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Monthly Archives: February 2017

  • 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.

  • An Ale For All Seasons

    Ah February, while it may officially be spring, it seems we get all seasons at once. Well now is the perfect time to rediscover red ales. Red ales are such versatile all-rounders that suit all weather conditions while pairing well with a wide range of foods. Classic matches are mild fruity or tangy cheeses to hearty meals like wild game, winter vegetables or the ubiquitous family favourite Shepherd’s Pie. Desserts aren’t off the menu either, pairing well with creamy desserts that aren’t too sweet.

    The emphasis is, naturally, on the malt for red ales. Made with a portion of caramel or speciality malts bringing that red colour and smooth fruity, caramelly flavour profile while the addition of some roasted grains can lend a toasty character. But within the broader red ale family there are variations and some that break away from tradition. Below are just a few available in O’Briens.

    Costellos, Boyne Bewhouse, O Brother

    First up, Costellos The Red is a very sessionable approach to a red ale with a low abv of just 3.8% but don’t let its easy drinking character and low alcohol fool you. This is a seriously well put together beer with a superbly balanced malt character and the dry refreshing finish that embodies the Irish Red style. Works great with pork dishes or mildly spicy pizzas.

    Another take on the Irish red, Pagans Pillar, comes from the Boyne Brewhouse. This brings smooth caramel together with some toasty character overlaid with soft spicy hops and a touch of orange peel. The livelier carbonation here makes this great for cutting through barbeque, if you are feeling brave about the weather, but also works great with cheese salads. You can pick this up along with the rest of the Boyne core range at 4 for €10 this month.

    O Brother The Fixer shifts over to what some would describe as an ‘American Amber’ with a more upfront hop character. Expect a touch of sweetness and smooth caramel along with a hint of red fruit from the malt. The hops bring a resinous bite, some citrus and caramelised orange along with a refreshing bitterness to the finish. Great with mature cheddar, burgers or medium spicy Mexican dishes. The core O Brother beers are in a mix and match deal this month at 3 for €10 in O’Briens.

    Finally, the Dot Brew Red Trilogy is a unique opportunity to experience the effects of barrel aging red ale. What you have is three beers with the first a lively red ale with subtle American hops over smooth caramel. This beer was then aged in Irish whiskey barrels, while aging one of the casks was judged to have an incredible natural balance of malt character and rich oak aging, so was bottled separately. The remaining barrels were, as originally intended, back blended with the original unaged red to soften out the oak character for an approachable yet rich character.

  • Que Syrah, Syrah!

    Syrah, when grown in its Northern Rhône homeland produces wines with a deliciously savoury and peppery style, that make it a perfect choice for these late winter/early spring days.

    Ferraton’s Crozes-Hermitage la Matiniere (€17.95 down from €19.95) is a great example of this style, a beautifully balanced lighter style of Syrah in which elegance and very pure fruit combine, resulting in a silk-smooth red that works well with a wide range of dishes from grilled red meats to roast poultry.

    Cave Saint Desirat's Syrah Vineyards.

    Made with 100% hand-picked grapes from vineyards in and around St. Joseph, Cave Saint-Desirat (€10.00 down from €14.45) is an elegant and superbly balanced Syrah, medium-bodied with very pure, black-berried fruit – although this is labelled as a simple Vin d'Ardèche it is easily of St. Joseph quality and would work beautifully with Lamb cutlets.

    Like most other Rhône Varietals, Syrah is very widely planted in the neighbouring Languedoc region, and Les Beauchamps (€14.95, Buy 1 Get 2nd Half Price) is a superb Syrah, which perfectly reflects the sun-drenched terroir of the Languedoc. Super-smooth and jam-packed with ripe bramble fruit and hint of spice, it's equally good with or without food.

    Of course, while Syrah’s story may begin in France, it certainly doesn’t end there, the grape variety, along with many others was introduced to Australia by James Busby in 1831 and since that time the spelling and pronunciation has evolved to give us Shiraz.

    In the hotter drier climates of Australia, Shiraz produces wines that tend to be rich and full-bodied with intense dark bramble fruit along with relatively higher alcohol.

    Baron of the Barossa, Geoff Schrapel

    Nowhere in Australia is more closely associated with Shiraz than the Barossa valley, so for my final selection, I have chosen a wine made by 6th generation Barossa winemaker Geoff Schrapel.

    Made from early-harvest grapes grown on the Schrapel family’s Barossa vineyards. Bethany Creek (€12.95 down from €19.95) is a very elegant, rather European style red with slightly floral and red cherry characters on both the nose and the palate. The finish is soft and smooth thanks to two year’s careful oak ageing. To see this wine at its best, pair it with a fine fillet steak.

  • What's in my beer

    Malt, hops, water and yeast form the building blocks for a huge range of diverse flavours in beer with the different variations on these ingredients creating a myriad of different styles from light lager to imperial stouts. Just these four ingredients are responsible for the vast majority of craft beers we drink.

    In fact, the famous Reinheitsgebot, or German beer purity law, restricted brewers to using just these four ingredients. A superseding law did allow the use of wheat, however, outside of Germany brewers are free to use all manner of ingredients with natural flavourings like fruit, honey, coffee and spices used to great effect in some limited edition brews.

    Great natural ingredients can add another layer in craft beers

    But let’s get back to basics. I have previously looked at hops and malt, so to round out our look at beer ingredients are water and yeast. Water is the predominant ingredient in beer and the quality and chemical makeup has an impact on the quality of the final beer. The type of water in certain areas also affected the style of beer that developed there. Some classic beer styles are, in part, the product of the particular water profile of the region the styles developed, such as with the soft water of Plzeň where Pilsner developed or London with its hard water which gave birth to Porter.

    Without yeast, there would be no beer

    Yeast, this wonderful microscopic organism eats up the sugars from the malt and in the process, produces alcohol and Carbon Dioxide. Other serendipitous by-products of this is the production of flavours and aromas. Different yeasts strains produce different flavours such as Esters, which are an organic compound produced by yeast that produce fruity aromas and flavours such as banana, plum, apple, apricot. Phenols are chemical compounds that can come from several sources and can be undesirable in many styles, however, the strains of yeast used for Hefeweizen or some Belgian beers produce desirable phenols with spicy flavours and aromas like clove, & vanilla.

    So, the next time you pick up your basket of craft beers in O’Briens take a look at the ingredients, it may surprise you how many different flavours and aromas can come from just four ingredients.


  • A Vinous tour through Italy’s Rugby Heartland.


     I’m sure, like me, many of you will be cheering on the Irish team as they take to field in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico this weekend to take on the Azzurri.

    And although the trip to Rome represents the longest journey in any Irish six nations campaign, it is also a bit of a stretch to consider this a home tie for most of the Italian side, as with their clubs they will be based at least 400 km (as the Crow flies) to the North.

    Of course, as well as being the Country’s traditional Rugby Heartland, Northern Italy is home to some of its most-delicious wines.

    The examples I have picked out below cover four Provinces stretching from West to East, and I think perfectly display the excellent quality and value available.

    Fazzoletto's Barbera grapes undergoing the 'Passito' drying process.

    Starting in the Western Province of Piedmont, Fazzoletto Barbera Passito (€10.95 down from €14.95) is made using the ‘Passito’ method, whereby some of the Barbera grapes are partially dried, resulting in a wine with a great concentration of dark cherry fruit. It’s super-smooth too thanks to six months ageing in oak.

    Moving Eastward, we come to Lombardy, home to Pino Pino Fizzante (€9.95), made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes, this refreshing sparkler has delicious pear & citrus fruit along with some light peach notes and a crisp clean finish.

    The next stop on our whistle-stop tour is the winemaking powerhouse that is the Veneto. As the biggest producer of D.O.C. wine, accounting for more than 20% of the nation’s total D.O.C. output, I thought we should look at two wines from the region. First up is another fizz;

    The Guerrieri Rizzardi family enjoying a glass of Prosecco (the Rosé version) in the grounds of their historic Veneto estate.

    Rizzardi Spumante (€17.95 down from €20.95), is an extremely-refined, fully-sparkling & extra-dry Prosecco which shows the perfect balance of white peach and ripe pear fruit with a fine crisp backbone.

    Next, we have the most-popular style of red wine from the Veneto, Porta Nova (€14.95 down from €17.95) is a big, bold, chunky Ripasso, with loads of sweet, ripe, dark fruit, good oak and that distinct ‘sour cherry’ Amarone tang.

    Puiattino's Pinot Grigio vines grow on the rolling hills of the Collio region, in the Province of Friuli-Venezia Giulia.

    We finish our Journey on Italy’s eastern boundary, in the Province of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, home to the country’s finest Pinot Grigios; Puiattino (€17.95) is pale in colour, with fresh grassy notes and hints of green apples. The palate has a touch of honeyed richness but is fresh and steely, making it a wonderful aperitif.

    So, if you are settling to watch the match this Saturday afternoon, or even better if you are looking to celebrate a four-try bonus-point win on Saturday night, why not choose one of the wines above, as unlike the Rugby result, I can guarantee you will not be disappointed!

  • It’s a Family affair.

    Château de Paraza, our latest find from the Languedoc is a true family concern, above we can see Annick Danglas and her sons Antoine & Matthieu out surveying the crop, Sister Lucile and Dad Pascal are equally hands on. Continue reading to find out more about this great new wine.

    Lying in the heart of the village of Paraza, the Château of Paraza is one of the oldest estates in the South of France dedicated to growing vines. It was founded by the De Girard family in the 17th century and remained in their ownership up until 2006, when it was acquired by the Danglas Family. With a passion for wine, travel and history, Annick and Pascal Danglas threw themselves into this new adventure: the renovation and rejuvenation of a French wine estate.

    The estate is intertwined with the history of the Languedoc region and reflects it in its own trajectory and story. During the reign of King Louis XIV in the 17th century, Paraza was the home to the great engineer, Paul Riquet, who is credited with the construction of the Canal du Midi that connects the Mediterranean and Atlantic Oceans. Today, the canal can be admired from the seven terraces of the château. Which were built by Riquet as a gesture of thanks to his hosts at Château de Paraza.

    The vineyard, one of the oldest of the Minervois, is composed of 75 hectares of vines with slopes facing south and a soil very favorable to the cultivation of traditional grape varieties such as Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. All the conditions are met to make the Château de Paraza one of the best vineyards in South of France.

    So on to the wine itself, comprised of 40% Syrah, 40% Grenache & 20% Mourvèdre, Château de Paraza is  un-oaked and bursting with ripe red-berried fruit, undercut with some complexity thanks to the region's distinctive 'garrigue' herbal notes, this is a seriously good take on the classic Languedoc blend.

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