• Getting into the Spirit of Mothers Day

    Just in case you forgot, Mother’s Day is this Sunday the 26th of March. Yes, this Sunday! But don’t worry, there is plenty on offer in your local O’Briens to mark the occasion.

    We have something to suit everyone’s taste. So, forget about the bath set or novelty mug and get them something they will really enjoy. A bottle of fine spirits, and the time to relax and enjoy the gift, could be a great choice. It presents well and can be sipped and enjoyed for a long time after the day. And, of course, we have free gift wrapping in all our stores.

    So here are just a few picks from our offers this month across a range of spirits.

    Glendalough Distillery have taken the expertise, botanical knowledge and flavour design gained with their great seasonal range of gins and produced a new year-round release that captures the essence of the four seasons. The delicate balance of floral, fruit and spice notes in their Wild Botanical Gin (€33.00 down from €38.00) will keep any gin lover happy.

    New Irish gin from Glendalough Distillery

    For those whose taste run to vodka you can’t go wrong with the instantly recognisable Grey Goose (€50.00 down from €57.50). This superior French vodka is crisp, clean, and exceptionally smooth, making it a great base for a range of cocktails and long drinks.

    West Cork 10 year old (€32.00 down from €40.00) is perfect for those who prefer whiskey to clear spirits. Presenting caramel and spice notes while remaining fresh and approachable with crisp fruit and a soft body. This is a real a real crowd pleaser of an Irish whiskey.

    Kerry Gold may be a household name when it comes to the dairy section of the supermarket but taking all that knowledge in dairy they have produced an excellent new premium Cream Liqueur (€19.00 down from €24.00). It is made with real chocolate and genuine Irish whiskey for a smooth, rich, and silky texture with rich chocolate flavour and subtle whiskey notes.

    Something for all tastes

  • Pick up a Prosecco.

    With 20% off our entire range of Proseccos as part of our Italian wine sale, there can be no better time to pop in to your local O’Briens store and pick up a bottle of Ireland’s favourite fizz or even to branch out and try something new as we also have a number of other Prosecco-style wines included in the line-up.

    Of course, I’m fully aware that the vast majority of Prosecco enjoyed in Ireland is simply sipped on its own as an aperitif, but like all sparkling wines, Prosecco can make for a good food-matching wine, so why not take advantage of the sale to try one of the pairings I have picked out below.

    To kick off my selection, I have gone with an organic Prosecco-style wine from the island of Sicily; Il Grillo Spumante (€15.56 down from €19.95) has fine, gentle bubbles and a fresh fruity nose with hints of citrus and floral notes. On the palate, the wine is very well balanced, gentle, and soft with a refreshing burst of acidity and wonderfully citrusy notes, so I think this would be a great choice to serve alongside a Seafood platter.

    Next up is another Prosecco-style wine, Mionetto Vivo Rosé (€15.16 down from €18.95), which is made with an unusual and exciting blend of grapes, this delicious sparkling Rosé is rich and frothy in style with vibrant raspberry and red cherry fruit and an intriguing underlying floral character. With all that red berry fruit character, I think the ideal way to serve this wine is to pop a couple of raspberries into each glass and match it up with a deliciously simple, yet sweet and fruity dessert such as Eton mess.

    Now on to the Proseccos Proper, my first choice is from the legendary, family-owned and run Veneto house of Guerrieri Rizzardi. With a vinous history stretching back to 1678, it’s fair to say the Guerrieri Rizzardi family are one of the most experienced anywhere in Italy. Current winemaker, Count Giuseppe Rizzardi is a man at the top of his game, his extremely-refined extra-dry Prosecco (€16.76 down from €20.95) shows the perfect balance of white peach and ripe pear fruit with a fine crisp backbone, which allows this wine to make a really interesting pairing with Sushi.

    One more Prosecco to finish the selection, Mionetto Treviso DOC (€17.56 down from €21.95), is a very classy Prosecco from one of the region’s leading producers, all their considerable expertise in creating Prosecco can easily be seen in this polished, excellent, fruit-driven wine with wonderfully pure pear and melon flavours. Thanks to its crisp and clean profile and long, dry, complex finish, this wine would work beautifully with a platter of Italian cured meats.

    Our sale continues right through Saint Patrick’s weekend and finishes up at 10.00 pm on Sunday the 19th.

  • A Right Pair

    This week I’m taking a look at Whiskey and craft beer pairing and for the week that’s in it sticking to all things Irish. Far from a whiskey chaser quickly washed down with a beer we are looking at beers and whiskeys that work well together and compliment both.

    The reason whiskey and beer pair so well is because, in essence, a whiskey is a beer that has been distilled, where the evaporation separates the alcohol from the other components. The aging in oak creates another layer of flavours and aromas in the whiskey with can pair beautifully with many craft beer styles.

    To create a good match you want to seek out flavours that work in harmony with each other or where the contrast works to heighten the experience and where sipping each in turn draws your attention to an element of the beer or whiskey. Firstly take a sip of the whiskey and let it sit on your tongue as the flavours envelop your mouth, swallow and appreciate the finish. Only then take a sip of the beer and see how the flavours interact with each other.

    Here are a few of my own matches, of course everyone’s palate differs but there is so much choice with Irish whiskey and craft beers there is something for everyone.

    Our exclusive limited release form Teelings

     

    Writers Tears Single Malt Red Head with Killarney Scarlet Pimpernel

    In general, you should probably stay away from IPAs where the bitterness overpowers the flavours of the whiskey, however, I find the orange fruit note that grows on the finish of the excellent Red Head melds with the orange pith bitterness of the Killarney Scarlet Pimpernel while its smooth finish draws you in for another sip of whiskey.

     

    Teeling Single Cask Amarone with Third Circle Red Ale

    For our own exclusive bottling from Teelings, we finished a 10 year old single malt in Italian Amarone wine barrels. This gives a berry and dried fruit character alongside marzipan and spice. This works beautifully with the red berry and toasted caramel of Third Circle’s Red Ale.

     

    Powers 3 Swallow Release with Franciscan Well Friar Weisse

    This classically styled single pot still whiskey throws out some wonderfully delicate orange peel and sweet spices that are such a great match for the banana, citrus and clove of the Franciscan Well Friar Weisse, creating a host of intermingled flavours.

     

    Irishman 12 year old with 9 White Deer Stag Saor Stout

    This is a classic combination. The Irishman is matured exclusively in ex-Bourbon barrels which lend a rich sweet vanilla character throughout the taste, before finishing with fudge and dark chocolate. This is picked up by the Madagascan vanilla and cacao nibs used in brewing this soft smooth stout.

     

    Connemara Peated Malt with 12 Acres Single Malt Lager

    Here I’ve gone for contrast where the full-bodied peat whiskey is lifted by the delicate Kolsch style beer with the whiskeys smoky character persisting to the delicate spicy hop finish on the beer.

     

    You will find these whiskeys on offer in our Irish Whiskey Sale and we also have an offer of 6 for the price of 5 across our Irish Craft Beer Sale. Of course, if you would like to experiment with your pairings we have lots to choose from for a great St Patricks Day and beyond.

    Enjoy a sensible St Patricks Day with an Irish craft beer and Irish whiskey

  • A taste of ‘la Dolce Vita’

     

    Our Italian wine and Prosecco sale starts this Thursday, so I was inspired to have a look at matching some Italian wines with some classic Italian dishes.

    Italy probably produces the most diverse range of grape varieties and wine-styles of any country, but if there is one thing which unifies all these wines, it is a common vision among winemakers to primarily produce wines which offer great food-matches with the local cuisine.

    Of course, Italy has a hugely varied range of regional cuisines and a good rule of thumb is that ‘if it grows together, it goes together’, or in other words, Italian food and wine culture have evolved together over the centuries, so regional foods usually work best with wines from the same region.

    All this being said, when most of us think of Italian cuisine, Pasta is the first thing that comes to mind, so that will be the focus of my recommendations.

    For my first choice, I have gone with a Pinot Grigio, now I know this might not appear to be the obvious place to start, given that most Pinot Grigios are best described as being simple, light wines for easy-drinking.

    A strong contender to be Ireland's favourite pasta dish; Spaghetti Carbonara.

    But I implore to put those pre-conceptions aside to consider San Osvaldo Pinot Grigio (€11.95 down from €14.95), which is from vineyards in the historic Lison-Pramaggiore area just west of Venice, this is a delicious and richly-concentrated take on Pinot Grigio, ripe pear and golden apple flavours are kept in perfect balance with the crisp cool finish, making this wine a great match for the classic Spaghetti Carbonara.

    The exquisite Linguine alle Vongole.

    Moving away from the rich egg and cheese based sauce above, I simply must include my own favourite recipe, Linguine alle Vongole, this incredibly fresh-flavoured dish calls for a crisp white with more delicate flavours, the wine I have chosen is a benchmark Gavi (€15.15 down from €18.95), from leading winemaker, Matteo Ascheri, it is floral and fresh in fruit profile and perfect balance remains between acidity and fruit.

    Italy’s red wines often have relatively higher levels acidity, which allows them to work well with the tomatoes which are such a feature so many pasta dishes.

    Perfect with Sangiovese-based reds, just make sure your Arrabiata sauce isn't too angry!

    Tuscany’s Sangiovese grape is for exceptionally well-suited to tomato based sauces, San Felice Chianti Classicio (€14.35 down from €17.95), embodies all that is good about Italy’s most famous wine: Intense black cherry fruit balanced by classic Chianti freshness this is just wine to pair with Penne all'Arrabbiata.

    Proper Tagliatelle al Ragù; so much more than just a posh Spag-Bol !

    Proper Tagliatelle al Ragù is a gutsy dish and as such will need a richly-flavoured, smooth-textured wine to stand up to it, I would be thinking of a Valpolicella Ripasso, and in particular of Bertani’s Tenute Novare (€15.95 down from €20.95), silk-smooth thanks to nine months ageing in oak, this is richer and fuller than many Ripassos, with delicious dark cherry and raisin fruit.

    Our sale continues right through Saint Patrick’s weekend and finishes up at 10.00 pm on Sunday the 19th so there can be no excuse not to visit there your local O’Briens store and pick up a couple of bottles, nor to dig out those Italian recipe books and get cooking.

    Buon Appetito!

  • What’s New

    One of the great things about Irish craft beer is that there are constantly new beers to try and this month is no different. Here are just a few picks from the last couple of weeks with a mix of new core beers and limited releases.

    For those of an adventurous mind set try the collaboration between White Hag and MacIvors Cider, Silver Branch Apple Sour. For this White Hag brewed a golden ale with their own house yeast, which they also use for their Púca, they then blended this golden sour with brett cider from MacIvors. It still maintains a sour beer character but with background flavours of brett cider adding to the complexity. Keep an eye out later in the year as we may see a barrel aged version.

    Lets not forget the hop heads

    For those looking for IPA you could be in no safer hands than with Eight Degrees brewing and their new limited release Trans-Pacific. Brewed with the classic American West coast hop variety Citra and Australian varieties Ella and Vic Secret. This upfront Citra dominated IPA giving zesty tropical fruit notes of grapefruit and passionfruit among others, while the Australians bring spicy and floral aromas and flavours. In short, another all-round excellent IPA from the masters of the style.

    Staying on the IPA theme, Boyne Brewhouse have been busy perfecting their core range and now comes the latest addition Boyne IPA. This is an exceptionally balanced and deceptively easy drinking IPA with notes of citrus, grapefruit and mango and a bright pine bitter finish. It’s easy to see why this was a recent winner of a gold medal and the Alltech Dublin Craft Beer Cup.

    Limited release Roasted Oat Stout

    Rapping up we have two new stouts from Dot Brew, one core and one limited release. First up is their new core beer, American Stout, a creamy and smooth take on a more hopped up stout. As brewer Shane explains ‘this is a step away from new age Black IPA, this new age American stout show cases unique new world hop aromas while maintaining a medium body with a velvety milk chocolate texture with a coffee like bitter finish’. For those who like their stout with a darker character then Dot Brew have you covered here as well with their limited release Roasted Oat Stout. As the name implies this has a toasty edge to the character while maintaining a creamy smoothness to the body, helped no doubt by its time aging in American oak barrel.

    All these beers are included in our Irish craft beer sale. With 6 for 5 across our range of craft beers and ciders there is something for everyone’s tastes.

    6 for 5 across a range of Irish craft beers and ciders

  • Whiskey & Food Pairing

    When planning your drinks accompaniment to your dinner menu why not consider whiskey?

    While whiskey is typically enjoyed on its own, or you may have tried traditional Irish pot still with smoked salmon, it may surprise you how versatile whiskey is. With so many different expressions and variations there is a lot to play around with when pairing with food. There is no hard and fast science to food pairing as everyone’s tastes differ however there are a few tried and trusted guidelines.

    As with pairing all food and alcohol seek to complement or contrast flavours. You don’t always try to match flavours but rather create a balance in the pairing where neither the whiskey nor food is overpowered. In general, avoid overly spicy food as the alcohol intensifies the spiciness and over powers the flavour of the whiskey. Food cooked in oil or fat works well with the heat of the higher alcohol.

    Whiskey and chocolate make a great match

    Also, think about the weight and texture of the dish, matching lighter whiskey with a lighter dish and heavier with heavier. The principles of wine matching can also be applied to whiskey pairing. Substitute white wine for lighter pot still or grain whiskeys for red wine substitute whiskeys that have a sherry cask or charred barrel influence that tend to have darker fuller flavours.

    If in doubt, there are a couple of foods that work with most whiskies. In general whiskey works well with salty foods, simple bar snacks like mixed nuts or crisps. Experiment with different flavoured crisps to see what they bring out in the whiskey. Another classic food pairing is dark chocolate, go for chocolate with a high cocoa content and rest the whiskey in your mouth allowing the alcohol to evaporate lifting the flavours before tasting the chocolate.

    Here are three of my own pairing favourites.

    The sweetness of the sherry maturation makes Black Bush a great match for red meat like venison or steak. The heavier body of sherry cask whiskies compliments more powerful flavours of meat dishes, while the addition of some grain in this blend adds a little lightness and makes it a little more approachable. If you are preparing a sauce add a small dash to create synergy.

    The Whistler 10 year old again has sherry cask finish but longer maturation in ex-bourbon. The earthy, savoury and hint of saltiness works well with lighter seafood dishes while matching with dark chocolate brings out the sweeter spice in the whiskey.

    Sweet and fruity grain whiskeys work well with deserts where the lighter intensity and body balances the lighter dish. However, I have gone for something a little bigger and richer with West Cork Distillers Black Cask, a blend of two thirds grain with one third malt whiskey before finishing in extra charred casks. This finish adds more vanilla sweetness to the blend that works exceptionally well with rich chocolate baked deserts.

    Hope I have given you some inspiration for your next bottle. All three of the above are included in our big Irish Whiskey Sale. We have over 40 Irish whiskeys on offer, starting March 1st.

     

  • Just Arrived!

    One of the best things about this job is that with our constantly evolving wine-range there is always something new to try, and while January and February can be a little quieter on that front, things kick up a gear in Spring with an abundance of newly-made wines in the tasting room awaiting sign-off and lots of new wines hitting the shelves in our stores.

    A counter full of Rosé in the tasting room, means Spring has most-definitely Sprung

    With that in mind, for my recommendations this week I am going with three brand new white wines and one delicious red which was added to the range late last year.

    My first choice, the Retreat Sauvignon Blanc (€11.95 down from €14.95) is made with blend of Sauvignon Blanc grapes grown in several premium wine-producing regions including Hawkes Bay, Marlborough & Waipara, all of which benefit from cool-climate conditions.

    The soils and climate of these regions combine to make the perfect terroir for growing Sauvignon Blanc and this wine delivers everything that has made NZ Sauvignon Ireland’s favourite wine style; deliciously-dry & bursting with tropical fruit flavours & citrus notes, extended lees contact has added complexity and depth, making for a wine that can more than hold its own against fuller-flavoured dishes such as a Thai Green Chicken Curry.

    The vineyard's proximity to the Atlantic ocean, gives Follas Novas Albariño a well defined cool-climate character.

    My next selection comes from another superb cool-climate location, Rías Baixas in Spain’s Northwest corner. Follas Novas (€14.95 down from €18.95) is made with grapes grown in sustainably-managed vineyards, spread out in the heart of the Salnés Valley, it is a beautifully aromatic Albariño with floral notes, peach, pear, and lemon with a bone-dry palate with a refreshingly-zesty citrus edge to the finish. I would pair this wonderful white with some seared scallops or indeed with any shellfish dish.

    Domaine des Ballandors' cool-climate Sauvignon Vineyards

    On to France now, and while it may not be as well-known as some of the other central Loire Appellations such as Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, Quincy was in fact, the first French white wine appellation to be given AOC status in 1936.

    With its vineyards planted mainly on Kimmeridgian limestone (as are the very best vineyards in Sancerre and Chablis) Domaine des Ballandors Quincy (€16.95 down from €19.95) is an incredibly elegant Sauvignon Blanc from a small family owned winery. Lemon zest & freshly-cut grass on the nose combine with subtle stone-fruit notes on the palate, and a flinty mineral-character lingers on the finish.

    The restrained fruit profile and refreshing acidity mean that this wine works beautifully with simply-grilled Sole or Plaice.

    Passimento Rosso's label depicting Romeo & Juliet's wall in Verona

    To finish we have another family-owned winery, but this time it is one of the largest family-owned wineries in Italy, Fratelli Pasqua was established in 1925 by four brothers and is today managed by the family's second generation who despite the scale of winery have very successfully retained the traditions of family ownership and the quality-focus that goes with it.

    Romeo & Juliet Passimento Rosso (€12.95 down from €17.95) is the Pasqua family’s tribute to Romeo and Juliet and the 3,000 messages of love which are left every day on Juliet’s wall in Verona, this rich, spicy & velvety red is made following the local ‘Passimento’ method whereby the grapes are dried prior to fermentation. This is just the wine to serve alongside rich meaty dishes such as Veal Osso Bucco.

    Veal Osso Bucco, the perfect partner for the gloriously-rich Romeo & Juliet Passimento Rosso

  • Reviving a Spirit

    There is perhaps no other drink that brings with it such a great degree of infamy in the public mind as absinthe. But what is absinthe and is its reputation truly warranted?

    Absinthe is distilled in a similar method to gin, where the botanicals are macerated in base alcohol and redistilled. A wide range of herbs can be used in the production of absinthe with the primary three being wormwood, anise, and fennel. The green colour of traditional absinth comes from the seeping with more botanicals after distillation.

    As with many flavoured spirits it was originally produced for its believed medicinal benefits in the late 18th century, as a remedy for all ailments. It was actually given to French soldiers as a preventive to malaria during the colonial wars in north Africa. The returning troops had grown a taste for absinthe and this together with the reduction in production and the resulting increase in cost of wine following the phylloxera epidemic in the late 19th century lead to absinthes increasing popularity.

    The Absinthe Drinker by Viktor Oliva

    It also became the drink of choice for bohemian Parisians, who espoused its supposed hallucinogenic effects brought on by a compound in the spirit called Thujone. In reality, there is only a minuscule trace level of this in absinthe that has no effect. The effects were rather due to their large consumption of such a high alcohol spirit.

    This idea of hallucinations, supposed addiction and connections to crimes lead in part to its eventual banning in several countries in the early 20th century. Other factors were also at play however as with the Great War looming and the reduction in healthy recruits perceived to be the result of absinthe consumption. Lobbying by resurgent wine producers, who were facing loss of sales due to absinthe’s popularity was also a factor. The widespread consumption and increased demand also lead to poor quality and sometimes dangerous replicas being produced.

    The louche effect seen in a Blanche absinthe.

    Modern, quality made, absinthe is no more dangerous to your health than any other alcohol product, albeit it should be drunk in moderation due to its very high alcohol content. It should not be drunk neat but rather diluted with cold water. The usual ratio is one part absinthe to five parts water. The addition of water causes essential oils to emulsify, creating a cloudy effect known as the ‘louche’. You could also add a little theatre to the serving by following a traditional method of slowly dripping chilled water on to sugar cube, dissolving it through an absinthe spoon to dilute the spirit.

    So, here’s two options you can try, in moderation, to celebrate Absinthe Day on the 5th of March.

    La Fee Absinthe Parisienne is distilled with 9 herbs and spices, all of which have their roots in traditional absinthe production. Smooth texture with fresh anise aroma and flavour.

    Pernod Absinthe is from the company that opened the first absinthe distillery and based on a recipe from 1890. Balanced wormwood and anise with a silky-smooth body.

    Advertisement poster for Beucler absinthe

     

  • Spring Sipping

    It’s hard to believe that the first day of Spring falls next week, ‘Tempus Fugit’ and all that aside, I thought now would be the perfect time to focus in on some fresh white wine choices to pair with the lighter dishes that will soon be appearing on our tables.

    Of course, if I wanted to play it safe we could look at Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, I could certainly recommend plenty of examples of each which would be ideal choices for the season.

    But as Spring is the season of all things new, I will be suggesting some alternative varietals, some quite well-known, some a little more obscure, but rest assured, one and all they are perfectly well-suited to Spring Sipping.

    My first choice is one that is sure to please those who don’t want to stray too far outside their Sauvignon Blanc comfort zone; Le Labyrinthe Côte de Gascogne (€10.00 down from €14.95) is made in Southwest France using the local varieties, Colombard & Gros Manseng. It is incredibly fresh and fruity with grapefruit aromas and underlying exotic fruit. The palate is zesty and refreshing with a long finish on those underlying exotic notes. I would pair this wine with some Sushi or even some mildly-spiced Thai fishcakes.

    Winemaker Rudi Rabl, at home in the Kamptal region, Austria

    Next up, is Austria’s great white grape, Grüner Veltliner. Rabl Löss (€14.95 down from €18.95) is zesty and lively, and if you haven’t tried Grüner before, you are in for a real treat. In terms of flavour, it is a little like a cross between a Sauvignon Blanc and a dry Riesling; fresh & crisp with lots of cool grassy fruit and subtle notes of pepper. Try this chilled as an aperitif or serve it alongside some freshly grilled shellfish and be prepared for a thoroughly delicious experience.

    Pergola-trained Albariño vines in Pazo Señorans cool-climate vineyards

    A little bit closer to the mainstream now with Spain’s Albariño grape variety. Pazo Señorans (€18.95 down from €22.95) is a very classy wine from arguably the finest estate in the Rias Baixas DO, a perfect example of premium Albariño, delicately floral on the nose with hints of lemon and pear. This opens up on the palate to reveal a complex, mineral-driven white with an incredibly long finish. It should go without saying that this wine is the perfect partner for Seafood Paella.

    All of the wines above are produced in traditional cool-climate zones, however for my last two selections we are heading into some warmer locations, both in Italy.

    Lorenzo Marotti Campi amidst his Verdicchio vines.

    Albiano Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico (€11.95 down from €14.95) is from the family winery, Marotti-Campi, which is located in the central Italian region of le Marche. Refreshing citrus fruits, zesty acidity and complex minerality are the hallmarks of the local Verdicchio grape and, when well-made like this excellent example, it's one of the very best whites Italy produces. Serve alongside Linguini with Clams for a match made in Heaven.

    My last recommendation takes us to the island of Sicily, Cusumano Shamaris (€14.95 down from €18.95) is made with the indigenous Sicilian grape variety, Grillo. It is a wonderfully aromatic white wine. Aromas of orange blossom, melon and peach along with some floral notes lead into a deliciously juicy palate which shows excellent balance between the acidity and the fruit. This wine is more than a match for fuller-flavoured fish dishes, such as grilled sole with a lemon and caper brown butter.

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