnostic on the whole organic thing but believe that winegrowers and winemakers even aiming for organic certification  by definition lavish TLC on their plants which is where it all begins. Mary makes no specific health or even quality claims for wines made from organically-grown grapes – but rightly emphasises that she’s looking for good, carefully-made wine and there are several winners in her list.

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.

www.mccabeswines.ie

Excellent online presence of the shops in Blackrock and Foxrock.

www.mitchellandson.com

One of Ireland’s most informative and interesting sites and a premium range of wines from the 200-year-old upmarket Dublin wine merchant.

www.onthegrapevine.ie

Long list touching the most important bases with some brilliant minority interest specials.

Bordeaux, try rich ripe Chateau Rauzan-Despagne Bordeaux Reserve 2006, €15.50.

www.FromVineyardsDirect.ie

The newish Irish outpost of a British online store. Highlights include a cracking value expressive plump tropical chardonnay from Burgundy, Saint-Véran Merloix Bourgogne Blanc 2007, €12.45, and crisp white Rocca di Tufo Orvieto Classico 2007, €11.45.

www.superquinn.ie

Extensive range. Delivers only in the Dublin area.

www.terroirs.ie

Spin-off from the eponymous gourmet shop in Donnybrook, Dublin.

the wine store

www.thewinestore.ie

The retail wing of importer Tyrrell & Co is a multiple award-winning site focusing on wines from France, Spain and Italy and, in particular, the Rhône valley.

Finally, it’d be pretty understandable if you skipped the long footnote that I opened with. But it is worth thinking about if you get a chance. Information belongs to all of us, rather than being in the gift of some presumed elite. As Tim Berners-Lee tweeted during the recent inspirational Olympics opening ceremony, ‘this is for everyone’.  ♦

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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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/

A carrot for Rudolph, a bottle for Santy

Click to browse 27 of Ireland's craft beers

WHAT are you leaving out for Santy? The kettle plus a teabag is a good option, as is a warming drop of port. But there’s never been a better time to choose a slice of cake and a bottle of good beer for the great man’s brief pit-stop. A growing number of bottle shops are stocking a wide variety of good Irish stouts and ales — and if you look harder you’ll find a handful of excellent, rich, limited edition winter warmers which seem particularly apt for this time of year. I detail two of them below.

I’d add to that list an all-year-round brew, the terrific savoury Porterhouse Oyster Stout (33ml / ABV 5.2% / around €1.90) which I think is perfect for when you want just a single bottle. Stockists include Drinkstore.ie online or in their store in Stoneybatter, Deveney’s of Dundrum, and Celtic Whiskey ShopHere’s a mouthwatering glimpse of Irish beers available to buy online at Drinkstore.

A hamper of Eight Degrees beer and glasses at Bradley's

Some stores are putting together ready-made hampers and some, including Deveney’s of Dundrum and my nearest beer-a-rama, Bradley’s on North Main Street in Cork, can deliver them too. Each stocks an enormous range of beers from hereabouts. If you’ve time, why not drop in and put together a mixed case yourself? You could pick one theme to explore – for instance all WISE pale ales. Or stouts. One tip though: include at least two of each. It’s always far more interesting if you’re able to revisit one that took your fancy, or pass on the second bottle to someone you think might appreciate it.
Here are two winter beers I’d recommend (These are revised versions of my beer-of-the-week reviews originally published in the Irish Examiner Weekend).

Eight Degrees Brewing
A Winter’s Ale

7.5% ABV / 330ml / about €2.50
eightdegrees.ie

In this assuredly rich and warming seasonal brew, the  Mitchelstown-based brewers have lifted a rich, earthy ale with orange, cloves and spiky star anise from Green Saffron.

Eight Degrees A Winter's Ale

Eight Degrees' A Winter's Ale

Eight Degrees off-licence stockists

Cork Bradleys Off License, North Main Street, Cork
Number 21, Patricks Hill, Cork
Reidys Supervalu, Mitchelstown, Co Cork
Centra, Mitchelstown, Co Cork
Costcutter, Amber Garage, Fermoy, Co Cork
Brookes Supervalu, Youghal, Co Cork
Donegal Dicey Reillys Bar & Off licence, Ballyshannon, Donegal
Dublin OBriens off-licences
Celtic Whisky Shop, 27/28 Dawson Street, D2
Deveneys Dundrum, 31 Main Street, Dundrum, D14
Deveneys Rathmines, 16 Upper Rathmines, D6
D Six Off licence, 163 Harold’s Cross Road, D6
Drinkstore.ie, 87 Manor St, D7
Martins Offlicence, 11 Marino Mart, Fairview, D3
McHughs Offlicence, 57 Kilbarrack Rd, D5
McHughs Offlicence, 25e Malahide Rd, Dublin
Mortons, 15-17 Dunville St, Ranelagh, D6
Next Door, 23-25 Sundrive Road, Kimmage, D12
Next Door, Old Swords Road, Santry , D9
Next Door, 294/298 Harolds Cross Road, D6
Redmonds of Ranelagh, 25 Ranelagh, D6
Galway Cases Wine Warehouse, Tuam Rd
McCambridges of Galway, Shop St
Laois Egans Offlicence, Peppers Court, Portlaoise
Limerick Desmonds Next Door, Raheen, Limerick
Waterford Number Five Off license, 5 Tyrone Rd, Lismore Park, Waterford City
Ardkeen Quality Food Store, Dunmore Road, Waterford
Wicklow Hollands Fine Wines, 78/ 80 Main Street, Bray, Co. Wicklow.

Dungarvan Brewing Company
Coffee and Oatmeal Stout 2011

4.5% ABV / 500ml / €2.99
dungarvanbrewingcompany.com

I’m hardly the only beer fan to gingerly sniff at beers with added extras, as I’ve encountered some pretty OTT numbers dominated, rather than supported by, flavours such as vanilla. But in this one, the natural savoury flavour palette of stout is augmented with a lick of coffee, and its texture boosted by the addition of creamy oats. Both additions are subtle and assured, and the whole effect is a gorgeous, rich middleweight stout.

Dungarvan Coffee and Oatmeal Stout

Dungarvan Coffee and Oatmeal Stout

Dungarvan Brewing Company off-licence stockists


Cork
Bradley’s Off Licence
McGovern’s Ballyvolane
Abbott Alehouse
Barry’s Off Licence Midleton
Dublin
Redmond’s of Ranelagh
Drinkstore, Stoneybatter
Deveney’s Dundrum
McHugh’s Malahide Road and Kilbarrack
Sweeney’s Glasnevin
Baggot St Wines
Martins of Fairview
Dungarvan Tommy Power’s
Twomey’s Eurospar
Limerick
Desmond’s of Limerick
Waterford
World Wide Wines
Wicklow
Hollands of Bray.  ♦

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

Seafood, wine — and a cracking new beer

Howling Gale Ale

Howling Gale Ale

THIS week in the Irish Examiner Weekend I’m looking at food and wine matching, plus a smashing new beer brewed in Mitchelstown Co Cork. There’s more about Howling Gale Ale and Eight Degrees Brewing’s growing list of stockists below. First though, the food and wine…

PAIRING wine and food is like sex — both cause a heap of unnecessary anxiety, but with a bit of empathy and a light-hearted attitude they can bring untold pleasure and fun. I’m taking a look at it (wine matching that is, not sex) in today’s Weekend section of the Irish Examiner and you also can see it online here. For rhetorical purposes I’ve started by dismissing two extremes – the hopelessly general idea that a wine is “great with pasta” at one end; at the other, those terrifyingly specific lists you’ll see suggesting you simply must get a Domaine De Wotsit when shark toasties are on the menu.

I am suggesting some wines – five whites and one red – to go with some very broad types of seafood dishes, but I hope readers will regard these as inspiration rather than prescriptions.

It’s most helpful to view wine as an ingredient, working with the others on your plate. The wine will bring its own payload of contrasting and complementary elements to the other components via a heap of fruit flavours, but also through the key components of acidity, texture, sweetness and, in reds only, tannin.

One great lazy tip when matching wine to food: If the recipe is more or less ‘traditional’, look to its homeplace for inspiration. The most blindingly obvious of these has to be Boeuf bourgignon with pinot. So it is with seafood which is the topic I’m looking at today: you won’t go far wrong by trawling (sorry) the seafaring traditions along Europe’s Atlantic seaboard. Sailing from north to south, the highlights would include…

Bordeaux blanc, surely the most versatile white wine for seafood
♦ the shamefully overlooked delights of soft Muscadet de Sėvre et Maine sur lie,
♦ Fashionable and therefore saucily-priced Albariño from Galicia and its counterpart,
Alvarinho from Portugal which is sadly under-represented on our shelves
♦ Portugal’s other great white, modestly-priced, simple (and generally low alcohol) Vinho Verde branco

There are further delights when you plunge into the Med – such as the shamefully overlooked fish-friendly wine from the Coteaux de Languedoc, Picpoul de Pinet. Bubble Brothers have a cracking one for €12.

Needless to say these wine styles have been emulated with great success in the new world. For instance, by Bordeaux, I really mean sauvignon blanc & semillon blend wherever it is made (and, by red Bordeaux, cabernet sauvignon & merlot).

Finally, a word about red wines. The “red with meat, white with fish” isn’t the worst rule of thumb: Tannin (found only in reds) is certainly a friend to red meat. But some of the lightest reds can go beautifully with seafood dishes — especially the more robust tomatoey recipes, and in today’s column I’m suggesting a Tarrango made by Brown Brothers. You’ll often see pinot noir (particularly Bourgogne) suggested, as well as its southerly cousin, Beaujolais. This might be a helpful suggestion but remember it’s based on a somewhat out-of-date presumption: the breadth, alcoholic strength and tannicity of red wines from these regions has edged up in recent decades. But as I suggest in my column, please do experiment and enjoy.  ♦

ALSO this week in the Irish Examiner Weekend I’m suggesting Eight Degrees Howling Gale Ale as beer of the week. I’d certainly enjoyed the draught version at its launch during the Franciscan Well‘s beer fest at Easter. But my focus is exclusively on take-home beer and wine, so bottle is where it’s at. And Howling Gale is certainly there.

This isn’t just a promising first attempt – it’s a highly accomplished and beautifully-weighted ale. I’d certainly enjoy a bottle myself, and would expect dedicated beer fans to do likewise. But the singular achievement of this authentic beer is that it’s so simpatico: I’d be very confident that people more accustomed to mass-market beers would enjoy it too. See the brewery’s website at www.eightdegrees.ie for more.

Eight Degrees Howling Gale Ale is available online at www.Drinkstore.ie and in the stockists below. All of them may sell the beer to take home, but the ones in bold certainly do.

Cork

city & surrounding areas
Abbot Ale House, 17 Devonshire St, Cork

Bierhaus Cork, Popes Quay, Cork
Blairs Inn, Cloghroe, Blarney, Cork
Bradleys Off Licence, North Main Street, Cork
Fenns Quay, 5 Sheares Street, Cork
Franciscan Well, 14 North Mall, Cork
county
Costcutter, Amber Garage, Fermoy, Co Cork

Cronins Pub, Crosshaven, Co Cork
Springfort Hall Hotel, Mallow, Cork
Ballyvolane House, Castlelyons, Co Cork
Costelloes Malthouse, Clonakilty, Co Cork
The Clonakilty Hotel, Clonakilty, Co Cork
Fields Supervalu, Skibereen, Co Cork
West Cork Hotel, Skibereen, Co Cork
The Good Things Cafe, Durrus, Co Cork
Glandore Inn, Glandore, Co Cork

Dublin

central
Against the Grain, 11 Wexford Street, D2
Bull and Castle, Lord Edward Street, Christchurch, D2
Crackbird, 34 South William St, D2
Deveney’s Dundrum, 31 Main Street, Dundrum, D14 
The Village Bar, 26 Wexford St, D2
north

L Mulligan Grocer, 18 Stoneybatter, D7
McHughs Off-licence, 57 Kilbarrack Rd, D5
McHughs Off-licence, 25e Malahide Rd, D5
http://www.Drinkstore.ie, 87 Manor St, D7
south
D-Six Off-licence, 163 Harold’s Cross Road, D6
Redmond’s of Ranelagh, 25 Ranelagh, D6
Next Door, 23-25 Sundrive Road, Kimmage, D12
Claremont Railway Union Lawn Tennis Club, Park Avenue, Sandymount, D4

Galway

Cases Wine Warehouse, Tuam Rd, Galway

Waterford

Number Five Off-licence, Tyrone Rd, Lismore Park, Waterford
O’Brien Chop house, Lismore, Waterford

Wicklow

Hollands Fine Wines, 78 – 80 Main Street, Bray

Liquid engineering

THE only thing that should really matter to wine fans is the quality and value of the wine in the glass. But I’m swerving a little off-piste in my column this week to look at one aspect of the bigger picture — closure (it’s in today’s snazzy new-look Irish Examiner Weekend or click here to see it online). Specifically, I’m looking at the Zork which joins the screwcap and the plastic corq as the latest alternative closure to the traditional cork.

Zork diagram

The inspiration for this focus is the first wine bottled under Zork that’s widely available in Ireland. Namely, Ocean’s Edge Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc (at an introductory price of €9.99  at Tesco). It’s a cracking party fizz, a simple, light bubbly with saucy lemony  acidity. That price is remarkably low, given the €4+ excise duty on  all bubbly. However it’s important to point out that Ocean’s Edge isn’t like the sparkling  wines that I’d generally recommend here: Instead of the classic secondary bottle fermentation used in Cavas and Champagnes and adopted more recently by serious winemakers worldwide, this one is simply carbonated. Like running your vin blanc through the SodaStream.

I have mixed feelings about the Zork establishing its bridgehead in Ireland on this particular wine, because I think it may inadvertently cause drinkers to associate that closure with mere cheapness. Because in fact the Zork may spell a new beginning. For the first time, here’s a reliable synthetic closure that can be used for high-pressure sparkling wines. (Unlike some frizzantes and proseccos which can be bottled under regular stoppers, the dissolved CO2 in an unopened bottle of ‘proper’ bubbly amounts to several atmospheres of pressure, hence the cork and wire cage assembly we’re used to, and it’s  why you won’t see screwcaps  on bubbly).
The Zork is quite an ingenious little device, and is the only wine stopper I’ve encountered that seals the bottle both inside and outside the neck. (In the argot of fitters and engineers, these fittings are ‘male’ and ‘female’ respectively, making the Zork the first hermaphrodite wine stopper).

As Jennifer Aniston might say, here comes the science bit. You start by tearing off the tamper-proof spiral strip. Below that lies the two-part business end of the Zork: the visible part which covers the top of the neck, and a pop-up button in the centre which seals the bottle from the inside. It reminds me of the connector fittings you’ll find on garden hose systems such as the Hozelock.
The Zork is suitable for still wines of course, and the stellar d’Arenberg is among the wineries to try it out on theirs. But it’s got two unique advantages when it comes to sparkling wines. First, unlike any synthetic closure, it can cope with the immense pressures in a sparkling  wine. And better again, you can reseal the bottle at the pop of a button, and the fizz will be sustained for when you return to the bottle for further study on the morrow — that’s something you can’t do with any other closure, traditional or synthetic. ♦

Blake’s Festive Fifty

THIS blog and my column in the Irish Examiner can never provide what they set out to inspire — namely, the pleasure of a glass of fine wine in good company.

So I was delighted to accept an opportunity offered to me by John McDonnell of Wine Australia Ireland earlier this summer.  They’ve given me free rein to pick a few dozen of my favourite wines from Australia, regardless of price, styles or retailer. In return, they’d provide the wine and the venue for a one-off wine-tasting evening, namely…

Blake’s Favourite Fifty Australians

The list I’ve put together is a mouth-watering range of reds, whites, rosés, sparkling and dessert wines.  And, for once, instead of talking at you about how good a particular wine is, we’re  going to be bringing you the wine live and in 3-D.

Wednesday, December 1, from 6pm to 8.30pm
at Cork School of Music, Union Quay.

Tickets are €20.
Booking (via Wine Australia Ireland on 065 7077264) is advisable.


Cork School of Music

The beautiful Cork School of Music - an inspirational venue.

For the price of a round of drinks, it promises to be a fun evening of tasting (and drinking) fifty top-class wines. We’ll be opening every one of them and serving them on the night along with some tasty bites of grub.

The practical side of the evening is represented by the brochure that everyone attending will get. This details each wine, its recommended retail price, and a  list of stockists — making it a handy shopping list if you’re inspired by any of the wines you encounter at the event.

One unusual aspect of the tasting is that the wines are drawn from right across the trade. We’ve been working with 19 Irish wine importers from well-established names (such as Findlater’s, and Barry & Fitzwilliam) to bright young firms like Classic Drinks who are also based in Cork.

All the wines are available to buy in Ireland, and the list of stockists spans a wide range of retailers from online wine stores and wine specialists such as Bubble Brothers, Curious Wines and O’Donovans, through to supermarkets and independent off-licences.

Another pretty cool aspect of the whole thing is the venue, the award-winning Cork School Of Music on Union Quay, designed by Murray O’Laoire architects and opened in 2007.

This modern, elegant building is a great setting for any event, and I’m delighted we’re holding the tasting there. And there’s more. The School of Music  wouldn’t have been built without a long campaign waged by parents,  students and teachers and their trade unions. In uncertain times, it’s good to remember that with such spirit and effort,  ordinary people can create something so positive for our city.  ♦


By the way, the event should really be named Blake’s Favourite Sixty-Five.  Hacking back the longlist was a pretty cruel task, and I had to leave out lots of great wines. So when I reached 65, I said to hell with it. Happily, John McDonnell is kindly accommodating my indescision, and we will be pouring all sixty-five on that list.


Wednesday, December 1
6pm to 8.30pm at Cork
School of Music, Union Quay, Cork.
Tickets are
20 and booking (with Wine Australia Ireland on 065 7077264) is advisable.

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