Wise Up on wine
If you don't know already, there's a perfect distraction from the cold, dark evenings that seem to stretch out inexhaustibly for the first few months, and yes, it does involve wine. Sign up for a wine course. It can be as short as just one evening, or you can get more serious about the subject and study for a qualification. Le Cave, in Dublin, runs an informal wine programme which starts on January 30. It's €30 per evening and also includes a platter of cheeses and salamis.
In Cork, L'Atitude 51 Wine Café kicks off its Wine Fundamentals course today at €40 per class. And for something a bit more sociable, on Friday, February 2, it will be running a Speed Tasting evening. It starts with a Prosecco reception at 7.30pm, followed by an introduction to wine tasting, and then it's time to taste the six wines - which involves moving to a different table for each wine. And here's the fun part: everyone tastes the wines blind, and at the end of the evening there's a prize for the person who identifies them all correctly.
If you want to immerse yourself in wine for a day, Maureen O'Hara at Premier Wine Training runs an intensive one-day course for €150; dates include February 17 and April 7. She also runs WSET courses, which lead to a professional qualification in wine, as does Harriet Tindal from Tindal Wines. Also starting at the end of the month is the Mitchell & Sons wine course, which runs over four consecutive weeks.
One of the really great ways to learn about wine is by attending a wine dinner and Ashford Castle in Mayo has a prestigious line-up. Tariq Sakr, the Chief Winemaker at Château Musar, hosted a wine dinner last night, and the next one is planned for February 13. "We're privileged to have Lilian Barton, who is the Director and Winemaker at Château Léoville-Barton," says Philip Dunne, the Head Sommelier at Ashford Castle. "We've had their wines in our cellar for well over 3O years, and they have a particular connection with Ireland as they are one of the Wild Geese. We're going to have a seven-course menu prepared by our head chef, Philippe Farineau, with each dish designed to showcase the wines using the best of local ingredients."
The evening promises to be a real treat, starting with a glass of Lanson Père et Fils Champagne to whet your appetite nicely. "The Champagne will be served in the wine cellar, which will be really special for anyone who hasn't seen it before, and it very much sets the tone for the evening," says Philip. "Then we'll move up to the Connaught Room for the dinner. We'll be pairing dishes with La Croix de Barton Blanc 2015, followed by the Mauvesin Barton 2012, Langoa Barton 2007 and two different vintages of Château Léoville-Barton. One of the vintages will be the 2004 and we have a surprise vintage at the end which I think people are really going to enjoy. It's been 10 years since we've done wine dinners like these, with really notable winemakers visiting. In the past, we had dinners with Château Margaux and Dominique Lafon, so it really feels like the right time to go back to doing these prestigious dinners." The dinner is €150pp for residents, and €195pp for non-residents.
For wines this week, I'm looking at a bit of January value. The Chardonnay and the Pinotage are easy drinkers, the Spanish red is a blend of four grapes, and the Cotes Du Rhone is a bit of a bargain at the reduced price.
If you are interested in learning more about natural wines, Sean and Caro Feely of Chateau Feely will be hosting a dinner at Ballymaloe House featuring their award-winning natural wine from Saussignac in France. Caro's talk about their vineyard and wines will be followed by dinner with wine pairings on Thursday, February 15 at 6pm, €105pp or €200pp including B&B. If you're looking for a total immersion in wine, the intensive, three-day French Wine Scholar programme runs on Saturdays from 10am-5pm, starting on February 3; it costs €650 and there's certification on completing the exam successfully. Contact Maureen at firstname.lastname@example.org
4 WINES TO TRY
Signal Post Chardonnay,
€8.99, 13.5pc, from select Eurospar, Spar and Mace
A quaffable white for Chardonnay lovers, this South African wine has plenty of ripe tropical fruit, but has less obvious oak than you would expect. It is soft but there’s a good balance of acidity, which gives it freshness on the palate.
Gran Volante 2016,
€9.95 reduced from €14.95, 14pc, from O’Briens
With a juicy nose of ripe, dark plums, this is more deep and brooding on the palate, with dark, savoury fruit, notes of liquorice, tamarind and vanilla, and plenty of grip from the tannins. Great with slow-cooked daube of beef, and warming casseroles with olives and aubergines.
Ferraton Cotes Du Rhone Samorens 2015,
€12.95 reduced from €14.95, 14pc, from O’Briens
This really is a nicely-made wine; it greets you immediately with a sparkle of violet on the nose. Nicely structured, there’s plenty of savoury fruit with red currants and dark plums and a balance of acidity which makes it a great wine to have with food. Rare steak comes to mind.
Makulu Pinotage 2015, €8.99
12.5pc, from select Eurospar, Spar and Mace
Considerably lighter than a typical Pinotage, South Africa’s signature grape, this is juicy with cherry flavours and a touch of cocoa and mocha reminding you of its origins. If you’re a fan of the more full-on style, opt for the Stonecross Pinotage, which is the same price.