The wine buff: An Irish weekend devoted to gastronomy and wines of the Loire looks promising
There's something very charming about Galway. It's not just the lovely city, and the stunning countryside, it's the people and the warm welcome. And one of the places that most epitomises this spirit is Renvyle House. Located at the far reaches of Connemara, the moment you walk in the door your shoulders just drop and relax. And they stay that way for your whole time there.
So what does this have to do with wine? Galway has become home to many outsiders who just popped over for a visit or came to work for a short stint, and one of them is Catherine Gagneux, the French Honorary Consul in the West of Ireland. The position is, as the name implies, an honorary one.
Catherine works full-time in the tech industry, as does her Irish husband, so everything she does in relation to this post is done in her spare time.
One of her spectacularly good ideas has been to forge ties between France and Ireland through food and wine.
I visited Renvyle towards the end of last year for the French Connection wine and gastronomy weekend, which featured an impressive selection of French wines from Galway wine merchant, JC Kenny, with tastings and canapés on the Friday, followed by a banquet dinner on the Saturday.
From February 15 to 17, they will be hosting a Gastronomy and Wines of the Loire weekend, which promises to be particularly interesting as Catherine has invited a number of winemakers from the region to present their wines.
The Loire Valley, with its picturesque châteaux, takes its name from the river, which is the longest in France. Because the region is close to the northern limit of where grapes can grow, the cooler climate produces wines that are fresh and crisp.
This means that typically they also tend to be a bit lower in alcohol.
This style, fruit forward and unoaked or only lightly oaked, has become increasingly popular, yet the Loire is not as well-known as it should be. There is a wonderfully diverse range of wines, from sparkling to sweet, with crisp white, rosé and red in between.
A wine you may be familiar with, but have perhaps almost forgotten about, is Muscadet, which has taken a good step up in quality in the last few years.
If you like Sauvignon Blanc, you probably know the classic, grassy Sauvignon Blanc wines of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, which pair so beautifully with goats' cheese; and Chenin Blanc, which you'll find in the white wines of Vouvray, Anjou, Montlouis and Savennières, can be made in so many styles, ranging from sparkling to sweet.
Loire reds are made mainly from Cabernet Franc and Gamay, although you'll also find some made from Pinot Noir. These are not big clunky wines, they're more about fruit and fragrance.
Look out for wines from Chinon, Saumur and Bourgueil and try them with grilled meat and vegetarian dishes.
The three bottles to try today (see left) are French, and if you want to head to Renvyle, it's €199 per person sharing. For more information, see renvyle.com.
Exquisite Collection Vouvray Domaine F Villon 2017
€9.99, 11.5pc, from Aldi
Vouvray from the Loire is made from the Chenin Blanc grape, which is notable for its crisp acidity. It balances well against the slightly off-dry style in this wine, which would be perfect with roast pork and apple sauce.
Henry Marionnet Touraine Gamay 2015
€16.25, 12pc, from Fallon & Byrne, Dublin; Le Caveau, Kilkenny; MacGuinness Wine Merchants, Dundalk and lecaveau.ie
Also from the Loire, this is made from the same grape as Beaujolais, and is loaded with raspberry, fresh strawberry and a savoury touch of cassis.
Chateau La Branne 2014 Cru Bourgeois
€22.95, 13.5pc, from Molloys Liquor Stores
I had this recently with roast beef and it went beautifully, as it would with a steak or a beefy casserole. With earthy, savoury Bordeaux flavours of dark plum and a touch of toasty coffee, it's perfect as a treat on a winter weekend.
Taking home two gongs at the recent Irish Whiskey Awards for their Artisan Irish Vodka and Poitín was Ballykeefe Distillery in Kilkenny, owned by Irish farmer Morgan Ging. The distillery, which has won awards for environmental sustainability, has also started making whiskey. All spirits are made using produce from the farm with byproducts being fed to the animals. Ballykeefe Gin and Vodka, €47.50, from Irish Celtic Whiskey shop and leading independents.