The wine buff: A new course of action?
January may be 'dry' for some people, but it doesn't mean that you have to stop learning about wine.
See it more as a time to plan for the year ahead; and why not make it doubly interesting by signing up for a wine course? One of the courses that really caught my attention is the DIY wine course set up by former sommelier Michelle Lawlor, who recently launched the Nude Wine Company. You can order a number of different courses online, and each is delivered to you as a kit, with six bottles to taste, and notes.
"The beginners' course (€100) is a mixture of France, Spain and Italy, touching on a few wine styles," says Michelle.
"There's an Italian course, a Spanish one, a fine wine one and a mini one. All the (other) wine courses are held in big cities around the country, so if you live too far away, or don't have the time to commit to a four-week course, this is perfect."
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Michelle suggests that you team up with a group of friends, and while there is no need to taste all the wines in the one evening, it's a good idea to taste at least two, so that you can compare and discuss them. She has found that people can feel a little intimidated when they visit a wine shop or restaurant; they have an idea of what they like - Rioja, for instance - but are nervous about trying something new.
"There are fun facts about the wine, the styles and the theme, so you learn words that help you describe a wine. So, if you like this wine, you like oaky wine, you like full-bodied, you like rich, you like spicy, you like high tannin, high acidity, low tannins," she says. "The whole point of it is to make it easy. It's not for people who already know loads about wine. And the videos on the website just make it accessible and normal, and not a thing that fancy people do."
Michelle sources low-intervention wines that are organic or biodynamic, and you will find some, like the reds from Cahors and Rioja on the beginners' course, in top restaurants such as Chapter One.
"Most of the wines come in at under €20, enough for an occasion. You don't have to spend loads of money to have a nice wine," she says.
If you live in the Kildare area, Michelle will be doing a four-week course in Two Cooks in Sallins for €150 (twocooks.ie). You will also find great wine courses at Ely CHQ, Mitchell & Son, the soon-to-be-re-opened L'Atitude 51 in Cork, wineacademy.ie in Kilkenny; and in Galway at woodberrys.ie, fwwineconsulting.com and awineidea.ie.
For professional certification, check out the WSET courses run by Maureen O'Hara at premierwinetraining.com which start at €150, and WSET courses at O'Briens Wine, Tindal Wine and the Cork Wine School run by O'Donovan's off-licence.
Wilson on Wine 2020, from wine writer John Wilson, includes over 160 bottles which are available in Ireland, listed by style and price, covering white, red, sparkling, natural, fine and fortified wine. It's a really useful handbook with great recommendations, and includes tasting notes, food-pairing suggestions, and a brief background on the featured wines. Priced at €12.99, available in O'Briens, Ely 64 Wine, Mitchell & Son, selected independent off-licences and leading bookshops.
Vinuva Organic Nero d'Avola 2018
€14 approx, 13pc, from thenudewineco.ie, Martin's, McHugh's and Bradleys
Native to Sicily, Nero d'Avola is a red grape worth exploring. Here, you get ripe, juicy blackberries, blueberries and redcurrants, and a nice touch of tannins.
Jean Cornelius Alsace Riesling 2018
€9.99, 12pc, from Lidl
If you're looking for a new grape to explore, try Riesling. It's associated with Germany, but this comes from across the French border in Alsace. Crisp and fresh with a tingle of citrus and apple.
Toro Loco Reserva 2018
€7.99, 13pc, from Aldi
At a January-friendly price, this has a blend of grapes, including Tempranillo, Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Merlot. With fruity flavours of dark plums, cherries and a touch of oaky spice, this will go nicely with stews.