Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Grapes planted in 16th century. Now we get these two gems from Chile.

A Los Viñateros Bravos Volcánico País 2015 Itata (Chile), 12.5%, €22.90 Le Caveau, Bradley’s (Cork).

If you don’t like your wines big and bold and prefer light and delicate, then this is one to try.

Colour is pale Ruby, shimmering. 
Aromas of wild strawberries and hints too (I'm told) of the local vegetation.

Palate is fresh and light, vibrant, delicate red fruit flavours, touch of spice, distinctive and refreshing, smooth all the way to the finish. The granitic soils have a lot to say and tell here and, perhaps, that is why, or at least one reason, this wine reminds me of a good Beaujolais. A quiet friendly one and Very Highly Recommended. 

Le Caveau say the fruit comes from very old vines (100 years and more) grown on volcanic soil that give it a mineral-y character. It is fermented and aged in concrete vats, the extraction is very subtle. The skins are basket pressed. The wine is then aged in large wood vessels and after 14 months is bottled with a very coarse filtration. 

The first País (also known, particularly in California, as the Mission grape) was brought by the conquistadors in the 1550s and, for centuries, the locals used it to make wines for themselves.

But bit by bit, the big companies began to use the big-name grapes and the ancient imports lost ground. Leonardo Erazo was one who wanted to reverse this trend, travelled the world for ten years to study wine and then came back and founded A Los Viñateros Bravos.

In Itata, Leonardo has worked with the scattered local farmers’ old vines—many well over 100 years, still growing as dry farmed, untrained small bushes—to enhance their traditional natural practices to align with biodynamic guidelines. His mission, throughout this journey, has been to bring a sense of place into the bottle. 

“In order to achieve that, we are working back into the organic viticulture (historically, a tradition here) with natural winemaking. We feel like we don’t need to fix nature but rather enhance its capabilities, thus to enhance its potential. We want wines full of life, vibrancy, tension and freshness.”


The Pais doesn’t have much of a status with the better-known wine commentators. For instance, Grapes and Wines blames the original Spanish Franciscan missionaries for not taking the trouble “to bring something better”. Leonardo Erazo is taking time and trouble and certainly bringing us something better!

Miguel Torres Reserva Ancestral Valle del Itata (Chile) 2014, 14.5%, €18.50 Marks and Spencer.
This blend of Cinsault (60%), País (25) and Carignan (15) has a deep ruby colour. There are fragrant aromas of plum, blackberry, some spice too. It is smooth, rich, juicy and fruity as it spreads across, tannins just about evident, and then a long dry finish. A warm and concentrated welcoming wine, ideal in autumn and winter. Very Highly Recommended.

Torres tell us this is produced from the fruit of 80-year old vines. These grape varieties were first brought to Chile by the early Spanish conquistadors around 500 years ago, so it is aptly named.

According to Wines of South America, Torres are dedicated to rediscovering “heritage” wines, based on traditional País, both in table red and sparkling bottlings.
All Torres vineyards in Chile have been organic since 1995 and this wine, a Platinum winner in Decanter 2017, is the inaugural vintage (fewer than 15,000 bottles) from these ancient vineyards.

Decanter called it a “friendly beast” with particular praise for its “lovely concentration”.This medium bodied wine is not meant for long-term keeping and you are advised to use it within five years. Try it with steak, charcuterie and empanadas.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Christmas Aperitifs. And Two for The Meal!

Christmas Aperitifs
And Two for The Meal!

Quite a bit of variety in this quartet of whites, all possible aperitifs, which should stand you  in good stead over the holidays. All will be fine as aperitifs and two have the advantage of being rather low in alcohol. One is a rosé (usually associated with summer but I'm sure the house will be hot!) and another is a slightly sweet bottle of organic bubbles. The Vinho Verde is easy-drinking (indeed, they all are) and has a very slight fizz while the Sauvignon Blanc can also do duty during a meal. And speaking of The Meal, we have two (each well-priced) at the end that will certainly do the business there for you. Enjoy.

Messias Vinho Verde (DOC) 8.5%, €12.35 Karwig’s


This Vinho Verde is light and crisp, with a subtle and sparse fizz. It is made, in the Atlantic north of Portugal, from traditional regional varieties (Loureiro and Pedernâ in this case).

It has a light lemon colour, a touch of green and plenty of fizzy bubbles. Aromas are of light fresh fruits. The light white fruits continue to the palate, also a touch of sweetness (residual sugar is 13 gram/litre), a gentle fizz is part of the lively acidity. Recommended, especially as an aperitif.


La Stoppa Malvasia Dolce Frizzante, Emilia (IGT) 2016, 7%, €18.95 Bradley’s, Le Caveau.


The Malvasia di Candia is a rather unusual moderately sweet bubbly wine. Single fermentation is via the Charmat method (also used in Prosecco). Note that the ABV is just 7%.

Note too the beautiful golden colour. Not that many bubbles. It is frizzante, not spumante! Easy drinking (not a hint of cloying), moderately sweet, honey and fruity and a good finish. This lightly sparkling beauty is Recommended.

Le Bijou de Sophie Valrose Cabrieres Languedoc (AOP), 13%, €14.95 Bradley’s Cork.

This rosé is one of the new wines added to the Findlater range. It is produced from Cinsault (50%), Grenache (40) and Syrah (10). “Summer in a glass” they claim, full of red fruit and a refreshing zestiness. Sophie Valrose wines are regular award winners (the rosé indeed picked up another gong at the recent National Off Licence Awards). 

Colour is a light to mid salmon, more flush than the blush on the label. Strawberries and blossoms in the aromas, round and elegant on the palate, excellent acidity and a decent finish to boot. Summer has been successfully bottled here. Recommended, even in winter!


Passage du Sud Sauvignon Blanc, Côtes de Gascogne (IGP) 2016, 11.5%, €12.95 Bradley’s (Cork)

Usually in Gascony, the white wines I've come across are the kind that go well during the holiday. Often they are produced from Ugni Blanc  and Columbard (used in Armagnac) fruit, great with the local oysters and other seafood but rarely worth bringing home. This Sauvignon Blanc has a bit more going for it and is Recommended. 

The Gascony area, in the south west of France, often hosts migrating birds, hence the name on this bottle. The designation Côtes de Gascogne is in the Gers department. Here too you will find Armagnac and Floc de Gascogne (the local aperitif). This is the area where you are strongly advised not to ask for Cognac or Pineau des Charentes (also a good aperitif, as is the Floc, if you can get your hands on them).


This wine, also new to the Findlater list, has a light straw colour. White fruit aromas are matched on the crisp and fruity palate, citrus elements prominent, and a lively acidity. Quite a pleasant surprise this from a generally unconsidered area. Recommended. Good value too.


And Two for The Meal!
Le Petite Source Le Clos Rouge Pays d’Oc (IGP), 12.5%, €11.95 Bradley's, Le Caveau
This is one of the selection of excellent “simple” wines that Le Caveau have on their house wine listings. Under a convenient screw cap, the organic blend is of Grenache, Cinsault and Merlot. It is deliciously light and fruity and a good example of price/quality ration from the Languedoc.

It has a lovely medium ruby colour. It is fresh and fruity (blackberry, raspberry and strawberry), juicy and simple, silky tannins with just a little bite. Well balanced but with a good deal of heft about it and Highly Recommended.

Le Petite Source Le Clos Blanc Pays d’Oc (IGP) 2014, 12.5%, €11.95 Bradley's, Le Caveau


This 2014 edition (2015 is now available) has a light straw colour. There are rather exotic fruits on the nose. And they follow through to the palate. It is deliciously fresh and fruity, no shortage of acidity. Very refreshing with a longish finish. This well made blend of Vermentino and Chardonnay is Highly Recommended.

Taste of the Week. Crossogue’s Loganberry Jam

Taste of the Week

Crossogue’s Loganberry Jam

Having been born and spent my early years in Kenya, I moved to Ireland to marry a wonderful Irish man and together we run the family farm Crossogue. Now 50 years of marriage later with six children and thirteen grand children, I am still here and have enjoyed the journey it has all taken me on!

That is briefly, very briefly, the story of Veronica of Crossogue Preserves. The preserves are a relatively recent addition to the farm, just over twenty two years. And they just get better and better as the flow of prizes and awards (sixty alone from Great Taste) underline.

Must say I'm not sure that their Loganberry Jam features among the prize-winners but it is a beauty. I got mine at the Roughty in the English Market and Margo Ann told go home now and try that out and then tell me it's not “the real thing”. I never had a doubt. It is top notch and our Taste of the Week.

And here’s a tip to get even extra out of it. Use it with cheese, with sheeps cheese in particular. I had this in mind in the market and bought a wedge of Vincenzo’s Pecorino (made in Toonsbridge by an Italian). Serve that with a dash of the loganberry and you have an even better taste of the week. Enjoy!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Winter Kings by Eight Degrees. Royal Clash of the Oak. And the Holly.

Winter Kings by Eight Degrees.

Royal Clash of the Oak. And the Holly.
Ale (left) and stout, peaceful in the pack.

Quite a lot of talk about Brett C when Eight Degrees recently launched their pair of winter seasonals, a Belgian Pale Ale and an Imperial Stout, both part of the Ballyhoura Series.

Who the hell is Brett C? I googled it and found that he is a Melbourne, Australia based photographer who specialises in sport, fashion, event and people photography. 

We all know Eight Degrees have antipodean connections but this is the wrong answer. Brettanomyces is its proper name and it is a yeast that the brewery has used in each of these beers. Brett C, the yeast that is, is more likely to be noticed in the aromas than in the flavours and funky is the term regularly associated with it.

Mid-winter is a source of many legends and myths and the battle between the oak king and the holly king is the one you’ll see on the bottle labels. Various versions abound and here are two links you might explore when sipping these Mitchelstown gems.


The Holly King (wren) and the Oak King (robin)  https://stairnaheireann.net/2016/04/13/the-holly-and-oak-king/

Scott (left) and Cam, at work

The Oak King Belgian Pale Ale, 6.5% abv, RRP €7.95 (75ml bottle) 

This Belgian style pale ale has an amber robe. There’s an almost cider-y intro to the palate, gradually getting more complex before a tart finish. Sour maybe but not crab apple sour, perhaps the oak has rounded off any extremes.

Austere is probably the single best word to describe this sophisticated offering. Don't let the “austere” put you off though. This is one of the most interesting seasonal beers this Christmas and I may well be serving it as an aperitif in champagne flutes as suggested by the brewery.

Brewery tips: Serve well chilled in champagne flutes as an aperitif on Christmas morning, with a half-dozen oysters or some smoked salmon, or take it to the dinner table to pair perfectly with your turkey.

The Holly King Imperial Stout, 9.8% abv, €11.95 RRP (75ml bottle)

As black as a mid-winter’s night in a Ballyhoura boreen, though it starts with a tanned head that, like many a tan from a bottle, doesn't last too long. The intro to the palate is intense, treacle like in flavour or maybe it’s funk, but soon more traditional flavours, including coffee, take over. Some vanilla there too, all brought together, along with Brett C of course, during the sojourn in the oak casks (previously used for Pinot Noir). Strong start, strong finish, quite a player for the Christmas team.

Brewery tips: It's a hugely complex beer, so pour it into snifters and sip it slowly to end a meal with a slice of spicy Christmas Cake, studded with nuts and dried fruit, classic Black Forrest Gateau or a box of cocoa-dusted dark chocolate truffles.

* Both are packaged in 750ml amber champagne-style bottles and are available individually or as 2 x 750ml bottle gift packs (RRP €19.95). They are widely available, including at Bradley’s Cork; for more stockists and more info, click hereBeoirFinder App now available for Android and iOS .

* And while you're on the net, check out some of my favourite funk right here




Sunday, December 10, 2017

Meet You at The Old Bank. New Mayfield Cafe and Food Hall As O’Connor Butchers Expand

Meet You at The Old Bank!
O’Connor Butchers Expand. New Mayfield Cafe & Food Hall 
Good morning!

Saturday December 2nd was a big day for the O'Connor family. What would the weather be like? They wondered. But they needn’t have worried. The sun shone and the music played, a big crowd showed up, even Santa appeared, as they officially opened their impressive new premises in Mayfield, a new premises that incorporates their long-running butcher shop business plus a brand new Food Hall and the lovely new Old Bank Café. 

Why Old Bank, you might ask. Well because the new building stands on the Iona Road site occupied for many years by the Permanent TSB bank.
All quiet on a Sunday morning.

I met Sinead Daly, the café manager, one afternoon last week and she proudly filled me on the story of the O’Connor family. The business started back in 1988 with the closure of Byrne’s in Ballincollig. Cormac O'Connor took a chance and, starting with a small van, began to fill the gap and now they deliver in both west and east Cork, to hotels, butcher shops and more.

By 1996, Cormac opened his shop on Boherboy Road, just off the North Ring Road, in Mayfield. And now, twenty years later, the tireless entrepreneur has moved that business the short distance to Iona Road to a purpose built building that includes the Food Hall (hot and cold deli) and the busy café, the first and only facility of its kind in the area. 

So great credit to Cormac. From that one man in a small van, the business has grown to twenty employees! Sons Cormac and Rory are now on the road, delivering east and west. The O'Connor family specialise in pork and bacon.

Sinead says they are now busy with Christmas orders, turkey and ham of course. Their traditional Christmas Cub is very popular. And another popular tradition is their Spice Beef. "Great aromas around the back these days!"

The Deli in the Food Hall opens at 7.30am and closes at 6.30pm. The Breakfast Bap is flying out the door. It is well priced: a fiver for the packed bap and tea or coffee. Another popular product here is your dinner on a plate: meat, vegetables and potatoes, fresh from the kitchen. A big ready-to-cook plate for €5.95 or two for a tenner. Good value and very convenient also.


The Food Hall is well stocked. Some good locally produced products on sale there such as Spice o’Life Sauces from Dunmanway and baked goods from Hassetts in Carrigaline. Watch out for the weekly offers and also popular, among the sporting fraternity, is the Protein Pack.

Sinead opens the Old Bank at 8.00am and soon the breakfast orders are coming in. The Full Irish (with tea or coffee) is in demand at €9.95. And you can have the mini-version for €5.95. Their Eggs Benedict, she has been told they “are the nicest in Cork”, is very popular and available for most of the day.

If your morning appetite is on the “small” side, why not try the Soft Poached Eggs or the Smoky Beans on Toast. Looking for something on the healthy side? They've got a Puffed Spelt and mixed nut granola and Porridge comes complete with Lemon Curd, seeds, berry compote, banana and honey.

Moving on then to lunch-time, you’ll be spoiled for choice. There’s their Roast of the Day and the Burger (all local meats by the way). Did you know that O'Connor’s hit the foodie headlines when their Glazed Ham was chosen to feed the hungry crews of the Clipper 09-10 race on Lapps Quay? Well that very ham is also on the lunch menu along with various salads and toasties.

Aside from breakfast and lunch, there are mid-morning and mid-afternoon opportunities to call in and relax with tea or coffee (loyalty card for regular coffee drinkers) along with scones, croissants, and pastries and more (Eggs Benedict for instance is on all day). And you can bring the kids. They’ll  enjoy some of the usual suspects but also have their own ham or chicken sandwich and will certainly be delighted with the highly rated Baldwin’s Ice-cream.

Baldwin’s are a farm in Knockanore, West Waterford and their inclusion on the menu is one way in which the café’s policy to use “the best seasonal and artisan produce available” is being achieved. The place was more or less full in mid-afternoon last Tuesday and it looks as if Sinead’s aim to make it “a great place to meet, socialise and eat” is on its way to being realised.

* Appropriately, since there is no longer a bank in Mayfield, the new premises includes an ATM.


Saturday, December 9, 2017

Amuse Bouche

I was eating a thing called couscous and there were no peas or spuds on the plate, or meat. I was doing this as I sat beside a naked woman. There was a mug of wine on the floor beside me. I felt French. I felt American. I felt like a writer, living the writer’s life. I felt handsome. I felt cruel and good, adult and giddy. I felt sophisticated, and I didn’t. I felt that this was mine. My life had started. My real life had started.


from Smile by Roddy Doyle (2017). Very Highly Recommended.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The SpitJack's Superb New Menu. Amazing Cheese and Fortifieds List

The SpitJack's Superb New Menu. 
Amazing Cheese and Fortifieds List
Pom'O (right) and Ice Wine
from Glounthaune.

The SpitJack has hit the ground running in Washington Street and, with its first summer a success, has just announced its new winter menu. I took the opportunity to try it out in mid-week. The meats as you’d expect, as SpitJack is a rotisserie, are top notch but the real surprise was the new Cheese and Fortified Menu. Not too many of our top restaurants will match this magical list of possible combinations.

And the good news is that there is quite a local input. Near neighbours, Ardsallagh Goats and Johnny Fall Down, feature strongly. The inventive Glounthaune drinks outfit are doubly represented with a Pom’O Apple Port and a Rare Apple Ice Wine.

The Pom’O is based on the traditional Normandy pommeau (pressed apple juice with apple brandy) but the Glounthaune orchard has added a twist or two of their own to make this beauty. They used rare apples and then a combination of freezing and thawing, a year long fermentation and nothing at all was added to make the Ice Wine, the first Irish ice wine to be sold.

It is beautiful and rich and perfect with the cheeses that we had and with the Ardsallagh Ash Pyramid in particular. Ardsallagh have a much longer history in the East Cork area than Johnny Fall Down but Jane Murphy continues to innovate and this is her first ash pyramid. Made from pasteurised mild goats milk, it is formed into the traditional Valencay shape and sealed in ash. Got an early taste during the Culture Night but this is the first commercial batch and it won't be the last.

The Ardsallagh was served with Fig Compote. Our second cheese was a favourite of ours from our (too) few visits to the Basque country. It is a sheep cheese from Ossau-Iraty a area of the Pyrenees where we got “lost” once or twice. In the Basque country, they often serve it with a Black Cherry conserve (I use Loganberry jam at home!); last night, SpitJack’s Quince paste was excellent. 
Lamb

Then we finished with the Comte AOC from the Jura mountains, served with truffle honey. This 24 month vieux is a beauty, delicious, and enhanced by that honey. 

Other cheeses on this impressive list include: Brillat Savarin, Camembert Bonchoix AOC, Cashel Blue Mature, Durrus Og, Epoisses AOC, Manchego 18 months PDO, Pont L’Évêque AOC, and Stilton PDO. There are three Quinta Seara D’Ordens signature ports on the fortifieds list while dessert wines include Chateau Camperos Sauternes and a couple of sherries, a  Colosio PX and Orleans Borbon Manzanilla, plus the two Johnny Fall Down drinks. 
Pork

The new menu, like the previous one, is well constructed, in the sense that, if you wish, you can avoid meat in the starters and that’s what we did.

Salted cod is an Atlantic tradition so I was delighted to see the House Salted Cod “Bunyols” (€8.5) Catalan Style Cod Fritters, Flaked Salted Cod, Fried Crisp Exterior, Soft Pillow Centre, Lime Chantilly, delighted too that I choose this tasty plateful.

Across the table, CL also made a good pick. The pickled Heirloom Beetroot Carpaccio (€7) with Ardsallagh Goats Cheese Foam, Candied Walnuts, Tarragon Oil, Watercress, looked well and tasted well.
Beetroot

On now to the main event, as my Eight Degrees Sunburnt Red Ale sank in the glass. Time for the Rotisserie Pork Belly Porchetta (€17), Slow Roasted Pork Belly Stuffed with Sage & Garlic, Crisp Crackling, Kale Colcannon Potatoes, Braised Kale & Apple Compote, Sautéed Tender Stem Broccoli, Honey Mustard Jus. “Savage,” as we say around here. The word’s not the most sophisticated but, when pronounced with soul, means the meat (in this case) is rather good my dear.

And it also may be applied to CL’s earthy choice, a peasant’s pleasant pot in winter time of Brazed and Rotisserie Roasted Lamb Shank (€19.00), with Red Wine Glaze, Pearl Barley & Winter Vegetable Cassoulet, Crème Fraîche, Mint Oil, Braised Lamb & Brandy Jus. Local and seasonal, simple soul food, simple but superb.
Cod fritters

So two very happy customers and that was before the cheese and Johnny Fall Down took us to a higher level!

Check out the new menus and more here at SpitJack

The SpitJack
34 Washington Street
Cork City

0212390613

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Superb Red and White from Portugal

Quinta dos Carvalhais Encruzado DAO (DOC) 2015, 13%, €29.99 Wine Online
Okay, first things first. Portuguese grapes aren't that well known individually so Encruzado is the grape here, “potentially the best white grape of the DAO” according to Grapes and Wine. Barrel fermentation and lees stirring help bring out the character and “it is suited by a little oak ageing” as we see here. Potential is being realised methinks by Sogrape Vinhos, the producers of our Very Highly Recommended bottle, imported by Liberty Wines.

It is not a blend and this 100% Encruzado has a light straw colour. Quite a melange in the bouquet: white fruit, floral, spicy, oak traces too. It is full bodied, fresh and fruity, oak notes too, well balanced with a lively acidity. A harmonious combination indeed with a long creamy and elegant finish with those lovely aromas hanging on to the end. 

Try with more elaborate fish and seafood dishes, smoked fish too, white meats, and some cheeses.

Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande Douro (DOC) 2015, 14%, €19.99 JJ O’Driscoll (Cork), Wine Online.
This excellent red, also by Sogrape Vinhos, is a blend as most Portuguese reds are. The dominant grape is Touriga Franca and also included are Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz (better know to us as Tempranillo). Pair with beef, pasta, lamb and game.


Colour is a deep ruby and legs are slow to clear. Aromas are complex, red and black berries, floral and herbal elements too. It is smooth and rich on the palate with fresh fruit flavours, magnificent depth, rounded tannins, peppery too, subtle oak in the background. Quite a lot going on but well balanced. The finish is smooth, dry and long. Very Highly Recommended.