The wine buff
For many people, the most daunting thing in a restaurant, particularly a fine dining establishment, is being presented with the wine list. Invariably, people default to the second wine on the list, which may or may not have the highest margin, or they stick with a wine style they know. But the best thing to do is to talk to the sommelier. No, you're not going to look stupid, all you have to do is point to a certain wine on the list and say, 'I'm looking for something around this range', and the sommelier will be able to recommend you wines within your price range.
Pressure off. Let the conversation begin.
Contrary to what you might think, sommeliers really do want to help. Most of them are wine geeks and they get a real kick out of introducing a diner to a new wine. I was in The House Restaurant at the Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore, Co Waterford, a few months ago, and I opted for the wine pairing with the tasting menu. As it has a Michelin star, this is very much a fine dining restaurant, and the Dutch chef here, Martijn Kajuiter, cooks very inventive food.
Rather than pair the dishes with the more familiar wines of Spain, France and Italy, Matthieu Le Crom, the French sommelier, consults with Martijn on all the dishes, and looks to match them with more offbeat wines. So when I was there, I had wines from Alsace in France, Wales, Georgia, Armenia and Spain. And it just struck me when I was chatting to him afterwards, that this would be a very good way for someone to try wines that they would never normally consider.
And you don't have to opt for the wine pairing. "Some people don't like to taste too many different wines, so I'll suggest an interesting bottle that works throughout the meal," says Matthieu.
"Often, a biodynamic wine tastes quite different when you first open the bottle to how it tastes at the end of the meal. It opens up and improves with oxidation." There are also some very great wines by the glass, starting at €11.
Another great way to try top quality, unusual wines is to go to the SPIT festival (Specialist Professional Independent Tasting), now in its fourth year. With over 120 wines, this relaxed tasting specialises in small artisan producers.
You'll get a booklet with details of the wines at each table, and there's an opportunity to talk to the importers and some of the winemakers who will be visiting for the occasion, including Pascal Collotte of Chateau Jean Faux, a biodynamic winemaker from Bordeaux; and Alex Starey, the winemaker at Keermont Vineyard which is set in a natural amphitheatre between the Helderberg and Stellenbosch Mountain ranges in South Africa.
It's on Thursday, October 11 at the Chocolate Factory in Dublin, 6pm-8.30pm. Tickets, €30, available at spit.ie.
The line-up of bottles today features some more unusual wines, including a beautiful wine from the Jura region of France.
L'Atitude 51 in Cork has an exciting line-up of wine events kicking off, starting with their Wine Fundamentals course on September 29, running over four consecutive weeks, at €30 per class or €110 for the full course. French movie Saint Amour stars Gerard Depardieu, who takes to the road to a farm festival via the Wine Trail with his son, September 26 for €15; and Speed Tasting is back on October 19, €30 for six wines. Email email@example.com
Adventures in wine
Rijckaert Arbois Chardonnay 2016
€24, 13pc, from Green Man Wines, Corkscrew, Fallon & Byrne and siyps.com
From France's Jura region, this unusual wine has a floral, almost fuchsia nose underpinned by savoury notes of artichoke, lime and slight oxidation, with a silky palate of fleshy pear, lemon and a touch of cloves and spice on the finish.
Delheim Chenin Blanc
€11.95, reduced from €13.95, 13pc, from O'Briens
If you have tried Vouvray, then you will have tasted crisp Chenin Blanc in its spiritual home. It is also very popular in South Africa, where it takes on a more peach and honeyed character but still has wonderful freshness.
Château la Pigotte Terre Feu 2016
€12, 14.5pc, from Dunnes
Take a moment to revisit Bordeaux. With a perfumed nose and concentrated dark plum and touch of coffee on the palate, this is great to drink now, or will keep for a few years if you want to let it develop.