Lamb and tempranillo

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.

IN this week’s Irish Examiner Weekend (April 28, 2012), I’m suggesting some fragrant Spanish reds as a great pair for roast lamb. While I have a relaxed attitude to matching (really, most wines will be okay with most dishes) I do believe you can optimise both wine and food with a little thought. And the first thought about lamb is not to lump it in with beef under the heading ‘red meat’. That category is far too broad.

An oak barrel is fired at a cooperage in Ribera Del Duero, Spain. Picture: Blake Creedon

The flavour of lamb is really quite delicate, often augmented with savoury, sweet and bitter herbs and spices. Unlike beef, it doesn’t really beckon the astringent tannins you might find in a well-made cabernet merlot such as a Bordeaux. Take inspiration from the delicacy of the meat and its fragrance, and pair lamb with an elegant red. And one of the best quick one-stop-shops – good Spanish red. Generally it’ll be a tempranillo, often blended with other indigenous grapes such a graciano and mazuelo – and indeed sometimes with ‘international’ grapes, especially cabernet.

As I mention in the column, the character of tempranillo plus ageing in barrel and in bottle add up to one of the wonders of the wine world. While many countries in the new world permit their wine industries to throw around words like ‘reserva’ willy-nilly, this is serious business in Spain. There, the term really does mean something. The different Denominación de Origen (DO) regions of Spain have different rules but the broad outline of the ageing is as follows.

Joven (young) or Cosecha (literally ‘harvest’) wines are relatively rarely seen in Ireland — young, fresh, generally unwooded and unassuming. Roble (oak) is sometimes put on the label to signify that a young wine has spent some time in oak – but that it hasn’t spent sufficient time to qualify it for  the ageing system as follows…
Crianza literally means upbringing or breeding, and this is the rank at which you really see Spain’s super quality/value ratio. The wine will have spent at least six months in oak (or a year in the case of the Rioja and Ribera del Duero DOs. Be aware though that Sin Crianza means without such ageing.
Reserva is the next step up the scale. In the case of reds, the term means that the wine has spent at least three years ageing, at least one of which must have been in oak, imparting increasing complexity and colour to a wine. Rosado (rosé) and white reservas spend a shorter six months in a barrel and two years in a bottle.
Gran Reserva wines tend to be the top of a winery’s range, and only produced when they regard the vintage as particularly good. A red gran reserva will spend two years in wood with a further three long slow years maturing in the bottle. Whites and rosés get six months in barrels and four years in bottle.

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.

While the longer-aged reds will often be luxuriantly complex, don’t presume a gran reserva will always be better than reserva or a crianza. In my experience tasting hundreds of Spanish wines side-by-side, the younger grades often achieve remarkable degree of subtlety.

One of the wines I recommend (a reserva at M&S) is a perfect example, being the middle tier of its range. At Lidl also, I’ve tasted a cheap-as-chips Joven which prejudice might suggest wouldn’t be worth looking at, but which my senses of smell, sight and taste suggest would be well worth putting on the dinner table.

Bear in mind personal taste. And shelf-life. While the longer-aged bottles are designed to be bought and enjoyed years or even decades after vintage, their lease isn’t limitless. Just like ourselves, they too will fade past their peak. And at any one time a less preposessing grade such as a crianza may outshine its posh gran reserva stablemate.

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.

In-store tastings today in Carrigaline and Midleton

♦ Today (April 28, 2012) 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.
SuperValu Midleton from noon to 3pm;
SuperValu Carrigaline from 3.30pm to 6pm.

♦  Also today (Saturday April 28) Chris Pfeiffer will introduce some of his wines, including a tremendous rich, sweet muscat that I love all day in Karwigs, Carrigaline.

Beer and curry in Lismore

On Friday April 27  O’Briens Chop House in Lismore, Co Waterford  is again presenting a four-course beer and curry feast in association with Green Saffron spices, and the Dungarvan and Eight Degrees breweries. It begins at 7:30pm and is topped and tailed by “homemade mango, chilli and ginger Bellini” (oh my) and chai to finish. €42.50 per person. Phone them on  058-53810 and see  obrienchophouse.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. Thank you.

Beerfest in Galway

The third annual Brewers On The Bay festival takes place in Oslo, Galway, on May 5 and 6.If you’ve visited this or similar events you’ll know the drill already – barbecue, music and the delicious beers being made by some of Ireland’s fine microbreweries. And if you haven’t dipped into such events yet, it’s about time you did. I’m shocked, shocked I tell ya, by the many people I meet who appreciate good food and wine but who are as yet oblivious to the revolution that’s been happening under our noses, solely because by habit they don’t associate beer with taste. Beer and cider are the wine of Ireland. And it’s time to take a hint from the url www.winefoodbeer.com and wake up and smell the hops.


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.

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.

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.  ♦

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