Corinna Hardgrave: The Irish people who are doing exciting things in wine
When we talk about the Irish wine geese, the grand châteaux of Bordeaux come to mind, with names like Lynch-Bages, Phelan-Segur, Kirwan, and Château Langoa-Barton, which, unlike many of the châteaux there, is still run by the family, who are very proud of their Irish ancestry. Bottles from any of these châteaux would be quite splendid, if expensive, to open on St Patrick's Day, but there are quite a few Irish wine geese who live on our shores who are doing new and exciting things in wine.
Among them are wine importers and winemakers Sinead and Liam Cabot, who will be spending St Patrick's Day out in their vineyard in the Stajerska region of eastern Slovenia. It may sound like a complete dream owning a vineyard, but the level of work involved is huge, as I learned from a wine weekend a few months ago in Knockranny House Hotel, where Sinead and Liam were hosting tastings and masterclasses.
Simon Tyrell of Les Deux Colls, who produces wine from the Rhône Valley vineyard he owns with wine importer Charles Derain and Gerard Maguire of 64 Wine, was at the same event, and their operation likewise involves prodigious amounts of hard work. Simon, Charles and Gerard have been busy pruning their vineyards, which now include two new ones, and with the weather significantly colder in Slovenia, Sinead and Liam are just starting into that now.
Many winemakers, like Simon, start out by buying grapes and making a few vintages of wine, but Sinead and Liam decided that they wanted to dive in head first, and bought one hectare of vines in 2007 and plan to double the size of their vineyards to two hectares this year. "We wanted to get our hands dirty," says Liam. "It was a bit like being a chef who had never tasted the food, or never went to visit the suppliers the food was coming from. And we felt strongly that our relationship with the amazing winemakers we were already working with would be enhanced by trying to understand it ourselves."
The vineyard, which has three grape varieties - Sipon (Furmint), Laski Riesling and Modra Frankinja (Blaufränkisch) - is in rolling hills at an altitude of 330 metres above sea level. The winters are cold, with temperatures plummeting to -12˚C, and the summers are relatively hot.
For the first couple of years, they asked the original owner if he would continue looking after the vines so that they could watch and learn from him. In 2010, they took control themselves and decided that they would really try to understand what they were working with in the vineyard. They are effectively self-taught and have learned a lot from a neighbouring winemaker who became a very good friend. They produced their first wines in 2011, and their first commercial vintage in 2015.
Their approach to wine making is minimum intervention in the vineyard, and they work as naturally and organically as possible, so don't use any herbicides or pesticides. In the cellar, the approach to wine making is completely natural. Their aim is to make wines that have a sense of place, and the results are really impressive.
Roka Furmint 2017
€19.99, 12pc, from 64 Wine, Grapevine; Dublin, Cabot and Co, Westport; Butler & Byrne, Cong; Poppy Seed, Clarinbridge; and No. 1 Pery Square, Limerick
From Sinead and Liam Cabot's vineyard in Slovenia, this is fresh with crisp grapefruit and citrus flavours.
Les Auzines Hautes Terres Rouge 2017
€12.95, reduced from €14.95, 13.5pc, from O'Briens Wines and obrienswine.ie
In the Languedoc, Foxrock native Neasa Corish and husband Laurent Miquel run an organic vineyard and this Carignan, Grenache and Syrah blend has lush ripe red fruit with a touch of wild herbs.
Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz 2017
€34.99, 14.5pc, from 64 Wine, Baggot Street Wines, Blackrock Cellar, Jus de Vine, Drink Store, Egan's, Grapevine, Nectar Wines, Redmond's, The Corkscrew, Mitchells, and Wineonline.ie
When Irishman John Kirk started his winery near Canberra in Australia in 1971, he named it after the family farm where he grew up in Clare. Ripe, floral and concentrated with flavours of wild bramble, raspberries and a touch of white pepper spice.
Green Man Wines in Terenure run amazing tasting evenings, and on April 2 they have wines from Burgundy with winemaker Róisín Curley and Master of Wine Mick O'Connell. They'll be looking at the different regions and styles of wine produced in this world-renowned area, with a tutored tasting which will include Róisín's wines. With a light supper, cost is €55 per person (must be booked and paid in advance).
Tel: 01 559 4235