On January 1st every year the Irish drinks industry are waiting with bated breath to see the results of The Sunday Business Post’s Annual Gold Star Awards. The awards are meticulously presided over by Tomás Clancy, who is tireless in his efforts to judge and award the best of the Irish wine and spirits industry from the previous year http://bit.ly/2hNPuxv
The awards are eagerly anticipated as they “celebrate outstanding class-leading, triumphs and breakthroughs in the wine and spirit business throughout Ireland.”
Comprehensive in their scope the awards cover Best Fine Wine Merchants, Best Sommelier, Best Spirit Innovation and Best Restaurant Wine List to name a few of the numerous categories.
We are joyous to report that we have been awarded three of these coveted categories: Best Multiple Chain, Best Wine Website and Best French Specialist Drinks Outlet.
As the “Irish wine bedrock of excellence” we are especially pleased that our hard working store teams have been recognised thus “their …highly motivated, perennially enthusiastic staff are a deep delight”.
Well done to all winners and runners up and thank you to The Sunday Business Post and Tomás for their continued support of our industry.
O’Briens Wines - Best Multiple Wine Chain
“Irish wine lovers enjoy a level of shared passion, meticulous display, exciting changes in stock, monthly spine-chilling sale selections and just plain excitement and passion in store that does not exist elsewhere”
While cider can certainly be enjoyed year-round there is something about warm weather and cold cider that just goes so well together. Perhaps it’s also because it matches so well with summer cuisine. Cider making has a lot in common with wine making, for both creating a great tasting drink is all about achieving balance between the fruit character, sweetness, acidity, tannin, and alcohol. It follows then that, as a general rule of thumb, if a food matches well with white wine it should pair well with cider, so think seafood, mildly spiced Asian or Indian and creamy cheeses. A perfect match for that crisp summer salad as well.
So, with that here are just a few picks to try this weekend, ideally enjoyed chilled from the fridge, around 7°C, avoiding ice which dilutes the flavours of these great ciders and served in a stemmed glass.
Cooney’s is the newest cider to hit our shelves from a family with a long history of cider making in Ireland. This light, crisp and fruity cider displays classic bittersweet cider apple notes alongside light tropical elements.
Made from apples hand harvested on family owned orchards in the Boyne valley, and fermented with wild yeast Dan Kelly’s is a robust medium-dry cider with superb depth of flavour.
For a dryer style of cider try out Stonewell Dry which leans towards the bittersweet varieties of Dabinett and Michelin. It is crisp and fresh with delicate fruit flavours drawn out through the use of naturally cultured champagne yeast.
For those with a slightly sweeter tooth Scotts Summer is a medium bodied sweet tasting cider, with a scent of pear drops and floral aromas. However, this is a limited release and just around for the summer months so be sure to try it out before its gone.
Finally rounding up with a cider from orchards situated on the gentle slope of the Blackwater valley comes Longueville House cider. This is crisp yet lively medium dry cider with the dryness coming through from the Dabinetts & the slight sweetness from acidity of Bramley / Katy & James grieve. It’s also currently on offer at 3 for €10.
I hope you enjoy these great Irish ciders in the sunshine, between the inevitable showers!
As I write, the sun is beating through the office window, and with this in mind, I have decided to return to the topic of Rosé for my blog today.
Regular readers will by now that I am a huge fan of Rosé wines, the main reason being that can be such good wines for food-matching, particularly with the grilled fish, barbecues and salads filling our tables just now.
I have chosen four wines below which should illustrate what a wonderfully diverse wine style Rosé can be.
The most classic region for Rosé has to be the South of France, so to start I am going with a new wine from the Languedoc region, Gérard Bertrand's Hedonisme is a delicious, berry-scented, organic, dry-Rosé. Bursting with fruit on the palate & quite full-bodied for a Rosé but all very well-balanced.
A simple grilled chicken salad will allow Gérard Bertrand's Hedonisme Rosé to shine.
We cross the Pyrenees into central Spain for my next choice, which is made from the most traditional grape used for Rosé; Garnacha (or Grenache in the south of France), but apart from the choice of grape variety, Naranjas Azules is anything but traditional.
In the winery, these black Garnacha grapes are handled in exactly the same way as if making a white wine, yielding a very pale pink Rosé that remains deliciously crisp and dry. For food matches think tapas such as Seafood Paella or Prawns Pil-Pil.
The name Naranjas Azules (Blue Oranges) is a reference to the un-expected and this un-orthodox method of winemaking, also un-expected, the eye-catching pink box doubles as a water-proof wine cooler!
Next up is Italy and the region of Lake Garda in particular, Bertarose is a blend of the local grape variety Molinara and Merlot, both of which are grown on the gently sloping hills which sit above the Lake.
Anyone who has visited this area will surely agree with me that this must be one of the most picturesque locations in which to grow grapes.
I like to think that all this natural beauty can’t but have inspired the winemakers in delivering a rich, full-flavoured Rosé bursting with ripe strawberry and raspberry fruit, this is a must try - a sumptuous Rosé that over-delivers in every way.
Barbecued pork chops with a simple marinade of lemon and garlic would be the perfect partner for this wine.
Molinara vines overlooking the Stunning lake Garda
For my final selection, we have to head south, nearly 9,000km in fact to the South African region of Stellenbosch.
It is here that Delheim craft their wonderfully exotic Rosé, using their national grape variety Pinotage and just a splash of Muscat. This wine sits firmly in the 'bursting with fruit' camp, just off-dry in style and packed with ripe raspberry and cherry flavours.
All that fruit makes this wine a great match for lightly-spiced Asian dishes.
If ever a wine deserved to be called ‘Sunshine in a Glass’ this is it!
India Pale Ale continues to be a the most popular style amongst craft beer drinkers and brewers are constantly looking for new takes on the style. For the last few years the trend in IPAs has been towards more and more hops with bigger, bolder flavours and in turn increasing the bitterness. The West Coast style IPA epitomizes this bigger bolder ethos. However in the ever evolving world of beer a new substyle of IPA is gaining popularity, New England IPA (NEIPA).
Where West coast style has a is dry with an assertive bitterness NEIPA favours a softer approach. NEIPA is marked out as having a soft and juicy flavour profile with lots of tropical and citrus fruit held up with a smooth body but with a low bitterness. However, the cloudy or hazy appearance is probably the most instantly identifiable characteristic which can range from slightly hazy to quite opaque.
It's all about the opacity
This haziness that is a primary indicator of the style is more of a by-product of the techniques used to achieve the soft and fruity character with brewers using oats or wheat for greater body and softness along with late addition kettle hopping and dry hopping. By using late hopping schedules, including hopping during fermentation brewers are able to draw out more fruit character without the bitterness. The real star of the show however and the reason this style is becoming more popular is down to the soft, fruit packed flavour profile and just how easy drinking it is.
Cloudwater V13, very limited stocks but worth picking up if you come across one
If you would like to taste it for yourself and see if it’s a style for you then search out the excellent Perler for Svin from Norwegian brewers Lervig or English kings of the style Cloudwater whose V13 DIPA has just arrived in Ireland. Both are in limited quantities in Ireland at the moment but are we worth seeking out. Irish breweries are following suit with their own with interpretation, look out for Cumulus Lupulus from Eight Degrees a beer that ‘oozes with tropical juicy sweetness’ coming soon.
With a fairly good weather outlook ahead, I thought now would the perfect time to have a look at some simple guidelines on how best to pair wines with BBQ dishes successfully.
Above all, you should choose fresh, fruity, wines; zesty, citrusy whites, and bright, fruity reds and take care to avoid overly oaky wines either red or white and also avoid any red with heavy tannins.
My top tip though would be to try a Rosé, pink wines are fantastic barbeque wines as they are incredibly versatile and very food friendly.
To put you in the mood to fire up that grill, I have picked out some of my BBQ favourites below, all of which either included in our ongoing French Wine Sale which runs until Wednesday the 24th, or our Rosé promotion which runs all summer long.
From Southwest France, Le Labyrinthe Côte de Gascogne (€9.95 down from €13.95 save 29%) is wonderfully fresh & fruity with grapefruit aromas and underlying exotic fruit. The zesty & refreshing palate finishes long on those exotic notes. For a real treat serve it with some sizzling chilli and garlic prawns.
Provencal rosé and summer is a match made in heaven
An incredibly sophisticated Provencal Rosé, Mirabeau (€16.95 buy 1 get 1 half-price) offers a combination of ripe red fruits and zesty apple fruit on the palate with a refreshing zip of acidity. This is a wine that tends towards elegance, rather than power, yet it has a very impressive finish. As I said above Rosé wines are very versatile and work well with most Barbeque dishes, but to see this wine at its best, try it alongside some mildly spiced Chicken Kebabs.
Neasa & Laurent Miquel at their Languedoc estate
From a leading Languedoc estate, owned and run by winemaker, Laurent Miquel and his Irish wife Neasa, Les Beauchamps Syrah (€10.95 down from €14.95 save 27%) is youthful and vividly fruity with juicy cherry and blueberry fruit and could even be served lightly chilled. This is just the wine to go for with homemade beef burgers.
Gérard Bertrand surveys his organic vineyards
For my last selection, I have a chosen another red, Solensis (€14.36 down from €17.95 save 20%) which is made with organically grown Syrah and Grenache from the sun-drenched vineyards of the Languedoc. From these perfectly ripe grapes, Legendary winemaker Gérard Bertrand has crafted a delicious red, jam-packed with ripe bramble fruit. This wine is just crying out for a charcoal grilled rib-eye steak.
Our French wine sale begins this Wednesday, May 10th and is running for two full weeks right through until Wednesday the 24th, so there can be no better time to pick up a few bottles of your favourite French wine or even to try something new.
With over 300 wines covering a wide variety of wine styles, there's something here to suit everyone.
To get you thinking, I have highlighted just a few of my French favourites below, but to see the full range, click here or even better why not drop into your local O'Briens Store.
This beautiful Domaine Begude winery is the passionate labour of love for English owners Catherine and James Kinglake. The organically farmed 29-hectare estate located 300 metres above sea level makes delicious aromatic white wines and stunning Pinot Noirs but their real speciality is Chardonnay. With the name referencing postcode of the cool climate region of Limoux, their deliciously refreshing and delicate “Terroir 11300” (€14.36 down from €17.95 save 20%) has zesty citrus freshness coupled with apple and pear notes; fine structure & pleasing minerality.
Organic Chardonnay vines take pride of place at the stunning Domaine Begude in Limoux.
Based in Faugères, the charming Domaine la Sarabande is owned by an Irish wine goose Isla Gordon and her Australian wine-making husband Paul. After meeting and working together in New Zealand, they headed back to Europe to create their own wines. Their Misterioso (€13.56 down from €16.95 save 20%) has aromas of dark cherries and some lifted glazed fruit characters. The palate is again dominated by dark fruits but there are some attractive strawberry characters combined with fine tannins. The wine finishes dry but very well-balanced acidity helps to lengthen the palate.
One of the Loire valley’s very best producers, Langlois-Chateau is owned and run by Champagne House Bollinger, whose quality charter is applied rigorously to all the wines of this great estate. Their Château Fontaine-Audon (€17.56 down from €21.95 save 20%) is consistently one of the best Sancerres on the market, thanks to its soils rich in "Silex" (Gun-Flint) it ticks all the right boxes; mineral driven, intense fruit and beautifully balanced, and this vintage has an extra level of ripeness to the fruit.
The "Silex" rich soils of Château Fontaine-Audon
Germain Croisille, is the winemaker at Cahors’ Château les Croisille, which his parents Bernard and Cécile founded in 1979. Working with organically-grown fruit he produces thoroughly modern and food-friendly Malbecs, marked out by their freshness, acidity and minerality. His Silice cuvée (€15.16 down from €18.95 save 20%) has delicious ripe black-berried fruit complemented by sensitive use of oak.
The annual release of Two Hundred Fathoms is upon us. If you are not aware of it, this is a highly rated and limited release barrel aged Imperial Stout from Galway Bay Brewery. It is a big rich and malty stout aged for three months in freshly emptied Teeling’s Small Batch whiskey casks.
The colour of the beer is as black as one can get with a mocha coloured head. The aroma is a heady mix of chocolate, whiskey, vanilla, caramel, dried fruit and treacle. These notes follow through to bold yet rounded flavour profile with a velvety smooth full body before a superbly long boozey finish with a hoppy bite.
Freshly emptied Teelings whiskey barrels
So then, time to raid the beer stash and see how age effects this beer with a vertical tasting of the last of 2015 release I had tucked away. A vertical tasting is taking the same beer from different years to see how it has evolved in bottle. Unfortunately, my stash of the 2016 release has long since been enjoyed but 2015 vs 2017 was a great experience.
So how does the 2015 compare to the new release? With ageing in bottle, the hoppy notes have naturally subsided, along with lower carbonation and the perception of more integrated whiskey flavours. It carries through with the same flavour profile as the 2017 but in a softer, subtler fashion with an elegant touch. Quite simply a joy to drink.
If you have the patience and the restraint I would highly recommend laying this down for a couple of years, of course you could always buy one to drink now and one to age and compare with future releases. You can check out my quick guide to building up a beer stash here. This is a limited release, however, so be sure to pick up a bottle or two before they disappear for another year.
So summer begins, or it will in another months’ time, depending on who you ask of course. We certainly have enjoyed some fine weather recently and with this I imagine people will turn to lighter styles of beer but that need not be the case. You can still enjoy the rich flavours and aromas of malt driven beers, matched with a crisp and refreshing finish, with some dark lagers.
Don’t be deceived into thinking darker coloured beer are necessarily heavy. The viscosity or ‘weight’ of a beer is primarily derived from the amount of fermentable sugars that were used in the brew and subsequently how many remain in the beer post fermentation. The colour is a reflection of how pale or dark the malt that was used. Darker malts will lend a beer those roasted, coffee or chocolate tones but used in moderation with other base malt can produce these flavours while keeping things lighter in body.
When one thinks of larger one naturally thinks of clear, golden Helles or Pils styles. However these are ‘relatively’ modern styles, prior to late 19th century lagers would have been dark coloured as the malterster would have kilned the malt by passing the heat and fumes from burning wood or charcoal over the barley. It was not until the advances in technology allowed greater control over the roast level, and the influence of smoke, that it was possible to consistently produce sufficiently pale malt to brew pale lagers.
Schwarzbier, which translates from German as simply black beer, is a style that dates perhaps as far as the 9th century. These dark lagers have a good depth of malt flavour while remaining light, crisp and refreshing on the finish. Brewdog Zeitgeist is a good crisp and refreshing example or try Brooklyn Insulated for a slightly fuller take on the style.
Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock
If you do favour a bit more weight in your beer you could try out a Doppelbock. These are strong lagers with a decidedly bold malty profile. Ayinger’s Celebrator is continually rated as the best example of the style in the world and definitely worth seeking out. Expect rich complex dark malt character with caramel, molasses, toffee, dark chocolate, dried red fruit carried by a smooth, creamy medium body. The finish is long with a touch of earthy hop notes that gives it a thirst quenching edge, though perhaps this is one to be enjoyed in the cool of the evening.
Just In case you hadn’t heard, we are right in the middle of the second, annual Spanish Wine Week.
This exciting initiative from the Spanish embassy will see numerous tasting and events taking place right across the country all week, including this Thursday night at Smock Alley Theatre, where O’Briens Wine Director, Lynne Coyle MW will be hosting a very special tasting (unfortunately now sold-out) which will include an exciting mix of some of the best new-wave wines, and established classics such as Rioja Gran Reserva.
If you have missed out on this tasting, don’t worry as we still have lots in-store offers on Spanish wines and there will be a great selection of Spanish wines on the tasting table in all our stores this weekend.
To whet your appetite, I have picked out a few of my favourite wines below.
Regular readers will know I have used this forum many times before to highlight the afore-mentioned new-wave wineries, so for today’s selection I have stuck to the classics; Albariño and Rioja.
Grown in the Galicia, the cool and wet north-west corner (known to locals as green Spain) Albariño is without a doubt Spain’s best cool climate white wine.
Owner/winemaker, Jesus Alvarez Otero makes one of our all-time favourite Albariño’s. His crisp refreshing Contrapunto (€12.95 down from €18.45), has attractive pear, peach and lemon fruit but more as there's a chalky mineral streak and a zesty fresh finish. This is just the perfect wine for spring and summer drinking - think sunshine, friends, and seafood Tapas, particularly Pulpo a la Gallega.
Pergola-trained Albariño vines in Pazo Señorans cool-climate vineyards
One of the finest estates in the Rías Baixas DO, ideally located at Vilanoviña, in the Pontevedra town of Meis, the vineyards benefit from coastal-influences and mineral-rich soils allowing Pazo Señorans to make seriously good Albariño (€18.95 down from €22.95), 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 ideal partner for a Seafood Paella.
Rioja has long been one of Ireland’s favourite red wines so, you may know that there are four main categories of Rioja, each with its own distinct flavour profile related to its ageing programme in the winery: These are Joven, Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva. I have chosen a Crianza and a Reserva for today’s line-up.
Consistently rated as one of Spain’s greatest producers the Eguren family have revolutionised modern Spanish wine. From their dynamic Riojas at Sierra Cantabria to their highly-regarded Tempranillo from central Spain the range is beyond impressive. Their Crianza (€15.95 down from €17.95) is a wonderfully dark Rioja which, rightly, suggests the fruit will be intense as it's full of juicy blackberry character, with just a whiff of oak. This restrained oak-use makes this wine incredibly when it comes to food matching, working well with everything from cured meats to fillet steak.
The Iconic Murrieta winery at the Ygay estate.
An iconic Rioja house, Marqués de Murrieta are among the finest examples of Spain's most celebrated wine region, and their winemaker María Vargas is rightly considered to be one of Spain’s greatest winemakers. María’s greatest obsession is to extract the maximum expression of the region’s ‘terroir’, applying different wine-making techniques according to the variety, vine age, orientation, and the soil, choosing the optimum moment of ripeness of the fruit, as María says herself,
“The hardest thing when making a wine is giving it its own unique personality, and when someone tastes it and can identify it, it makes you very happy.”
María's personality is very much on display in Murrieta's Reserva (€19.95 down from €23.95), which beautifully merges the traditional and the modern; unmistakably Rioja but with wonderfully rich, ripe fruit. This wine would be the perfect choice to serve with char-grilled lamb cutlets.
To top it all off, I should also mention that all the wineries above will be showing their ranges at our Dublin Wine Fair on the 5th & 6th of May.
There is a vast array of different gins on the market, generally they fall into a few different categories depending on the botanicals used, distillation method or where in the world it is produced. One such category that is rarely seen in quality gin nowadays is cold compound gin.
Cold compounding simply means infusing the base spirit with botanicals rather than adding the botanicals through distillation. Here the botanicals are allowed to rest in a neutral spirit at ambient temperature, before filtering, dilution and bottling. The technique was long seen as a poorer method of producing gin and rarely used anymore. In fact, it is easier and faster to produce a consistent product through traditional distillation. However, with skill and attention to detail, it is possible to create a high-quality gin using this method and that’s just what Ampleforth’s have done with their Bathtub Gin.
The name dates back to bootleggers of the prohibition era in the United States, when cold compound gin made a brief clandestine resurgence. The bootleggers used flavourings to mask the taste of the cheap alcohol and the name bathtub gin denoted one of these poorly made, harsh spirits. The exact etymology is unclear, perhaps referring to bathtubs used as tanks to infuse the alcohol with botanicals or that the bottles were diluted with tap water from the bathtub, as the bottles were too tall to fit under the sink tap.
Whether compound or distilled it's all about the botanicals used
Ampleforth’s Bathtub gin plays on this name to brush off the stigma and create a unique gin using the cold compound technique. However, the quality of botanicals and care given in the creation of the gin are what sets this apart. They begin with a high-quality copper pot distilled spirit, infusing it with botanicals including juniper, orange peel, coriander, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom. The time given to the cold compounding is entirely governed by periodic sampling to determine when the spirit has achieved the qualities required. Due to this method of production it pours a natural colour, lightly tinted by the botanicals. The compounding method also adds a fuller creamy mouthfeel, and displays earthy pine with spicy cardamom, juniper and clove backed up with fresh delicate citrus tones.
You can pick up the multi-award winning Ampleforth’s Bathtub gin reduced from €53 to €48 in our Gin Sale this month. Enjoy it neat or try it in a G&T with a cinnamon stick and a little orange peel.