Monday 21 October 2019

The wine buff: California superstars you can buy in Ireland


Wild west: The Santa Rita hills overlook the Pacific Ocean
Wild west: The Santa Rita hills overlook the Pacific Ocean
Sandhi, Sanford & Benedict
Chateau Riotor
Domaine Chamonard
Corinna Hardgrave

Corinna Hardgrave

I was recently watching Amy Poehler and her Saturday Night Live squad of women hit the Napa Valley tasting rooms in Netflix's Wine Country, and was reminded of a stunning wine trip I had to California. Except I was further down the coast in the less manicured but very beautiful area of Santa Barbara. It is a relaxed, laid-back coastal town with great restaurants and a really cool area called the Funk Zone, which is devoted to wine bars.

The wines they sell are quite different from the very polished Cabernet Sauvignons of the Napa Valley. They are made by young winemakers who don't have a few million stashed in their back pocket. Typically they buy grapes rather than owning vineyards, and rather than using high-tech equipment, the wines are generally made in a more Burgundian, hands-on style.

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North of Santa Barbara, the west-facing Santa Rita Hills open out to the Pacific Ocean, and with cold fog and mountain winds, they were considered to be too cool to make wine. That was until cult winemaker Sashi Moorman and top US sommelier Raj Parr discovered an uncultivated site 700 feet above the Santa Ynez river and just seven miles from the ocean, which they decided was the perfect place to plant Pinot Noir.

Walking across the vineyards of Domaine de la Côte with Sashi, he explained the uniqueness of the site. It is at a point where the Pacific and North American tectonic plates collided 12 million years ago, pushing the ancient diatomaceous seabed above water, which fans out to form ridges and hills above sea level.

This means that there is a huge diversity of terroir, and within their 40 acre site, they have six vineyards with unique soils and aspects. So the Pinot Noir grown on the dark clay of their Memorious vineyard tastes fuller and rounder than their Bloom's Field wine, where there is lighter, iron-rich shale.

The morning I spent in the vineyard with Sashi, tasting his wines with a group of wine writers, was one of the most interesting I have had. He explained how it's not just about being organic that is important when it comes to growing vines, it is also vital not to compact the soil with tractors and heavy machinery. When the soils are alive, there's an energy in the wines, and it really shows. His wines, under the Sandhi and Domaine de la Côte labels, are available in Ireland, and you can find them online at, Jus de Vine, 64 Wine and Redmond's.

Sashi will be visiting Adare Manor with two other hugely important Californian winemakers, Steve Matthiasson and Pax Mahle for an evening of wine tasting followed by a fine dining seasonal menu on Sunday, July 7. Featured wines include the Matthiasson Sonoma Coast Chardonnay from the Michele Mara vineyard, the Memorious Pinot Noir from Domaine de la Côte, Syrah Griffin's Lair from Pax Mahle, and a Vermouth Matthiasson Cocktail.

€95 per person, tel: 061 605 271, or email



If you're heading to Kerry this summer, Sheen Falls Lodge in Kenmare is worth a stop for their spectacular new Champagne-themed afternoon tea. Savouries of house smoked salmon and fresh crab, and an array of sweet treats will be paired with different Champagnes over the summer. It starts with Veuve Clicquot this month, Bollinger features in July, Louis Roederer in August and Lanson in September. Daily 2pm to 5pm, €90 for two people.

Sandhi, Sanford & Benedict Chardonnay 2015

€55, 13.5pc, from Jus de Vine, 64 Wine and Redmond's, Dublin

Sandhi, Sanford & Benedict

With beautiful intensity on the nose, this is a classic Burgundy style with flinty aromas and precise, elegant flavours of lemon peel, ripe apple, spice and a mineral finish. Expensive but worth it.

Domaine Chamonard Morgon Clos de la Lys 2016

€25.60, 12.5pc, from Green Man Wines, Dublin; Le Caveau, Kilkenny and

Domaine Chamonard

A seductive natural wine, this has violets, red and dark fruit, a touch of spice and balsamic on the nose, and is wonderfully vibrant on the palate with strawberry, bramble and savoury notes.

Château Riotor Rosé 2018, Côtes de Provence

€18.95, or €14.21 when you buy one bottle and get second half price, 13.5pc, from O'Briens and

Chateau Riotor

This delicious rosé is made from a blend of Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah and Vermentino, so you're getting plenty of fruit with fresh flavours of raspberry, red cherry and pink grapefruit.

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