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Nessa Morrissey
Nessa Morrissey

15.00 20 Mar 2020

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27th November 2020: Exclusive Italian Wines From Lidl

Newstalk Movies & Booze Friday 27th November, 2020

Today on Movies & Booze we’re featuring a few of Lidl’s exclusive  Italian wine collection including a gorgeous white wine from South Western  Italy made from a grape called creco and one of my all time favourite Italian red grapes, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano a superior  clone of the Sangiovese grapeIl fine settimana inizia qui


2019 Greco di Tufo DOCG €11.99


Stockists:  Lidl Nationwide


The ancient Romans considered Campania to be their best wine region.  They loved the wines produced along the coast north of Naples, where Falernum, the most treasured wine of the Empire was made.  They also loved the wines of Vesuvius and the hills of Avellino.  Funny enough it was the Greeks who introduced the two key grape varieties to the area, the white grape Greco and the red grape Galianico.


During the 20th century Campania’s wine kudos has been in decline.  Growers left the land and moved to the cities and those who remained really didn’t pay much attention to the wine laws.  The exceptions centred around  three specific wine styles, the red Taurasi and the two white DOCG wines, Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo both grown in the hiss east of Naples.


Fiano and Greco are among two of Italy’s most distinguished white wines.  In recent years, particularly in the last decade as wine drinkers seek out new and little know grape varieties, the red grapes Aglianico from Taurasi,  and the white Fiano and Greco have gained a cult following.


In Campania Greco is grown near the village of Tufo where it is known as Greco di Tufo. This is a dry white wine with a lovely richness.  Greco can also develop a herbaceous quality to it as it ages.


The grapes are grown on volcanic soil (also known as “tufo”) most Italian white wines are cold fermented which gives them a neutrality that the Italians love.  They don’t like their white wines to have a lot of flavours, the more neutral they are, the better they go with food.  This has pear drop aromas, which is indicative of the fermentation technique.  The herbaceous character also shows through.  It has a lot of texture when tasted, with lovely concentrated citrus flavours.  This white has a slightly different flavour profile, with an oily weighty finish.  It goes on forever in the mouth and at this price is definitely worth a punt.  I would suggest matching it with Goats Cheese in Puff Pastry with a little tapenade.  It will stand up to all those strong flavours.  A great treat for the weekend.
















2014 Duca di Sasseta Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG Riserva €16.99


Stockists:  Lidl Nationwide


This is what I’d call a “died and went to heaven wine”, it’s really one of my favourite Italian wine styles.  After Sangiovese, Montepulciano is one of Italy’s most widely planted red grape varieties.  It originated in Tuscany.  There are two grapes, Montepulciano is widely planted all over Italy and most especially along the Adriatic Coast in the Abruzzo region where it produced gluggable red wines with lots of red fruit flavours.


Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is a totally different animal altogether.  It is a superior clone of the Sangiovese grape and makes top quality wines that have great intensity.


The region of Florence where Tuscan viticulture is the dominant force of Italy’s wine domination produces four of Italy’s DOCG wines.  Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Chianti and Carmignano.


Montepulciano, also in Tuscany has its Vino Nobile (Nobel) the Noble entered the name centuries ago, a homage to its status among the nobility who liked this wine, a lot!  It is similar to Chianti in style.  The region is located southeast of Chianti and like Chianti  what Vino Nobile has in common with all the classified red wines of Tuscany is that the major grape variety is Sangiovese or a clone of it.  Pure Sangiovese wines are rich in body with a deep ruby garnet colour.  Montepulciano is made from a Chianti clone called Prugnolo Gentile which is blended with Canaiolo another indigenous red grape.


Montepulciano wines are rich in body and have very intricate flavours.  They develop beautifully with time, and as this wine is now 6 years old it is showing some development and drinking well now.  Richard Bampfield, Lidl’s Master of Wine consultant has awarded this wine 91 points and says of it that it is “Fragrant, tobaccoscented, spicy oak, flavoursome.”


Another key to the regional style are the higher levels of acidity you tend to find in Italian red wines and this one is no different.  The wine would be perfect served with a mushroom risotto (porcini) as the acidity will work perfectly with the creaminess of the risotto.  I would also match it with a hard mature aged cheese, Lidl have the Gortanoma produced by Cooleeney which is worth a try (€2.99) Open a pack of their gourmet cheese bikkies and munch!


Wine Diary

Lots of consumer and trade pre-Christmas tastings coming up in December, check out the wine diary for more details https://jeansmullen.com/


20th November 2020: Beery things to do in lockdown!

We are approaching the second half of the current phase of lockdown, and faced with the daunting prospect that December might not be the end of lockdowns – hints and suggestions from our government leave us with the impression that we could be facing further lockdowns into 2021 up until the point where the vaccines that have been developed have been sufficiently rolled out.

Given this, todays show is designed to give some inspiration to people working through our current lockdown.  Today, we are tasting beer from a Trappiste monastery – La Trappe Isid’or – and beer from an Irish brewery in Co. Clare, Western Herd – Islander.  In their own way, each of these two breweries have a story that is directly relevant to the lockdown that we are working our way through.

Beer and Lockdown –

When it comes to lockdown, there are two things worth considering – how do we get through it and how has it affected people (and businesses).  The stories associated with both of our beers today have relevance to both of these things.

Lockdown and Trappistes –

Trappiste beers are brewed on the site of Cistercian Monasteries.  The Cistercian Order is a monastic order that has a lot of qualities that sound familiar – one could argue that the lives of Cistercian monks is almost like a life of permanent lockdown (to be fair, with some exceptions!).  The Cistercians divide their day into three – they have eight hours of sleep, eight hours of prayer and eight hours of work.  It is a silent order – the monks will speak to visitors but, for the most part, they conduct their days in silence.  In the case of La Trappe, the monastery welcomes visitors – so if you are looking to seclude yourself from the world for a few days or weeks, it is possible to ‘book in’ to the monastery and experience a little but of the monastic life of the monastery inhabitants.  Many students doing theses take advantage of this to add a new dimension to their life experience and also to avail of the quietness, solitude and opportunity to think that the monastery affords them.

Even with this life of quiet and solitude, the monks have to ‘make their lives work’.  As well as being a silent order, they are also self-sustaining.  The eight hours of work that the monks do generates money for the living expenses of the monks, the upkeep of the monastery and for charitable works in which the monks are involved.  These monastic businesses are consistently very successful – while the Cistercian Order involves a life of relative poverty, the monasteries are kept to a high and extremely beautiful standard.  In the case of one of the Trappiste monasteries (Westvleteren), when the roof of the abbey needed to be fixed, the brewery brewed and released more beer to generate the funds to pay for it.  Many of the Trappiste monasteries have extensive charitable works in different countries – Chimay, for example, has Chapter Houses in African countries that support disadvantaged people.

One of the things that I find most interesting about the Trappiste approach to brewing is how the ‘commercial’ side of the business is turned on its head.  The breweries are run as businesses, but the output (profit) from the business is not the result that is most important.  The brewery provides employment, contributes to the local economy and – most importantly – recognises that profit is not an end in itself, but rather the means to do something with the profit.  The charitable work that this order does is made possible by their work in brewing and selling beer.

These days, where lockdown is presenting various challenges, many people are faced with a situation where they might be re-evaluating their lives – should I be spending so much time commuting to work, or should I live at home?  Should my work define me, or do I need to work out a different way of defining my life now that the pandemic has made my work impossible?

The Trappiste way of life is definitely not one that people would be easily able to adjust to.  However, maybe the approach that the Trappiste monasteries have taken – to work our what is really important to them, and then to structure their work, free time and lives around this – can be an inspiration to us, particularly if we have some extra time on our hands due to lockdown.

Responding to Lockdown –

Many businesses are facing significant challenges as a result of lockdown – probably most visible are the bars and restaurants that would normally symbolize the social side of our lives that has been shut down so completely by lockdown.

In the U.S., many craft breweries have developed their business through having a ‘taproom’ – a small bar, or tasting room that people can visit to taste their beers.  The punters at the taproom get to taste a fully estensive range of the beers from that brewery – at the freshest that these beers can be – and the brewery gets to sell these beers at retail price without the cost of having to distribute the beer from the brewery (if the brewery is on site at the tap room, it is sometimes possible for the beer to be served directly from a brewery tank).  This taproom model has allowed many breweries in the U.S. to flourish.

The corollary of a taproom is the brewpub – a pub with a brewery attached to it or associated with it.  Brewpubs and taprooms are two sides of the same coin – one is a pub attached to a brewery, and the other is a brewery attached to a pub.  Some would argue that it is the business model for a craft brewery that is most easy to make succeed – no need for complex distribution models, expensive brand marketing (outside of what is done to attract people to the taproom/brewpub) and direct feedback from customers on what they like and what they don’t like (so the brewery can brew more of what they like, and less of what they don’t like without the need for expensive market research to find out this information.

However, during lockdown pubs have suffered significantly.  In the case of a brewpub – particularly one which is entirely dependent on the pub for success – lockdown has delivered a ‘double whammy’ – the pub is closed, and the most important outlet for the breweries output disappears.  While this is undoubtedly challenging for the pub, which has to furlough staff and deal with a few weeks worth of food and drink that cannot be easily sold, a brewery can have months worth of stock in tank and in their store room, and (for some breweries) a need to brew continuously to maintain their yeast strain.

Lockdown is undoubtedly a challenge.  Thankfully when it comes to brewpubs and craft breweries, I don’t think that a craft brewery has been opened yet by a person who was not willing to take on a challenge.  Opening a craft brewery presents significant challenges – the need to understand brewing processes, chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology, quality systems, product development, engineering, fluid mechanics and the behaviour of gases in liquids, agricultural products and the impact of seasonality on the availability of ingredients and many other factors.  It is not possible to open a brewery and avoid having to overcome challenges, so the challenge of lockdown – while particularly difficult – is a new challenge to which craft brewers have applied their significant creativity, ingenuity and drive.

One such example is Western Herd Brewing in County Clare.

Western Herd Brewery –

Western Herd Brewery is the brainchild of brother and sister team Michael Eustace and Maeve Sheridan.  The son and daughter of a farmer – with little interest in continuing the family tradition of farming personally – this family team put their heads together to work out an alternative use for their homeplace.  Building a brewery on a farm can make lots of sense in terms of adding value to agricultural output – in particular barley, which we are very good at growing in Ireland.  Farmhouse breweries have a strong tradition across Europe – particularly in France and Belgium, but also across Scandinavian countries and in countries in Eastern Europe.

Maeve and Michael also had an advantage – both of them have spent time in parts of the world particularly well known for their beers.  Maeve spent time in Belgium, and developed a fondness for the rich brewing culture associated with this country.  Michael spent time in California, and has developed a passion for the many hop forward beers associated with the West Coast of the U.S.A.  They have brought this passion back with them to their home-place of Clare and infused it into the brewery that they built five years ago on their home farm – Western Herd.

Their current brewer – Bridger Kelleher – originally hails from Montana, U.S.A.  Married to a girl from West Clare, and with a passion for brewing that grew out of his homebrewing hobby, Bridger has come to Ireland and is now putting his passion to fruitful endeavour as the brewer in Western Herd.  They are brewing an array of beers – Backbeat (a Belgian Witbier), Islander (a New England Session IPA – that we are tasting today), Siege (a Pale Ale), Blue Jumper and Magic Road (both IPA’s), Atlantic (a traditional Irish Red Ale) and Turlough (a 4% Porter, named for the lakes local to the Burren).  Adding to this, the brewery has brewed some seasonals, including Dolmen (a 7.4% Coffee and Cocoa stout) and Night Pod Vanilla Porter.

Western Herd operates two pubs in County Clare – McHughs in Ennis, and Flanagans in Lahinch.  Through the pubs, and in connection with the brewery Western Herd has conducted a beer competition for home brewers for the last four years.  The winner of the competition gets their beer brewed and marketed in the Western Herd brewery under the Western Herd brand with the winning home-brewer’s name featured on the bottle or can.  Night Pod – their seasonal vanilla porter – was the winner of their first home brewing competition, and has been brewed twice since then.

Covid-19 presented its own challenges to Western Herd.  Firstly, faced with an amount of beers that had been destined for pubs on draught, the brewery pivoted and packaged this beer in bottles and cans.  Secondly, their planned beer competition faced significant hurdles.  Undaunted, again they pivoted and came up with an interesting alternative approach to the competition.

With around twenty entries – not only from Ireland, but from homebrewers across England and Scotland – Western Herd arranged for these homebrewers to send in more than the customary two or three bottles as a competition entry.  This beer was then packaged at the brewery, and sent out appropriate beer judges around the country – of which I was one along with @beeroness and another Beer Sommelier colleague – John Devlin.  With about twenty judges around the country, finalist beers were evaluated, and a winner was selected.

With perhaps a touch of irony, the winner of this year’s competition run by a craft brewery that is located at a farmhouse is a Farmhouse Ale – a saison – with the recipe designed by Niall Clinton from Drogheda.  This beer won the coveted prize, beating off three runners up – an Imperial Peated Stout, brewed by Fergal Burn from Celbridge in Kildare, a Lactose Milk Stout, brewed by Sean Fitzsimons, who works with the Clare Champion and a Hazy IPA, brewed by Chris Moore who originally hails from Texas, but is now resident in Clare.

Hats off to the guys in Western Herd for coming up with an innovative way of keeping their beer competition working, and making the most out of lockdown.

La Trappe Isid’or –

Beer Style                            -  Trappiste Strong Amber Ale

Alcohol by Volume          -  7.5% a.b.v.

Brewed by                          -  La Trappe Brouwerij

Brewed in                            -  Koninshoeven, Holland.

Isid’or was the first brewer at the La Trappe brewery – this beer was brewed in his honour.

The Belgian Strong Amber style is defined by an above average alcohol content (7.5% a.b.v., in this case), distinct mid-coloured malt character and the unique fermentation character that comes from Belgian ale yeast.  This particular Belgian Strong Amber fuses these characteristics in a particularly delicious, malty Belgian beer.

Malty aromas combine almond, caramel and toffee with a touch of digestive biscuit.  A suggestion of background fruit comes through on the nose behind the malt – plummy and perhaps a touch of apricot – and spice character from the Belgian ale yeast is also in evidence.  Upon tasting this beer, the delicious malt character is forward in the beer, with chewy marzipan and almond in evidence, combining with soft burnt sugar, brown sugar and caramelised sweetness.  Spice comes through to balance the malt sweetness – white pepper and creamy nutmeg.  The fruitiness of this beer is very much a secondary character – malt is primarily to the fore – but suggestions of Christmas cake/Christmas pudding flavours and plum and apricot are present to deliver complexity to the taste experience.

La Trappe Isid’or has a solid medium body that is pleasantly lifted by very fine bead carbonation.  On the pour, the head forms distinctly as a creamy, off-white coloured crown to the beer, and it provides a soft mouthfeel texture that contrasts with the zing of carbonation developed in the bottle during bottle conditioning.  The finish of this beer is incredibly clean, leaving the beer drinker yearning for another mouthful.

Western Herd Islander –

Beer Style                            -  Session New England IPA

Alcohol by Volume          -  3.8% a.b.v.

Recipe Designed by         -  Niall Clinton, Drogheda

Brewed by                          -  Western Herd Brewery

Brewed in                            -  Kilmaley, Co. Clare, Ireland

The New England IPA has emerged as a style to contrast with West Coast U.S. IPA.  While West Coast U.S. IPA is characterised by citrus and pine (often with tropical fruit as well), and distinct bitterness, New England IPA delivers much more subdued bitterness, and full rich juicy, peachy (and other fruit) flavours.  In addition, New England IPA is also characterised by significant cloudiness – a by-product of the liberal addition of hops at the dry hopping phase.  New England IPA’s are also called ‘Juicy IPA’s’ or ‘Haze IPA’s’ as a result of its signature character.  This particular New England IPA is a session IPA, so the alcohol strength is reduced a touch (3.8% a.b.v.)

Fruit aromas assail the nostrils with Islander – pineapple, roasted lemons and sweet mandarin orange in particular are present.  The fruit cocktail of flavours develops further on the palate, with grapefruit added to the mix.  The combination delivers zingy tropical fruit acidity, fruit sweetness and a blend of wonderful fruit character.  Bitterness is relatively low, though the grapefruit character provides a balancing grapefruit bitterness and acidity to the beer.

Session IPA’s are naturally lighter in body due to their lower a.b.v.  The liberal addition of hops with New England IPA provides greater abundance of body, but with Islander, additional body from the hops is most definitely lifted by the bright buzz of carbonation in the beer.

If you are looking for a juice bomb of a beer, New England IPA delivers this.  Whatsmore, if the relatively higher level of bitterness associated with West Coast IPA is not to your taste, New England IPA delivers a much more fruit forward taste experience, with the bitterness more background to the beer character.  Western Herd Islander fuses all of these characteristics of a New England IPA with much more taste and character than the relatively low 3.8% a.b.v. would suggest is possible!


13th November 2020: Why everyone should be drinking Beaujolais - Burgundy’s under-appreciated (but often more charming) Sibling

Few wine regions are as storied or lauded as Burgundy.  The world’s most expensive wine is from there - Domaine de la Romanée Conti (DRC) - which costs around €14,500 for a single bottle of their most recent vintage.  

It wasn’t always thus.  DRC’s second best wine is called La Tâche and I remember my wine club bought a bottle in the mid 1990’s for under €100 which included shipping it from London.  A quick check on www.wine-searcher.com tells me that a bottle of the 2016 vintage will cost you around €4500.  These days even entry level red Burgundy of any quality will cost at least €20 and you should probably spend €30 to be sure.

Thankfully there is a less fashionable part of Burgundy which is more affordable, and even if you were to buy their top rated wines, you would struggle to spend over €45.  That region is Beaujolais.

Beaujolais is often not included in articles about Burgundy because they do not grow Pinot Noir but Gamay.  Gamay is actually closely related to Pinot Noir (it is a daughter grape) and suits the mix of soils here.  While it won’t age as well as its mam, given a few years Gamay from a pink granite or blue slate-diorite soil exhibits distinct Pinot-like flavours.  Gamay from alluvial, slate and limestone is often warmer and softer but this also depends on the producer.

Mention Beaujolais and people still think of Beaujolais Nouveau, the barely fermented raspberry juice and bubble-gum flavoured party wine released on the third thursday in November.  Nouveau still sells well in some markets such as Japan and the US but to find it in Ireland you will need to visit a fine wine shop such as Green Man Terenure, the Vintry Rathgar, 64 Wines, Bradleys in Cork or World Wide Wines in Waterford.   I mention fine wine shops because they buy from small, quality producers, few of the versions of Nouveau sold in supermarkets are drinkable.

The Beaujolais vineyards begin just 30 minutes north of Lyon - to the west are the foothills of the Massif Central and to the east is the Saône river plain.  The southern vineyards produce basic Beaujolais which is tasty and fruity and should cost less that €15.  Beaujolais Villages is usually a step up in quality and sourced from vineyards on higher ground with better soils for grape growing.

Next we have the Cru Villages and this is where you can get wines that can rival Village Burgundy in quality for a lot less money.  Do bear in mind that the Gamay grape is different to Pinot Noir with more red fruits and cherry flavours and with only a touch of the ethereal earthy elegance you find in good Pinot Noir - but at its best Gamay is joyous and delicious, something rarely said of red Burgundy.

The ten Beaujolais Cru Villages are where the real magic happens.  You already know one of them - Fleurie - which is almost a brand in its own right.  It helps that Fleurie really does have a floral character and a beguiling lively and fruity freshness that pairs well with everything from grilled salmon to Irish Stew.  

The next easiest to find is probably Morgon which is mainly from granite soils that force the vines into the earth in search of water and leads to firmer denser berries that make a wine that can age.  The best part of Morgon is the “Côte de Py” and wines from this sub-region usually cost a little more, but you are rewarded for your extra Euro by Burgundian levels of complexity for a significantly lower price.

Moulin à Vent rivals Morgon in quality and it too ages well producing wines with more structure, but retaining all those cherry and plum fruit flavours. Brouilly is the largest region and perhaps the most approachable of the Crus along with Fleurie, but can be a little more erratic.  Usually better are wines from the Côte de Brouilly which is on higher ground and has more concentration and elegance.

The most northerly Cru is Saint-Amour whose vineyards almost intersect those of Pouilly Fuissé in the Mâcon - a little lighter than say Morgon but no less charming.  Chénas is rarely seen here which is a pity as here too the wines can age nicely thanks to thicker skinned berries - Le Caveau in Kilkenny stocks a good example.  Finally the Crus of Julieñas, Chiroubles and Régnié are all worth a taste - some are a little more rustic if I was to generalise, but often in a good way with earthy and sometimes tarter red fruits.  

Beaujolais Blanc is made from Chardonnay just as in Côte-Dôr and Chablis and much of what is sold as Bourgogne Blanc is sourced in Beaujolais.  Because of its lack of fame white Beaujolais is often a bargain as any producer that uses the name cares about their wine a little more and puts in a bit more effort.

One more thing - the Beaujolais region is leading the way in Organic and sustainable viticulture with many producers taking the extra step to Bio-Dynamics which includes a lot more work and taking account of the moon phases, not to mention some magical thinking.  It is easy to be sceptical of bio-dynamic methods which involve homeopathic like treatments, stirring the wine to ‘dynamise’ it and burying aged dung in cow horns to send good vibes in the vineyard.  Having said that if a good producer converts to bio-dynamics the wines improve so don’t listen to skeptics like me.

Wines Featured on the show:

Alex Foillard Côte de Brouilly, Beaujolais Cru, €34.95

Stockists: Independent off licences

Alex Foillard is the son of legendary Morgon producer Jean Foillard who was an innovator in the ‘Natural Wine’ movement and one of the key producers in the revival of the region.  This is from a plot of older vines (30-60 years) and pours a bright purple red colour with aromas of cherries and ripe plums, juicy and fresh on the palate with earthy notes coming through and a long, textured and fruity finish.

Bonne Tonne Morgon Côte de Py, Beaujolais Cru - €29.99

Stockists: Independent off licences

This producer is seven generations in the village of Morgon, the Cru that produces the most Burgundian style of Beaujolais.  The granite hill of Côte de Py in Morgon is always excellent and this ripe concentrated wine is a lovely example as is their (les expensive) ‘Les Charmes’ version.  Big black cherry fruits on the nose, supple and concentrated, textured, lingering and delicious.


Newstalk Movies & Booze Friday 6th November, 2020

The National Off-Licence Association (NOffLA) has awarded its annual Star Awards to 45 wines.  Celebrating 20 years this year, the winning wines will be available to consumers all over the country from NOffLA outlets. Over 600 wines were submitted to the Star Award adjudication panel of NOffLA judges and independent wine journalists. Points were awarded on the basis of appearance, smell, taste and value for money criteria, and the winning 15 were selected as the best wines from key suppliers across a number of price categories.

Each of the winning wines will be sold in NOffLA member outlets, of which there are more than 315 nationwide. The chosen wines will be recognisable by distinctive Award symbols on each bottle. In the pre-Christmas period NOffLA members will promote the Star Awards 2020-2021 Collection as ideal Christmas gifts, in a variety of special gift packs.

2018 De Loach Heritage Collection Chardonnay €19.99

Stockists include: Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock Village, Co Dublin; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3; Donnybrook Fair,  Morehampton Road, Stillorgan, Baggot Street, Malahide & Greystones;  Drink Store, Dublin 7; Gibneys, MalahideJus de Vine, Portmarnock;  Martins Off Licence, Fairview, Dublin 3; McHugh’s Off Licence, Malahide Road & Kilbarrack RoadMitchell & Son Wine Merchants, Glasthule, IFSC Dublin 1,  Avoca Kilmacanogue & Avoca Dunboyne; O'Donovans Off Licence, Bandon, Blackpool, Carriagaline, Mayfield, Oliver Plunkett Street, Passage West, Riversdale & Summerhill, Cork;  Searsons Wine Merchants, Monkstown Crescent, Co Dublin;  Shiels, Yellow Walls, Malahide; The Old Stand, Mullingar, Co Westmeath;  The Vintry, Rathgar;  World Wide Wines, Waterford.

As well as winning the Gold Medal in the category Best New World White under €20.00 this wine was also the overall Wine of the Year 2020/21.  The Best in Show is elegant and complex and offers superb value.  The wine is from California and although a New World Chardonnay it is very Burgundian in style.

The Russian River Valley is an AVA in Sonoma County in California.   This history of wine in this region begins after 1811 when Russian immigrants established a small settlement north of San Francisco on the Sonoma Coast.  The purpose was to grow crops and raise animals to supply their Alaskan fur operations.  They planted a small orchard and vines that had been brought from Peru in 1817.  The debate as to whether it was the Russians or Spanish who should receive the credit for bringing the vine to the area is still on-going.

De Loach is a very famous winery,  named by the US Wine & Spirit magazine as one of the Top 100 Wineries, twelve times, the estate is now owned by the Burgundian Boisset family, who bought it in 2003.   One of the key features of the area is the soil substructure,  which allows dry farming (i.e. growing vines without irrigating them).  The wineries 7 ha estate has been completely restored by the Boisset family and has been converted to organic and biodynamic viticulture.

The climate is influenced by the fog which rolls in during the morning, formed when the cool oceanic breeze meets the warmer air in the vineyards.  This has a huge impact on the quality of the grapes grown here and is very much a feature of the vineyards where the grapes for this wine are grown. The tasting note from the competition for this wine says “Aromas of orange blossom, pear and melon, with bright acidity.  This wine oozes class with a wonderfully balanced finish”   This wine is a must have Burgundian style, with rich ripe fruit, a classy Californian wine for the festive season.

2019 Callia Malbec €15.00

Stockists :  Independent Noffla outlets, nationwide

This was the Gold Medal Winner in the category Best New World Red under €15.00.  Bodegas Callia is situated in the Tulum Valley in Argentina’s province of San Juan. It is nestled between the Pie de Palo hills to the north and the Cerro Chico Del Zonsa to the south. Two finca estates encompass 700 acres of land: Finca Pie de Palo and Finca 9 De Julio. At 630 meters above sea level, the area is blessed by temperate climate, low rainfall and rich sandy alluvial and clay loam soil; the result is intense and fruity wines that reflect the rich terroir of this region.

Argentina is the only wine country in the world where altitude is a key factor in terms of their terroir. For every 150 feet of linear rise the average temperature in the vineyard will drop by 1 degree.  The other factor is soil; much of it is very low in organic matter which leads to very restricted growth, vines struggle, and yields are low.  Argentina’s wines are “naturally natural”, the majority of the vineyards are located in arid areas with plenty of sunshine so there is no need for artificial intervention.

Argentine Malbec came from Bordeaux in 1853, it was brought by Aimé Pouget and arrived in Argentina before Phylloxera, so the original clone was French.  Today it is the most important red varietal in Argentina accounting for 58% of all red grapes planted there.

José Morales,  has been the chief winemaker at Callia since 2007, and is a well known wine maker in Argentina.  In Argentina Callia is a very popular brand, currently in the top 5 on that market.  It has a strong following, especially with the younger consumers.

The tasting note for this wine from the Gold Star competition says “This lush Malbec has tempting aromas of plums and red fruit, balanced flavours of redcurrant and black cherry, all supported by round tannins and a wonderfully long finish”  

The wine is vegan friendly (bottled unfiltered) and their vineyards are sustainable. 30% of this blend was oak aged for three months, 50% in French and 50% in American Oak.  This is a super wine for its price and certainly delivers from a price perspective.

Wine Diary https://jeansmullen.com/

November is traditionally wine fair season, though sadly this year that won’t be happening.  However there are a number of on-line tastings you can sign up for and attend.  You can enjoy an on-line tasting with wines featuring wines from Germany, Austria, Italy and France.  Details of these consumer events and the participation fee can be found in the wine diary.


30th October 2020: Dean Mc Guinness talks beer evolution and reviews Rodenbach Alexander and Lineman Kveik


The craft beer market is the creative end of the market – it is the part of the market that is disruptive, triggering change, dynamism and evolution.  When we look at the patterns of the evolution of craft beer around the world, it is a story of how the market has come from a place of relative stagnation (in terms of the variety of beers available from mainstream brewers) to a much more colourful and diverse market with more choice and quality available to the beer drinker.


Different factors drive this change.  Today, we will be looking at one particular factor that can drive change in craft beer – the influence of historical styles or brewing practices that were in danger of dying off, but have been maintained and/or revived either as a modern recreation of an historic style or as the creation of a new interesting craft style that is influenced or shaped by a dimension from this historic practice.


Today’s two beers are Rodenbach Alexander – a cherry Flanders Red from Belgium – and Lineman Tart Kveik – a wheat beer brewed in Rathcoole, County Dublin using a particular yeast normally used in an historic style of Norwegian farmhouse ale.



Influence of History on Beer Evolution –


History influences beer evolution in two key ways – it impacts it and it inspires.


The Irish beer market is quite distinctive when compared against other countries around the world.  While Ireland is recognized as a ‘beer mecca’ by almost anybody that one might talk to around the world, the diversity of beer in this country was decimated between the middle of the 20th century and the early ‘90’s.  Aggressive competition by big breweries lead to the closure of many breweries, and this process has continued under the radar up to this day – the Smithwicks brewery in Kilkenny was the most recent to close a number of years ago, and Beamish and Crawford met its demise when it became part of Heineken just over a decade ago.


If we look at other countries that are recognized as ‘centres for beer’, the pattern is quite different.  England, Germany, Belgium – these countries are recognized as having a long and storied history when it comes to beer, and great strides have been made in these countries to maintain brewing heritage.


It leads us to a slight dichotomy in beer around the world.  If somebody was to ask me to name the regions of the world that most greatly influence the world of beer, without hesitation I would start with Belgium, Germany (taking in parts of Eastern Europe), the U.K. (together with its close neighbour, Ireland) and the United States.  One would think that these regions would all share common features.  In reality, they divide into two distinctly different groups of regions, and these two groups exist in a symbiotic relationship – each one influencing and inspiring the other.


That’s a lot of big words to say that history has had a big effect on the picture of the beer world that we see today.


When it comes to history, first, we’ll look at impact.  If we are to put the above regions into groups, my inclination would be to group Germany/Eastern Europe, Belgium and the U.K. together in one group, and to put Ireland into a second group.  Some might dispute this classification scheme, but I have a definite reason for it – the United States and Ireland are the two countries whose brewing scene was (almost) completely decimated by the impact of historical factors.


In the U.S., Prohibition – the Volstead Act, which took effect from 1919, and continued until it was repealed in 1933 – effectively banned the production, importation, sale and consumption of alcoholic products.  While the initial intention was for this act to only impact ‘hard liquor’ (what we would call ‘spirits’), it was broadened to include beer.  The result of this act was to critically decimate the brewing (and distilling) industries.  Many of the companies attempted to pivot, and get into related businesses (such as non-alcoholic malt beverages), and in so doing tried to make use out of some of the brewery equipment.  However, when Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the brewing industry effectively found itself starting from scratch again.


In a similar vein, Ireland’s brewing industry was largely decimated by competition.  Through a series of takeovers and aggressive business practices, the Guinness brewery systematically ravaged almost every single competitor in the country, and then systematically closed down breweries and discontinued brands that they had brought into their stable.  While not quite as complete as Prohibition – Guinness’ actions left four or five brewing companies operating on the island – the picture of the brewing industry after these actions was quite comparable to that of post-Prohibition U.S.


In the mid 20th century, the increase in scale in brewing operations that had emerged from the Industrial Revolution, and the greater use of marketing techniques and mass-market media resulted in beers getting ever more bland and less interesting.  This, if you like, was a first generation of the ‘post decimation brewing world’ that Ireland and the U.S. found itself in.  Choice of beers became ever less, and the diversity of flavour in beer also reduced.  Beers became less challenging in flavour – the focus was on avoiding the possibility of being offensive in any way which, in reality translated into failing to delight, surprise or amaze the beer drinker.  Beer became commoditized, and the start of a backlash was ready to happen.


The first backlash to this is where inspiration comes into the story.  Beer Drinkers in the U.S. (and later, in Ireland) experienced inspiration from countries that had not lost their brewing heritage.  Initially, beers were imported (the second generation of development) from these countries, and later homebrewers, inspired by these historic styles, laid the foundations of the craft brewing movement (the third generation of the development).  Revivals of styles – like India Pale Ale – and promulgation of styles popular in other countries – like German Hefeweisse – drove the start of this movement.  With these foundations, it is not surprising that many people think of styles like IPA being synonymous with craft beer.  However, in reality the craft brewing movement was all about diversity, choice, flavour and a move away from the dreariness of mainstream beer.


Craft breweries have developed significantly, and there has been a symbiotic relationship of inspiration between the ‘new world’ craft and ‘old world’ craft.  Initially, new world craft challenged established norms by increasing intensity of flavour, challenging traditional brewing practices and creatively developing new styles.  The Old World, brought a stabilizing influence, demonstrating that excellence can only be achieved by recognizing that achieving balance is more important than pure flavour intensity, and that history and heritage can inspire greatness as much as creativity.


We are now seeing craft breweries being inspired by brewing heritage that has died out or has been close to dying out.  In the fourth generation of development, Old World craft breweries are reviving beers that they might have discontinued decades ago, New World craft breweries are seeking inspiration from historic styles and both Old World and New World are stretching and expanding their creativity to brew new and exciting beers.


It is unclear what the full impact will be of Covid on the brewing world.  Estimates in the U.S. suggest that craft breweries could go from four decades of uninterrupted and continuous growth to a situation where between 40% to 60% of them could close – not because they are not excellent, viable or successful, but simply because they are suffocated by the closures represented by Covid.  Many of these breweries have had to pivot and to change to get to the point that they found themselves in by working through up to four decades of development.  The smaller of the breweries will have the advantage of flexibility and not being burdened by the demands that larger operations bring with them.  The only thing that is certain is that the post-Covid world will bring with it changes that we might be able to partly foresee, but in many cases we might not even be able to imagine yet!


Rodenbach Alexander –


Beer Style                            -  Cherry Flanders Red

Alcohol by Volume          -  5.6%

Brewed by                          -  Rodenbach Brewery

Brewed in                            -  Roeselare, Belgium


Rodenbach is a classic Old World craft brewery.  Brewing a traditional Belgian style – the Flanders Red – this brewery suffered for a period of time in the latter half of the twentieth century from a perception of being old-fashioned and past its time.  The irony of Rodenbach’s position now as being definitely among, and possibly one of the most respected brewers of sour beers in the world is palpable.


The Flanders Red style is particularly distinctive.  The colour – deep brown/red – would lead one to believe that a specific range of flavours (the dark malt flavours that one would expect from a brown ale) are what one should expect.  However, it is the mixed fermentation in oak foeders (huge oak aging tanks) that drives the balance in this beer, and the resulting character is an explosion of bright, refreshing, acidic fruitiness.


The character of Rodenbach and Rodenbach Grand Cru can shift noticeably over time.  Over the last two decades, I have noticed a predominance of raspberry moving onto sour cherry and cherry pith and evolving to cider/cider vinegar in different vintages of the beer.  These different centres of character are most evident in the annual release of Rodenbach Vintage, where Rudy Ghequire – the living legend that is the Head Brewer at Rodenbach for the last four decades – selects a particular foeder for that year, and packages unblended beer that best represents his considered view of the current evolution of the character of the beer.


Rodenbach Alexander is a beer that was revived by Rodenbach.  It is a mixed fermentation sour beer that is brewed with cherries – a combination of a fruit beer and Flanders Red.


The underlying Rodenbach beer is in evidence both in the aroma and flavour of this beer.  Cider vinegar and notes of balsamic vinegar combine with a kaleidoscope of cherry flavours.  Initially, cherry skin is evident on the aroma, with sweet cherry, cherry juice and background cherry pith combing through in the flavour.  Other red fruit flavours combine on the palate – cranberry and raspberry.


A complexity of complementary flavours develop in this beer.  Marzipan comes through as chewy almond, combining with the cherry to give flavours of bakewell tart.  More subtle flavours – cola bottle sweets, Turkish delight, rose water and suggestions of bubblegum – all add depth of character.  The sour acidity of the beer makes it imminently refreshing, and lifts the body of the beer on the palate.

Not wanting to use the ‘C’ word this early before Halloween, this is a beer that would act as the perfect complement to a turkey dinner – taking the place of cranberry sauce.


Rodenbach Alexander is an example of how a traditional brewery, after coming into favour because of the emergence of craft beer styles, has reached into its archives to revive a beer that had been previously discontinued.  Rather than being an interpretation of a style that has died off, this beer has the advantage of being brewed by the same brewmaster – Rudy Ghequire – who has been present in Rodenbach for over three decades, now.


It is both a delicious part of history, and a contribution to the impetus for a new generation of brewing history, all at the same time!




Lineman Brewery –


Lineman Tart Kveik is an interesting creation of Head Brewer and brewery owner Mark Lucey.  Working with his wife, Vivienne, this enterprising pair took the courageous step from home brewing to commercial craft brewing just over a year ago.  Inspired by his success at being selected to represent Ireland in the 2016 MoBI European Homebrew Competition in Rome – and going on to win first place in the sour/wild category in this competition – Mark and Vivienne took the brave step of leaving their successful careers in engineering and marketing respectively to take over brewing at the old Rascals Brewery plant when Rascals expanded their operations.


Like so many homebrewers, the birth of their interest in brewing grew out of a dissatisfaction with the mainstream beers on offer in the market.  Homebrewing is a challenging hobby – requiring a lot of hard graft and a broad understanding of a wide range of specialisms (engineering, chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology, flavour dynamics and the interactions of ingredients and – most importantly – discipline in cleaning and brewing practices).  Achieving great results on a small scale brings with it its challenges, and the best home brewers have to exercise substantial creativity not only in what they seek to create, but also in how they go about creating/brewing it.


Mark has a passion for sour beers and mixed fermentations.  Coupling this with a natural interest in beer diversity and boundless creativity, Mark has channelled his home-brewing experience into their Rathcoole-based brewery.  With a core range of beers – including Astral Grains, a Foreign Extra Stout, Idol, a red IPA and the beer we are tasting today, Saga Tart Kveik – Lineman have added to this range with a number of IPA’s and, more recently, a Russion Imperial Stout called ‘Gigantic’ (at 10.4% a.b.v, it deserves its name!).  Soon to come is a limited edition Bourbon Barrel Aged version of Gigantic – Giganticer, which will be available in mid November on limited release.


All homebrewers face two challenges – making sure that the liquid/beer that they brew is excellent, and making sure that people understand their beer.  Creating superb beer is essential to get people to stick with your beer, but creating superb packaging is often the critical factor that might dictate whether somebody picks up the beer from a shelf in the first place.  Lineman is incredibly fortunate to be able to tap into the graphic design and marketing skills of co-founder Vivienne Lucey – her work on the design of each brand is an important element of the 440ml cans and the tap handles for their beers.


Lineman Brewery has started their business at a time in the market when the brewing industry globally has experienced possibly the most significantly impactful event of the last century.  The arrival of Covid-19 has forced breweries everywhere to scramble to change their plans.  Like many craft breweries, innovation, creativity and the ability to overcome a challenge is not something that is foreign to those who take the brave step in moving from their hobby to a commercial enterprise.  Moving quickly when Covid-19 took hold, Lineman made the decision to package the beer that had been destined for kegs into cans so that the beer could be sold through the off-trade.  While Covid-19 is presenting many challenges for breweries around the world, it is my firm belief that the ingenuity, determination and flexibility of the best of the craft brewers will allow these people to come out of the other side of Covid-19 stronger than before.


In the meantime, support from people passionate about beer is critical to allow these breweries to get through these challenging times – so if you are thinking of getting some beers, rather than automatically picking up something that has been heavily advertised by a mainstream brewer that easily has the resources to make it through Covid-19, why not make a point of selecting a range of beers different from the mainstream, and add some ‘beer flavour colour’ to the dreariness of lockdown!!!



Lineman Saga Tart Kveik –


Beer Style                            -  Sour Wheat Beer brewed with Kveik (Norwegian Farmhouse Ale) Yeast

Alcohol by Volume          -  4.2%

Brewed by                          -  Lineman Brewery

Brewed in                            -  Rathcoole, County Dublin.


Lineman Saga Tart Kveik is a most interesting creation of Head Brewer Mark Lucey.  At its foundation, this beer is a kettle soured wheat beer – giving the beer a wheat-cracker crust crispness, and a fresh, vibrant acidity that lifts the beer on the palate.  Coupled with this, however, is the use of an unusual yeast strain in the beer’s fermentation.  This is the origin of the Kveik on the can – it refers to a strain of yeast used in the brewing of a Norwegian style of farmhouse ale.


A number of countries across Europe have a tradition for farmhouse ales.  France and Belgium in particular, with the saison style, and a number of Scandinavian countries (the Sahti style, for example, is an historic farmhouse ale that has its origins in Finland) have a number of farmhouse breweries that brew beers, often on the site of their farm, and often using ingredients from the farm itself.  The yeast used in farmhouse ales is quite particular – often quite aggressive in the extent to which it attenuates the beer (converts the sugar, leaving a dry crisp beer), and often happy to work at warm fermentation temperatures – resulting in a fruity, and sometimes spicy beer.


The combination of the use of this particular yeast strain in the brewing of this wheat beer adds a complex and delicious dimension to this beer.  Fruitiness comes through as gooseberry, pineapple, breakfast grapefruit/pink grapefruit and citric – lemon/lime - character (combining with the kettle sour character of the beer).  Freshly picked strawberry is also in evidence.


The farmhouse dimensions to the fermentation are subtle and give a depth of character and complexity to this beer.  While the overall impression of this beer is one of a light, crisp, refreshing and fruity beer, with a clean, crisp, dry finish, Lineman Saga also has a touch of spice – white pepper, suggestions of allspice, coriander – and a tannic aroma, all of which contribute to the sophistication of the beer.


Overall, Lineman Saga is a creative beer, inspired by historic Norwegian farmhouse ale traditions.  It’s closest relative in style terms might be a combination of saison and Berlinerweisse, but attempting to force this beer into a specific, pre-defined style is possibly doing the beer a disservice.  Lineman Sage is light, easy drinking and pleasant, and at the same time, complex, fruity, spicy, multi-dimensional and full of character.  It is a beer that would pair well with a range of food dishes – from pizza, to pork to passion fruit cheesecake – or that can be enjoyed as a delicious beer in its own right.


23rd October 2020: Jean Smullen revies a delicious Spumante and Chardonnay and offerings from Lidl

Day 2, Lockdown 2 and a look at two wines currently available in Lidl, to enjoy this weekend with a few culinary suggestions.  The first wine comes from Northern Italy, a DOCG Prosecco from the beautiful town of Conegliano in the Veneto province and the second a Burgundian white made from the Chardonnay grape from the Mâcon Villages an area located in the southern half of Burgundy, close to Beaujolais. This appellation is the largest of the Mâconnais region, covering about 2500 ha of vineyards and 43 communes, the AOP Mâcon Villages is only for white wines.

2019 Allini Prosecco Spumante Conegliano DOCG Extra Dry €12.78

Stockists:  Lidl, nationwide

Prosecco is a light fresh sparkling wine, low in alcohol and intensely aromatic (this one has 11.0% ABV). The DOCG is for the sparkling wines labelled either Gentile or Frizzante (slightly sparkling) or Spumante (fully sparkling).   The driest wines are labelled brut, and the sweeter ones "extra dry", as is the case with the wine we are featuring today.    Prosecco should be served well chilled.  The wine is made sparkling using the cuvée close (or sealed tank) method whereby the second fermentation takes place in a large tank prior to filtration and bottling under pressure.

The DOCG applies to the region, which runs 33km from the town of Conegliano to the picturesque village of Valdiobbiadene in the Treviso province of Veneto.

Prosecco first arrived on the Irish market as recently as 2004, it quickly gained in popularity especially from 2009 onwards during the austerity years as a cost-effective way to enjoy wine with bubbles.  Today in Ireland sparkling wine sales are 2.3% of a 9 million case market approximately, 400,000 cases per annum.  I suspect the vast majority of that is accounted for by sales of Prosecco.   In recent years sales of sparkling wine have been steadily increasing in Ireland, we love a glass with bubbles!  With life as we know it halted again for a few weeks, it is heartening to know we can lift our spirits and enjoy a glass or two of Prosecco with those we live with or those in our “bubble” (pardon pun)!

Lidl’s Allini Prosecco Extra Dry is a Spumante, or fully sparking Prosecco and it offers great value at this price.  The DOCG status denotes that is a quality wine from the heart of the Prosecco region.   With lovely stone fruit aromas and hints of peach when tasted, because it is slightly sweeter is has a more full-bodied mouth feel with lovely peach/pear flavours.  I would serve this with some blue cheese, it would also be wonderful with something sweet.   You will find it a surprisingly good match with lemon cheesecake, or now that Autumn is here and Bramble apples are in season, why not go the whole hog and make your own apple pie or apple crumble, dollop some cream on top and enjoy with a lovely glass of this good quality Prosecco.

2019 Mâcon Village AOP €9.82

Stockists:  Lidl, nationwide

The home of Chardonnay is Burgundy. Chardonnay is a white grape variety that has a great affinity with wood.  Wine which is made from this grape variety has medium acidity and broad fruit flavours.  Chardonnay is now grown successfully in the world major wine regions. It varies from light to full bodied and from crisp green apple flavours of Chablis in Burgundy (cool climate) to the full fruit mouthfuls from Chile (hot climate).

Chardonnay's greatest attribute is that it is an easy going grape, grown almost anywhere from the coolest climates of northern France to the hottest in Australia and it seldom disappoints. As a grape variety it is easy to cultivate, tolerant of heat and cold, and it ripens early.  Chardonnay gives the winemakers great scope to experiment which would explain its worldwide popularity.

Chardonnay does not have an instantly recognizable flavour.  Flavours range from crisp green apples  when grown in cool climates such as Chablis to ripe fruit salad from countries like in New Zealand, it has lemon flavours when grown in Australia and  if you move back to Europe to the home place, the Cote d'Or, the premier region of Burgundy, you will find Chardonnay grown here has a veritable cocktail of fruity flavours.  Acidity in Chardonnay is more noticeable when the grape is grown in cool climates where the grapes are seldom as ripe.

In the famous Burgundian wine regions, the AOP’s Chablis, Mâcon, Côte Challonaise and Côte-d'Or they are all known for the top-quality white wines they making using the Chardonnay grape.   To the south of Burgundy, the style tends to be riper more and more opulent.  They age the grape in wooden barrels to get the spicy, buttery, creamy tones, whereas in the north in the cooler climate AOP of Chablis they tend not to, which makes the wine style there, leaner, meaner with lots more acidity.

Lidl’s lovely oaked AOP Mâcon Villages has tons of ripe tropical fruit with flavours of melon and pineapple.  There is a hint of vanilla showing through, and this is a lovely easy drinking white wine.  Chardonnay is a robust grape and can stand up many dishes with strong flavours of herbs or spice.  Oaked Chardonnay goes very well with fish, chicken or veal in creamy sauces as well as vegetarian pasta and risotto dishes.  The secret is the influence of the oak which adds buttery vanilla to the final style of these fuller white wine styles, which means the wine stands up to stronger more pronounced flavours.

Wine Diary https://jeansmullen.com/

Why not learn more about wine during lock-down and sign up for an on-line wine tasting.  Details of a number of events can be found in Jean Smullen’s Wine Diary.

9th October 2020: Jean Smullen gets us ready for Spanish Wine Week

Movies & Booze Friday 9th October, 2020

Wines from Spain are asking wine lovers to raise a glass for the fifth annual Spanish Wine Week in Ireland, running on-line throughout the country from October 12th to October 18th. Spanish Wine Week will shine a light on off licences, wine shops, and on-line retailers who are flying the flag for Spanish wines with discounts, offers and promotions available across the country. Woodberry Wines, The Wine House, The Nude Wine Co, Whelehan Wines, JN Wines and O’Briens Wines are some of the places who will have offers during the week.

Sadly a number of the restaurant events and tastings are now cancelled however there are on-line wine tastings to ensure anyone, anywhere can tune in from the comfort of their own home . On Oct 14th Michelle of The Nude Wine Company will hold a tasting of Spanish Wines. On October 16th there is The Great Rioja Tasting an on-line tasting with John Wilson and Wineonline and on the same day a tasting of Spanish wine with Sevgi Tüzel-Conghaile from A Wine Idea (all make a nominal charge to take part).  There are  a number of webinars that are free of charge, including The Progress of Tradition with Harriet Tindal MW on October 13th,    Andreas Kubach MW and Sevgi of A Wine Idea will take you on , ‘A Journey through Spanish Wines’ on October 14th ; Jonas Tofterup MW, will present a webinar entitled ‘The Crunchy Wines of Galicia’ on Oct 15th and on October 17th Almudena Alberca MW will present a talk called 4 Regions, 1 Grape – Tempranillo.   More information in the wine diary www.jeansmullen.com

Here on Movies & Booze in honour of Spanish Wine Week we are featuring two Spanish wines, one from Rias Biaxas, made by a famous Rioja producer and the other from the wonderful DO Ribera del Duero.

2018 Campo Viejo Albariño DO Rias Biaxas €16.00

Stockist:  SuperValu, Nationwide & expect to see in other retailers from 2021

A brand-new addition to the Irish wine market is a white made by the famous Rioja house, Campo Viejo.  The white comes from the DO Rias Biaxas and is made from 100% Albariño.  Reflecting the enormous interest in this Spanish wine region and the Albariño grape, the decision to add a white wine to the Campo Viejo portfolio is an innovative move. Campo Viejo sells very well on the Irish market they are the 11th most popular brand here.  The range includes their red wines, Campo Viejo Crianza, Reserva and Grand Reserva.  All the red wines are produced on their estate on the outskirts of the town of Logrono in the heart of Rioja Alta.

So why are they including a white wine from another region?  Well traditionally white Rioja was made in an “oxidative style” not unlike Sherry.  In 1972 one of the Rioja houses Marques de Riscal decided to change the style to make  fresh, fruity, zesty white wines.  They knew that Rioja was too hot for whites so they moved white production to the DO Rueda knowing that the region, further north in the province of Castille y Leon  had all the necessary elements to make quality white wines. Using cold temperature technology and stainless steel tanks, they introduced the fresh, fruity style that is typical of white wines made in this DO. They also used Rueda’s native white grape Verdejo as and they also planted Sauvignon Blanc.  Campo Viejo are following this pioneering spirit but are moving even further north west to the cool climate DO Rias Biaxas in the Atlantic influenced region of Galicia for their white wine.   This is a super wine, it has lovely peachy aromas and then the lovely salty acidity so associated with the region’s wine style.  Perfect with any sort of seafood, make sure you try it!


2018 Rubiejo Ribera del Duero (Barrica) €18.95

Stockist: O’Briens Wines Beers Spirits   Ashbourne; Athlone;  Ballybrack;  Beacon; Blanchardstown;  Bray (Quinsboro & Vevay Road); Carlow; Carrickmines; Citiwest; Contarf; Cork; Dalkey;  Donnybrook; Douglas; Drogheda; Dun Laoghaire; Galway; Glasnevin; Greystones; Limerick; Lucan; Malahide;  Naas; Navan Road; Navan Town;  Newbridge; Newpark; Nutgrove; Rathgar; Rathmines; Sandymount; Stillorgan and Templeogue and Waterford (Ardkeen). 

Wine has been produced in Ribero del Duero since Roman times.   In the 11th and 12th century,  French Cistercian monks established vineyards and wineries in the region. The creation of the Kingdom of Castile in the 11th century helped to create a demand for their wines and winemaking evolved and prospered.  By the 15th century, the two main kingdoms of Castile and Aragon merged when Queen Isabella of Castile married King Ferdinand II of Aragon to create the Kingdom of Spain.  This concentration of power didn’t work to the region’s advantage however, because the power subsequently moved south to Madrid and the region became unknown and under developed in wine terms, until the 20th century

Ribera del Duero is ideally placed to make some of Spain’s best wines.  The altitude is high, the growing season is short and with limestone in the soil they have to pick reasonably early which means the grapes have a good balance of ripeness and acidity. Up until the 1980’s the region was made up mainly of co-operative wineries and small family producers, with a few stars working away.  Now the family producers have grown and some have become stars,  the next generation are now powering away and this region has become one of Spain’s most vibrant and exciting regions.

The region of Ribera del Duero is roughly two hours north of Madrid by car and has 22,040 ha of vineyards  spread between four regional provinces,  Burgos, Segovia, Soria and Valladolid.

Those growing the vine here on an annual basis have to contend with sudden storms, dismal winds, frost, as well as a short intense summer heat with temperatures regularly reaching 35-40 degrees.  Not for the faint hearted!  However, nature also plays a part in creating vines of superb quality, grown on limestone and chalk with layers of clay and sand.   The great plateau of the Iberian Penisula  lies between approximately 760 to 850 metres (2500 to 2800 feet) above sea level, with some vineyards as high as 945 metres ( 3,100 feet).

According to the DO regulations, red wines must be made from at least 75%  of the key grape red variety, Tinto del Pais,  a clone of Tempranillo also known as Tinto Fino.   25% of the blend can be made up of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec who are only permitted in areas where they are already planted.

Our featured wine is made by a small family winery,  located in Alto Sotillo, in the Province of Burgos. Rubiejo the name of the wine is also the name of the best and oldest vineyard. The secret to the quality is that the vineyards are 900m above sea level and the vines are also 40-50 years old. The Barrica is technically a Vina Joven (young wine) that has been aged for six months in new and used American and French Oak Barrels.  It has tons of vanilla spice and mocha on the nose and then on the plate, it is more tightly structured with gorgeous black fruit and a firm tannin.  A really super example of modern winemaking from the region.  A wonderful expression of Spain.

2nd October 2020: Leslie Williams brings us on a journey through the most fascinating country for wine...Italy

Two wines this week from perhaps the most fascinating wine producing country in the world, Italy. Italy is currently the world’s largest producer of wine (followed by France and then Spain), and produces around six and a half million bottles from every corner of the country. Most of this wine is made from grapes you have probably never heard of, only a tiny percentage is from international grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Every time I go to an Italian wine tasting I learn of a new grape and often a new region, there are almost 400 named varieties in commercial use in Italy and many more that have yet to be identified. Every hillside in Italy has vines planted on it, as does almost every coastal plain. There are official designated DOC wine regions (Demoninazione di Origine Controllata) with less than a dozen producers whose wines rarely make it to the next valley never mind to us in Ireland or to the specialist shops in Rome or Milan.

Of course there are oceans of inexpensive Pinot Grigio, Chianti and other recognisable names from Italy in our supermarkets but I would encourage you to seek out the unusual wines from the hidden corners. Please don’t be put off by the complexities of Italian wine, you just need to know it tastes good and these days if a wine has made it to your local off-licence then it is likely to be worth a try.

The two wines I’ve chosen this week are from opposite corners, a Corvina-Merlot Blend from near Verona in the North East and an Aglianico based wine from Basilicata in the far south. They have one thing in common, they are delicious.

Paolo Cottini ‘Elio’ 2015, Rosso Veronese, Veneto, Italy - €29.95
Stockist: Independent off licence

This is exclusive to the Corkscrew on Chatham Street and only in the shop a few months. Paolo Cottino is from a long line of wine producers and and he is based right in the heart of Valpolicella-Amarone country in the hills above Verona that stretch down to Lake Garda. Lemon fresh crisp Soave is also made in this region as is cherry ripe Bardolino and elegant zingy Lugana. Cottini’s Valpolicella Classico is also worth trying at just €19.95.

Corvina is the best quality grape in the region and the backbone of Valpolicella and its dried grape older brother Amarone. Wines from the region usually also contain some Molinara, Rondinella and Corvinone but here the winemaker has chosen to blend his Corvina with Merlot from France and for this reason he is not entitled to use Valpolicella on the label, classifying the wine as IGT Rosso Veronese (IGT stands for Indicazione Geographica Tipica and allows a more diverse range of grape varieties).

The most famous wines of this region are Amarone made from grapes that have been dried for months to concentrate the flavours and reduce the water content. This ‘Appassimento’ drying process has been applied to grapes for Elio also and is immediately noticeable in the rich prune and black cherry aromas. This is a big ripe wine, packed with rich black fruits with a lot of power and length but also an underlying elegance. For best results decant this for an hour or so before you plan to drink it.

Piano del Cerro ‘Aglianico del Vulture’ 2018, Basilicata, Italy - €31.99
Stockists: Independent off licence

Aglianico is an ancient high quality grape grown mainly in Campania and in Basilicata in the far South of Italy. It was thought to be Greek in origin but we now know that it is native to Southern Italy and probably the grape used to make Falernian wines which were the most prized by Emperors and the moneyed citizens of Ancient Rome. One reason for Aglianico’s popularity in the far south is its capacity to produce rich fruit flavours but also to retain acidity, even in the hot mediterranean climate.

Somewhat tannic in youth it is always exuberant and fruit-driven with ripe blackberry and sometimes violet scented fruits. The two best known DOC for the wine are Taurasi in Campania and Aglianico del Vulture in Basilicata - the ankle of Italy to Puglia’s heel and Calabria’s toe.

This is one of my favourite examples of the grape but if it is more than you want to spend its baby brother ‘Pipoli’ Aglianico costs around €16 and there is also a zero sulphur version at the same price.

This pours a youthful dark purple colour with powerful ripe blackberry and blackcurrant aromas mixed with fennel and wild herbs. Rich and dense on the palate with smoky black fruits, dark chocolate and chewy black plum flavours - one to have with a rich stew or a rare steak. As this is also a young wine it will also benefit from decanting an hour before serving.

For The Diary: Spanish Wine Week runs from 12th - 19th October 2020 with tastings, dinners and online events with special offers on Spanish wine in many retailers.

25th September 2020: Lidl's French wines on full show

Lidl’s French Wine Cellar event started yesterday.  They have a super range of French wines in their shops nationwide that will be on sale, while stocks last.

I got a preview of a few of the wines and I particularly liked their 2019 Trésor de Loire Pouilly-Fumé €14.99, 2019  Côtes de Gascogne Colombard Sauvignon IGP France €7.99 and the 2018 Bourgogne Pinot Noir AOP France €10.99 as well as the two wines we are featuring today the 2019 Le Rocher de Saint Victor Picpoul de Pinet AOP France €8.99 and the 2019 La Croix des Célestins Beaujolais Brouilly AOP France €11.99

2019 Le Rocher de Saint Victor Picpoul de Pinet AOP France €8.99

Stockists Lidl, Nationwide

I love this grape; I love the sound of it.  Picpoul... it is one of the oldest Languedoc grapes, the Piquepoul is one of the oldest native grape varieties in the region.   The name Pique-poul translates literally as "stings the lip", and is a reference to the grape's naturally high acidity.  Picpoul de Pinet is sub appellation used for wines made from the white grape Picpoul Blanc grown in Pinet a region in the Hérault region of the Languedoc.

This great value white, is one of a range of wines that are on offer in Lidl’s Wine event.  The wines are chosen by Master of Wine Richard Bampfield who awarded this 86 points (putting it in the very good category) and I tend to agree.

Picpoul has become very fashionable in recent years, it is a grape variety you used to find on a lot of restaurants lists because it is a very versatile easy drinking wine style that goes well with most food.

Richard recommends this wine with seafood, but I think it will go with everything from pork to chicken as well as fish, especially garlic prawns.

This wine has lovely ripe peach aromas on the nose, it is not as acidic as I was expecting.  Its certainly fresh and lively, but there is quite a lot of ripe fruit on the palate, more full bodied than I was expecting.

At this price this is a great bargain for this wine style, make sure to snap it up!

2019 La Croix des Célestins Beaujolais Brouilly AOP France €11.99

Stockists Lidl, Nationwide

There are lots of myths churning around the wine trade about the Beaujolais wine region.  When you start working in the wine trade you learn them as follows: Beaujolais wines smell and taste of bubble gum; Beaujolais only produces red wine; Beaujolais wines don’t age; Beaujolais has 10 Cru; THAT bit is true but most people can only ever name eight of em!

Two years ago I spent four days in Beaujolais, here is the REALITY… Beaujolais wines are enormously diverse, complex, fresh and interesting.  Beaujolais does not have a “standard style”, Beaujolais wines DO age incredibly well.  Beaujolais is one of the few wine regions in the world to make natural wine long before anyone knew what natural wine actually was

Just so you know, the 10 Beaujolais Cru are:  Régnié, Fleurie, Saint-Amour, Juliénas, Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Chénas, Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent.  98% of Beaujolai’s production is made up of Gamay for red and rosé wine; Gamay is a cross between Pinot Noir and Gouais.

The secret of Beaujolais is the way the Gamay grape is made.   Winemaking in Beaujolais combines the classic method of burgundy with maceration carbonique, whereby enzymes present in the uncrushed grape are surrounded by carbon dioxide, which start an internal fermentation which results in the extraction of colour and flavour from the inner skin of the Gamay grape.

General style of the various Crus : ‘Soft and light Chiroubles, Régnié and Fleurie

(can also be fuller-bodied dependent on where grown in appellation) ‘Medium to more full-bodied’

Saint-Amour, Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Juliénas ‘Potential to improvewith age, more robust’

Chénas, Morgon, Moulin à vent

 This wine was a Silver Medal winner in the 2020 Grand Vins du Beaujolais competition. One of the aromas that followed us all over Beaujolais is Peony rose, a charachteristic of many of the wines, particularly the natural kind.  This wonderful scented aromas was to be found in abundance, especially in Côte de Brouilly and you get hints of it in this wine.  There is tons of ripe fruit when you taste this wine, it’s very very easy to drink.  This is another very versatile wine that will work well with any number of dishes.  As Autumn is most definitely here I would serve this with a slow cooked beef casserole.

Wine Diary: https://jeansmullen.com/

Wines from Spain are asking wine lovers to raise a glass for the fifth annual Spanish Wine Week in Ireland, running in various locations and online throughout the country from October 12th to October 18th. Spanish Wine Week will shine a light on wine shops, restaurants and online retailers who are flying the flag for Spanish wines with discounts, offers and promotions available across the country. This year, a number of online wine tastings have also been added to the schedule to ensure anyone, anywhere can tune in from the comfort of their own home. More details https://jeansmullen.com/Blog/Index/1584


18th September 2020: Let the wine sales begin

September is wine sale month and there are lots of great bargains available for anyone who loves wine.  I have listed on my website some of the great offers from various leading supermarkets and off licenses on my website  https://jeansmullen.com/

Starting on September 24th is the Lidl French Wine Sale (while stocks last) and we will feature some of their wines in the coming weeks. Today, we are featuring a premium Sancerre, on offer until September 23rd in SuperValu and a wine from the Languedoc, with an Irish connection, available in the Dunnes Stores French Wine Sale until 12th, October 2020.

2017 La Perriere Mégalithe Sancerre €31.48 (Sale Price €21.64)

For over thirty years, the Saget family have worked with contract wine growing families, who create the portfolio of wines produced by Maison Saget La Perrière, from most of the Loire’s key appellations.  The founder of the estate, is  Jean-Louis Saget, today, his son Laurent runs the business and continues to work with these growers to make the Saget wine portfolio from many of the key Loire appellations.  This is a big company, however today on Movies & Booze we are going to feature one of their premium wines from the AOP Sancerre.

The Mégalithe is made from fruit grown on the chalk soil that is the key to quality wines in the AOP Sancerre.  The home of Sauvignon Blanc is the Loire Valley, here Sauvignon Blanc accounts for 16% of their total grape production, or 32% of all Sauvignon Blanc planted in France. The Sancerre vineyards lie on the left bank of the Loire north east of Bourges.

Grapes have been grown in Sancerre since 582. In the 12th century, the vineyards developed significantly under the auspices of the Augustine monks. At the time, Sancerre produced a famous red wine made mainly from Pinot Noir, however when phylloxera struck at the end of the 19th century, many of the vineyards were destroyed and were subsequently replanted with Sauvignon Blanc, a grape particularly well-suited to the region’s soil and climate. Sancerre white was granted AOP status in 1936; then in 1959, the AOP was extended to include reds and rosés made from Pinot Noir.

The vineyards that produce Mégalithe, are notably clay, limestone (chalk) and flint subsoils, which you can taste in the wine.  This is not your cats pee in a gooseberry bush screaming out of the glass,  nor is it an absolutely classic Sancerre with a lean character.   The Mégalithe is made from grapes grown on old vines that is partially fermented in wood, to add a more rounded mouth feel.   2017 was a relatively good vintage in the Loire, they had a rocky start with lots of Spring frosts, but at harvest time the weather held, yields were slightly lower than usual, but the quality of the grapes appears to be good, especially in Sancerre; which means this wine has good ageing potential and can be kept for some time.

This has all the lovely fresh acidity you would expect from good quality Sauvignon, the citrus is there and the minerality.  There is a hint of smokiness and a lovely earthy slighty nutty character showing through.  This wine will evolve and develop, one to keep for a few years, if you can!


2017 Château Cazal Viel Vielles Vignes €18.99 (Sale Price €12.00)

Wine Estates with Irish connections are known as Wine Geese, because of the Irish who emigrated to Bordeaux in the 16th & 17th century to work in the wine industry.  Today, all over the wine world the Irish influence is felt.  One the most recent Wine Geese is Neasa Miguel (nee Corish) who with her French husband Laurent, are the owners of the largest wine estate in the Saint Chinian region of Southern France.

The story is straight out of a romantic novel, Neasa from Foxrock, Co Dublin travelled to France when she was 18 to study French.  While she was there, she met a young Frenchman called Laurent Miguel, whose family have been making wine in the region since the 17th century. Neasa returned to Dublin to study science at Trinity College and the romance continued, despite the distance.  Following her graduation and work experience in Dublin, six years later in 2001, Neasa decided that her future was with Laurent and she moved to France to be with him.

Nearly twenty years and two kids later, the family live in the main estate, Chateau Casa Viel in St Chinian but they also have a magnificent summer property, Chateau Auzines in Lagrasse where Laurent grows his famous Albarino grapes.

Laurent’s father was a lawyer and a wine maker and Laurent originally trained to be an engineer.  In 1997 he moved to St Emilion in Bordeaux to make wine and while there was told dismissively that the region of Languedoc could never make wines with finesse.  The gauntlet was thrown down and from that moment Laurent made it his mission in life to prove them wrong.  Which I can tell you, he most certainly has.  Today the wines of Laurent Miguel recognised globally for their finesse and structure.  He also took a lot of daring steps and planted grapes previously unknown in the Languedoc, such as Viognier and Albarino to make world class wines.  The Miguel’s have in 30 years, created a wine identity for the region’s wines that is second to none.

After a long absence from the Irish market, their flagship, Château Cazal Viel is back. This classic blend, is usually reserved for restaurant customers in France and USA but this year they had a limited volume available that the Dunnes stores buyers snapped up for the Dunnes Stores French Wine Fair.

Château Cazal Viel Vielles Vignes 2017 is an award winning cuvéé based on Syrah, Grenache and a small percentage of Mourvedre (10%) that give the wine is depth of flavour. Aged in second use oak barrels, the wine shows classic garrigue character and has benefited from one year aging post bottling, which always helps Syrah based wines to shine.

Wine Diary: https://jeansmullen.com/

Wines from Spain are asking wine lovers to raise a glass for the fifth annual Spanish Wine Week in Ireland, running in various locations and online throughout the country from October 12th to October 18th. Spanish Wine Week will shine a light on wine shops, restaurants and online retailers who are flying the flag for Spanish wines with discounts, offers and promotions available across the country. This year, a number of online wine tastings have also been added to the schedule to ensure anyone, anywhere can tune in from the comfort of their own home. More details https://jeansmullen.com/Blog/Index/1584

4th September 2020: Working out beer personalities

The phrase ‘beer personality’ is a double edged sword.  On one end of the spectrum, many large breweries use expensive mass media promotions to develop an image and ‘personality’ for their beer brand.  This is the sharp edge of the term – often the ‘personality’ that the marketing image consultants has no meaningful connection to the actual beer to which it is attached.  On the other side, often the personality of a craft brewer is reflected in the beer that they brew.  This is striking in a number of countries (the U.S., for example, has many craft beer brands that reflect the wide diversity of brewing personalities in the country).  Belgian personality has its particular eccentricities, and this is very much reflected in the beers brewed in this country of beer heritage.

Today’s two beers are brewed in Waterloo, and are called Waterloo Tripel Blonde and Waterloo Double Dark.  They are a Belgian Tripel and a Belgian Dark Ale respectively.

Understanding Beer Style and Beer Personality –

The great beer writer Michael Jackson wrote a classic beer book – The Great Beers of Belgium.  He had taken a trip around an array of Belgian breweries, and was faced with a conundrum.  How could he get people to understand the diversity of different beers that he was tasting?

He approached the problem by grouping the beers into styles.  The styles were his interpretation of families of beers that he felt had distinct similarities.  Even so, within these styles there was a degree of diversity – the Belgians love to be eccentric! – but using the vehicle of beer styles, Jackson could describe a family of beers to a reasonable extent, allowing people to consider each of the members of that beer style relative to what would be considered to be the classic example, or the ‘centre’ of the style.

There is somewhat of an irony that Jackson chose Belgium to build this concept of beer style.  One of the characteristics of the Belgian personality in cultural terms is that Belgian people seem to delight in their individuality.  Belgium has been the battlefield of Europe for many years – across five hundred years, there have been multiple battles fought within the borders of Belgium, and Belgium has found itself under the control of various masters at different times in history.

A consequence of this is that the Belgian people seem to insist on marking their own personal stamp on all that they are and all that they do.  In beer terms, Belgians often rebel against the concept of beer style.  Beer style suggests that the brewery is conforming to a standard.  The standard most important to many Belgians is their individuality or eccentricity – in other words their style is that they like not to conform to any style.

Both of these ideas are relevant to understanding beer.  When looking across a wide range of beers, putting these beers into groups according to their similarities is the only way to simplify the diversity of options on offer.  Within these beer styles, brewers are free to express their personality by interpreting the beer style as they see fit.  In Belgian terms, many Belgian brewers would argue that their beers don’t conform to any style – that their beer is completely individual.  However, as styles are described in terms of broad families, most beers can be found to (at the very least) be close to the sense of what is associated with a style.  If this is not the case, then a new style is born.

This combination of beer style and beer personality gives beer drinkers the tools to understand why a beer is as it is.  The beers today are from Belgium, and reflect the eccentricities of personality of this great brewing nation.  In keeping with the idea of Belgium being the battlefield of Europe, these beers are brewed on the sight of possibly one of the most famous battlefields in Europe.

Waterloo Blonde –

Beer Style                            -  Belgian Tripel

Alcohol by Volume          -  8.0% a.b.v.

Brewed by                          -  Brasserie Mont Saint Jean

Brewed in                            -  Waterloo, Belgium

Straight away, the label of Waterloo Triple Blonde betrays the desire of the brewers to be individual.  There are two styles that use these monikers – a Belgian Blonde and a Belgian Tripel.  One could argue that these styles are defined on a classic ‘ladder’ – both styles are characterized by golden colour, bottle conditioning (the beer, in Belgian terms is ‘refermented in the bottle’) and the difference between the styles lies primarily in a difference in alcohol content, and the flavour consequences that derive from this difference.  A Belgian Blonde is typically 6.0% to 7.5%, while a Belgian Tripel is typically 7.5% to 9.5%.  As such, calling this beer a ‘Blonde Tripel’ is a way of putting it into no category by putting it into two categories that do not normally overlap.  One could argue that ‘Blonde Tripel’ is an attempt by the brewer to communicate that the beer is a ‘classic tripel’ (another brewer – Van Steenberge – has decided to differentiate their tripel by brewing it as a dark ale, creating the style ‘Dark Tripel’).  Whatever the case, Waterloo Blonde Tripel would fit into the broad style of Belgian Tripel – a style that can range from fruity to floral to spicy in dominant character.

Fruitiness comes through immediately on the aroma of this beer.  Stone fruit (apricot, peach) combines with orange peel, orange rind and marmalade.  On second sniff, a complexity develops in the aroma, and this builds significantly on the taste.  Spiciness is present, but as a pleasant counterpoint to the taste.  Liquorice and clove are evident most noticeably as spice character, but white pepper and allspice are also present.  The finish of the beer rounds out with a delicious creaminess – creamy vanilla and creamy nutmeg both emerge in the finish, and sufficient bitterness is present to balance the sweetness without itself being a notable characteristic of the beer.

Further complexity comes through in second sips of Waterloo Tripel Blonde.  There is a nuttiness in this beer – sweet almond is evident, which gives suggestions of soft marzipan, and dry walnut notes are also present.  There is a phenolic character to the beer – evident in the clove mentioned earlier, but also as a warming, organic character that builds the fruitiness of the beer to a point where it combines with the above average alcohol content to give a sherry/madeira character.  The clove and vanilla combine to evoke memories of hard clove sweets in the finish.

Waterloo Blonde Tripel is a delicious example of the Belgian Tripel style.  In style terms, it would be relatively central to the array of interpretations of this style.  Belgian Tripels can range from quite spicy (Tripel Karmeliet) to relatively fruity (Gouden Carolus Tripel) to having floral hop notes (Chimay White) to being more noticeably phenolic (La Trappe Tripel).  Each of these examples of the Belgian Tripel style would have notes present in the other interpretations, but each would tend to emphasize their own individual character and, in so doing, express their individuality while remaining true to the broad parameters of the style.


Waterloo Double Dark –

Beer Style                            -  Belgian Strong Dark Ale

Alcohol by Volume          -  8.0% a.b.v.

Brewed by                          -  Brasserie Mont Saint Jean

Brewed in                            -  Waterloo, Belgium

Waterloo Double Dark has the colour and alcohol strength to present itself as a ‘real beer’.  In reality, this beer is incredibly complex, soft and subtle in the combination of flavours that it presents, and delicious as a beer to sip, savour and enjoy.

The dark colours betray themselves in the initial aromas.  Chocolate, burnt sugar, brown sugar and powdery cocoa are the first flavours to come through.  On the first sip, these dark malt flavours immediately combine with an explosion of incredibly juicy blackcurrant – and this dark malt/chocolate and blackcurrant juice combination is a simply delicious foundation to the beer.  Sometimes with a beer the combination of base flavours works so well that it can distract the drinker from the secondary flavours that are underneath – and this was definitely the case for me with this beer.  Creamy vanilla and creamy nutmeg definitely come through as a further strong foundation flavour to Waterloo Double Dark, and they lend a ‘roundness’ and softness to the character of the beer.  The spice character of this beer is where the complexity really emerges.

Dark malt is definitely the dominant flavour in this beer, but there is a subtle secondary character in the beer that derives from Belgian ale yeast spice character.  This can possible best be described as a ‘blend of secret spices’ – no spices are used in the brewing of the beer (to the best of my knowledge), but Belgian Ale yeast can develop spice character and, in Waterloo Double Dark, this is particularly subtle and complex.

Dissecting this spice character, our tasting team identified nettle, black pepper aromas, star anise, cumin, creamy cinnamon, suggestions of curry powder and potentially a number of other spice characters.  The best way to describe this secondary spice character would be to say that it is soft, complementary and complex.  The spice in Waterloo Double Dark is a bit like the spice in chocolate combined with chilli – the dark chocolate flavours predominate, but the chilli is there, evident and notable, but not dominating the overall character in the way that the chocolate does.

This is a beer that might intimidate a drinker that is not adventurous by its colour and alcohol strength, but is actually a delicious and incredibly accessible beer.  The dark malt/blackcurrant juice character is the foundation, and this is a straightforward and delicious combination.  The reality of the complexity of the beer is that it provides depth and character without causing the beer to be less accessible.

This is a beer that I can see will be something that I come back to again and again, particularly as the weather gets a little darker into the winter months, and I am looking for a comfort beer to cheer me up!

28th August 2020: Red wines to welcome in the autumn

Now that Autumn is here, consumer wine preferences change.  As the evenings draw close and the kids go back to school people look for comfort foods and comfort wines. We start cooking stews and our choice of wine changes too, people start to drink more red wines, so today on Movies & Booze we are taking a look at two super reds, both exclusive to Lidl from Italy and Argentina.

2015 Corte alle Mura Chianti DOCG Riserva €9.99

Stockists:  Lidl, Nationwide

The vine has flourished throughout Italy (Enotria - the land of vine) since recorded history began and numerous indigenous grape varieties continue to produce a wide range of wine styles.  The region of Tuscany, where Chianti is produced, is perhaps, one of the best-known Italian regions on this market.

Florence's region has shifted its stance in the last couple of decades from a complacent supplier of flask Chianti to the nation's most creative producer of premium wines.  Tuscany's revolution began in Chianti and the central hills around Siena but quickly spread to take in the coastal zones which were not previously noted for vineyards.

Tuscany is one of the most beautiful places in the world.  Spend a few days there and you will very quickly be seduced by not only the sheer beauty of the place with its magnificent scenery but also by quality and pace of life in this part of Europe.

Chianti is still the dominant focus in Tuscan viticulture.  It is the great wine of the central Tuscan hills and the delimited areas stretches from south of Florence to north of Siena in what is today the Classico district.  The grape mix varies greatly in Chianti, depending on the style of wine required.  In Classico, most estates make their wines from 100% Sangiovese, for the Riserva it will be virtually 100%.  Other districts who make a lighter style of wine will use more Canaiolo or a percentage of white grapes.  Some will flesh out the Sangiovese with a (legal) addition of up to 10% Cabernet Sauvignon although is this now declining.

Chianti’s style is now more often dictated by the winemaker.  The basic DOCG requirement for Chianti is that it must have a min of 11 al by vol, with a minimum of 3 years ageing.

The other wines of the Tuscan hills continue to use the name Chianti with the result that today there are six other districts as well.  These are:

Classico (these wines are amongst the finest and longest-lived wines)

Colli Aretini, Colli Fiorentini, Colli Senesi, Colline Pisane, Montalbano and Rufino.

Lidl’s Chianti is a young, inexpensive easy-drinking wine with a lovely acidity showing through which is a characteristic of Sangiovese.  Light and fruity black cherry fruit, this is a very drinkable red.  It will go very well with pizza or lasagne.


2018 Luna del Finca la Anita Single Vineyard Malbec €9.99

Stockists:  Lidl, Nationwide

Figures for 2019 show that the highest volume sales here are being driven by wines from New Zealand and Argentina.  When it comes to grape varieties, Malbec is now the 6th most popular varietal on the Irish market.  It is now the 3rd most popular red grape variety, after Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.    Sales of Argentinian wine has grown enormously in recent years, last year Argentina overtook South Africa and is now 8th on our market in terms of volume sales.

Argentina has really captured the heart of the Irish wine drinker in recent years.  In Argentina Malbec is the big daddy, it accounts for 58.1% of their production, or 38.6% of all red grape varieties planted in Argentina.

Argentine Malbec came from Bordeaux in 1853, it was brought by Aimé Pouget and arrived in Argentina before Phylloxera, so the original clone was French.

The grapes for this Single Vineyard wine were growing in Agrelo, a small wine-producing wine region about 35km south of the city of Mendoza in Argentina. The area is home to some of the regions most famous wine estates.   The wine-producing zone of Agrelo slopes upward from the town toward the Andes, with the highest (and most desirable) vineyards in the west reaching up to 3300ft (1000m) above sea level.

Argentina is the only wine country in the world where altitude is a key factor in terms of their terroir. For every 150 feet of linear rise the average temperature in the vineyard will drop by 1 degree, which means the higher you go, the cooler it gets and that keeps the grapes much fresher, especially at night when it gets colder.  All of which means better quality grapes to make your wines with.

Finca La Anita’s legendary wines are made by Manuel Mas, one of Argentina’s legendary winemakers.  He started the winery, which he named after named after his mother Anita in 1992, and has been making elegant wines ever since. Manuel Mas works with another well-known winemaker Richard Bonvin and his team.

This is a great value wine, Malbec is usually low in acidity, high in tannins, and has an inky-black colour. Aromas and flavours of red plums, blackcurrants are common.   The Luna Single Vineyard is a full-bodied wine with lots of coffee and mocha aromas.  It has bright rich plum fruit flavours.

Wine Diary  https://jeansmullen.com/

What better way to settle into Autumn than to learn more about wine?  Premier Wine Training are offering a range of WSET on line courses this Autumn.   The tutor Maureen O'Hara has over 25 years’ experience working in the wine industry in Ireland, and students achieve above average results.

Details of all the available wine courses including dates and costs are in the wine diary.

14th August 2020: Argentinian wine has loads to offer

Italy and Argentina are the only two countries in the world where wine is considered to be a food; that says a lot when you observe their developing wine industry.

Today we are going to take a look at Wine from Argentina.  Argentina is the world’s 5th largest wine producing country, behind Italy, France, Spain and the United States (in that order); with 895 wineries and growers working hard to produce enough to export 315.4 million liters of wine, which makes them the world’s 10th largest wine exporter.  Within Europe, Ireland is the 7th most important market for Argentinian wine, sales of Argentine wine have been growing steadily in recent years on this market, driven mostly by the popularity of Malbec.  But Argentina has much more to offer than just the Malbec grape as we will find out today when we taste a white and a red wine from Argentina on Movies & Booze today.

2019 Susana Balbo Crios Torrontés €16.70

Stockist: Wines Direct Available online 

Argentina has a category known as “Pink” grapes, which accounts for 24% of all production.  These Pink grapes are the native Criolla varietals, the first grapes, brought to the Americas by the Spanish colonists.  Research has found there are 18 Criolla varietals native to Argentina (Torrontés is one of them), and they are known as Pais in Chile and Mission in the USA.

In Argentina you will find most of the plantings of the Criolla varietal in Eastern Mendoza where grapes such as Torrontés, Cereza, Chica and Pedro Giménez (nothing to do with the varietal found in Jerez), are to be found.  These unique grapes were the back-bone of the original wine industry in the Americas and today they are hailed as indigenous to the regions where they are grown.   Torrontés, the best known of Argentina’s white grape varieties, did not as people assume, originate in Spain, but is in fact a cross of a clone of Muscat of Alexander and Listan Prieto.  Torrontés, is a very aromatic phenolic grape and shows more of its Muscat parentage in terms of its style.

Susana Balbo is one of the most important female wine makers in the world. A pioneer, in 1981 she became the first woman in Argentina to receive a degree in oenology.  In 2012, she was recognized as one of the "Most influential women wine-makers" by The Drink Business magazine. Her wines are exceptional and her Torrontés is quite unique.  Torrontés as a grape by its very nature is quite phenolic and oily with a lot of aromatic aromas and flavours.  In the hands of Susana, it is a very different wine, she makes it in a leaner style, which I personally find much more appealing.

Torrontés is a love it or hate it grape, 20 years ago a typical Torrontés was flabby and oily, Susana’s has aromas of elderflower and flavours of pink grapefruit and is very light in style. The texture is tight and it really shows how in the hands of a great wine maker this grape variety can really excel.  A benchmark Argentine Torrontés showing what this grape is capable of.

2018 Bodega Claroscura Cabernet Franc €17.50

Stockist: Independent off licence

Argentine Cabernet Franc has the potential to produce world class wines, particularly when grown in the Uco Valley.  Interestingly enough the first ever 100-point score for an Argentine wine was for a wine made from Cabernet Franc, which shows the enormous potential for this grape.  Its success is due to the big difference between day and night temperatures, with a diurnal difference of 20 degrees, it allows a longer ripening time for the grape which is the main reason for the quality levels.

Argentina is the only wine country in the world where altitude is a key factor in terms of their terroir. For every 150 feet of linear rise the average temperature in the vineyard will drop by 1 degree.  The other factor is soil; much of it is very low in organic matter which leads to very restricted growth, vines struggle, and yields are low.  Argentina’s wines are “naturally natural”, the majority of the vineyards are located in arid areas with plenty of sunshine so there is no need for artificial intervention.

Water is very much in demand and vineyards close to the rivers have an advantage.  Meltwater from the Andes is the main source of irrigation in the mountain valleys, there are two methods of distribution, flood irrigation which is mostly used in old vineyards and drip irrigation, introduced in the 1990’s.

This small family estate in Uco Valley in Mendoza is owned by Gustavo and Paula Cucchiara, they bought it in 2012, so it is relatively new.   The original winery, Finca San Francisco has 26 hectares planed with grapes.  Cabernet Franc accounts for 3 ha of their total plantings.   The grapes come from a single vineyard located in Vista Flores, Tunuyán, in the Uco Valley where they are grown at an altitude of 3428 ft.   They use a drip irrigation system taking water from the melting snow of the Andes.

This is a very affordable way to see the enormous potential that is Argentine Cabernet Franc. The grapes were fermented in concrete eggs using natural yeasts.  It was then aged for 9 months in small oak barrels made from French Oak.

This wine is a revelation; Lots of sweet cherry fruit on the nose.  The wood shows through on the plate but it has lots of yummy red fruit, raspberry and cherry flavours.  The lighter style is very appealing and perfect for this time of year when we look for lighter reds to enjoy in the warm humid weather.  A must try!

Wine Diary https://jeansmullen.com/

Look out for details of International Pinot Noir Day which takes place on Tuesday 18th August!

7th August 2020: Balancing fruity beer flavours

What do bicycles and beer have in common?  Two answers to this question.  First of all, balance is important with both.  Second, there is a beer style that is inspired by the needs of cyclists – the Radler.  We will be looking at the Radler style today, and also talking about the issue of flavour balance in beer.

The beers that we are tasting today are all from Moosehead’s Radler Range – four different fruit flavours in a beer/fruit hybrid beer that is a Radler.  The flavours that we are tasting are Strawberry/Lemonade, Watermelon, Peach/Mango and Grapefruit.

Radlers –

Taking the word literally, ‘Radler’ is the German word for cyclist.  In Germany, if one mentions a Radler in the context of beer, Germans will immediately think of what we call a ‘shandy’ – a beer mixed with Lemonade or some other fruit soft drink.  Over time, Radlers have extended to encompass various different fruit flavours – we are tasting four different fruit flavours today.  So, when it comes to Radlers and understanding the style, the first thing to understand is that it is a drink with a beer base to it, and the second thing  to understand is that there is a significant fruity dimension.  For many people, the ‘fruity’ is the most appealing thing – this dominates their perception of the style.

The reason why this style is named after cyclists is because the original concept of the style was exactly what we would think of as a shandy.  A beer (often a lager, but not necessarily) starting at around 4% to 5% a.b.v. would be mixed with a (non-alcoholic) soft drink (which, obviously, has an alcohol content of 0.0% a.b.v.) resulting in a drink that has an alcohol content of between 2% and 3% depending on the beer strength and the ratio of the liquids in the mix.  Typical Radlers are usually at what is often described as a ‘mid-strength’ alcohol content – midway between ‘standard’ strength and non-alcohol beers.

As always happens with beer styles, over time the style is interpreted by different breweries and the style parameters extend.  When this happens, the brewery does one of two things – they either focus on one or more aspects of the style (for example, the fruitiness) and partially disregard one or more other aspects of the style (for example, the mid-strength alcohol content), and interpret the style with a beer that is largely like the original style, but does not aim for the centre of what the style is considered to be.  Over time, you end up with sub-styles, and a style family that encompasses all of these sub-styles.  With Radlers that are brewed nowadays, we have Radlers at mid-strength (around 2% to 3% a.b.v.) and Radlers at and around ‘standard’ strength (typically around 4%, but sometimes between 4% and 5%).

Radlers exist within the broader style family of ‘fruit beers’.  The distinction between Radlers and other fruit beers comes down to the base that is used for the beer.  With Radlers, typically the base is a relatively clean tasting lager that allows the fruit flavour to be showcased with little interruption.  Many fruit beers have a lambic (sour) base or a wheat beer base, but brewers have added fruit to many different styles of beer (I have tasted some particularly delicious raspberry or cherry Imperial Russian Stouts on occasion, for example).

Balance in Beer –

When talking to people who specialise in beer flavour, probably the concept that is considered most critical in terms of the quality of a beer is balance.  The idea of balance is that there can be an array of flavours within a given beer, but one flavour should not overpower the other flavours.  The idea of balance suggests that all beers should be similar – that there is one ‘midpoint’ for beers, and all beers must be balanced around this midpoint.  The reality is quite different, and understanding balance is critical to appreciating what is the essence of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ beer.

A number of months ago (pre-Covid), I was out for dinner with a group of people that knew me as ‘the Beer Guy’ from Newstalk.  I ordered a local pale ale, and as I was drinking the beer, there were seven sets of eyes on me.  After my first sip, there were three ‘Is that a good beer’ questions, and four other people eager to understand my opinion.  The beer in question was a good, average example of the style – no major problems with it, and not the best example of the style in the world.  I described it as such, but afterwards thought for quite some time about what the right answer to ‘is that a good beer’ should be.

Every beer has balance.  If a beer is ‘out of balance’ then one flavour, or a set of flavours overpowers the essence of the beer.  If that flavour is a distinctly unpleasant flavour, then most people would agree that that beer is ‘bad beer’.  For example, if draught beer is infected with bacteria, it can taste of a combination of butter/butterscotch and vinegar or sour milk.  I know very few people that would think that such a beer is a ‘good beer’.  So, bad beer is beer that is distinctly out of balance, with flavours that either were not intended in the beer (due to infection or otherwise) or are totally inappropriate in the beer.  This second standard comes through most often when somebody describes a beer using the wrong style classification (a fruity Radler would be a ‘bad’ example of a stout, but could be a good example of a ‘Radler’).  Judging against style is how most beer competitions are run.

For most beers, the issue as to whether the beer is ‘good’ or not is a matter of opinion.  If a person has an intense hatred for the flavours citrus (lemon/lime) and bitterness, when they detect this flavour in a West Coast IPA, they will consider that beer to be a ‘bad beer’ FOR THEM.  They are right – if they don’t like the beer, then it is a bad beer for them to taste.  However, the same beer could be an excellent example of a West Coast IPA – and would be loved by people who like this style.

Even the flavours that I describe in infected beer can be an element of balance in some excellent beers.  Duvel, for example, has notes of vinegar.  Some barley wines can have buttery or butterscotch flavours that enhance their flavour.  In these instances, balance is key – the flavour is present but not overpowering, and the issue as to whether a person will like that beer will come down to (a) how much that person notices that flavour, and (b) how much they like the flavour.

So, balance in beer is really an issue of dominance and avoiding being ‘out of balance’  A tight rope walker can use a pole to balance himself with one side longer than the other if there is more weight on the short side.  Likewise, a beer can be in balance, but can have certain flavours dominant, and be a good beer as long as this flavour does not become unpleasantly overpowering.  Even this is a matter of personal opinion

Ultimately, some beers are bad because they are not the way that they are supposed to be (infected or spoiled), while the issue for most beers is that they are good or bad according to how much the person drinking they beer likes the flavours that are dominant in the beer, and as long as the beer has ‘sufficient’ balance.  Even excellent beers – beers that are considered to be works or art by beer experts, are liked (in terms of flavour) by some and not liked by others.  Such beers may be excellent beers, but the key issue is are they a ‘good’ beer for the person who is drinking it?

Moosehead Radler Range –

Beer Style                            -  Radler

Alcohol by Volume          -  4.0% a.b.v. (all beers in the range)

Brewed by                          -  Moosehead Breweries

Brewed in                            -  St. John, New Brunswick

When writing flavour notes about Radlers it’s easy to cheat at the broadest level.  Radlers are fruity, and thefruit flavour depends on the type of fruit juice or flavour that has been used in the beer.  The important detail comes in considering the specific character that comes through in the flavour of the fruit and the balance that is achieved in the beer.  We will deal with the second issue – balance – first.

The dominant character in each of the Radlers in the Moosehead range is the fruit flavour for which it is named.  However, the quality of the beer comes through in the balance of this fruit flavour with the beer base.  While the lager base of the beer is not notably evident, it plays an important role.  Each of the beers pours with a substantial head.  Hop and bitterness flavours tend to concentrate in the head so, while the base beer for these Radlers is not particularly hoppy, the beers do contain a level of bitterness to provide balance.

Fruit flavours are based around sweetness.  Sweetness can be appealing, but too much sweetness can be cloying.  Keeping drinkability in a fruit beer can be achieved by reducing the amount of fruit flavour (specifically fruit taste) and fruit sweetness and/or by introducing balancing elements to the beer.  Bitterness can serve as a flavour attribute by itself, or it can serve to balance bitterness and increase drinkability in beer.  This latter methodology is what has been achieved in the Moosehead Radler range – the sweetness of the fruit is balanced by just enough bitterness in the beer to enhance drinkability, without there being too much bitterness such that the bitterness becomes a feature of the flavour of the beer.

The essence of fruit flavours comes through in the aroma.  It is the combination of the aroma of the fruit with the flavour achieved through drinking that combines to give fruit character.  What is notable about these beers is the fruit aroma that one gets on initially smelling the beer, and how this fruit aroma combines with taste to give the fruit flavour in the beer.  In both instances, the fruitiness (the ester compounds in the beer that give characteristic fruity flavours) are picked up in the nose either through smelling (orthonasally) or through flavour (retronasally).  This combines with sweetness in two ways – the fruit flavour triggers a memory of sweetness that gives on the impression that the beer ‘smells’ a bit sweet (we can’t detect sweetness in our nose, so this is a trick of the mind), and the sweetness of the beer that is detected on the tongue combines with this to enhance the fruitiness of the beer.

At 4.0%, this beer is a slightly above average strength for a Radler (classic Radlers are 2% to 3%), but just below average strength for beer in Ireland (4.3% to 5% is the range for ‘standard’ strength beers in Ireland).

Strawberry/Lemonade –

The aromas of this Radler gives the impression of both strawberry juice and strawberry pips at perfect ripeness, combining to elicit an extremely natural strawberry flavour even though this flavour is in a context that is unusual (in a beer).  The lemonade comes through in the flavour – combining mild citric lemon acidity (understated and well-balanced) with old-fashionade balancing lemonade sweetness.  This beer is superbly drinkable – balance is excellent, and each mouthful invites the next.

Watermelon –

Watermelon is an unusual flavour.  When eating the fruit, there are two features that are most evident – the first is the explosion of mouthwatering juice that one experiences on biting into a watermelon, and the second is the fibrous quality of the flesh of the fruit.  While with other fruits, the impression of the flesh of the fruit can come through in the flavour of the beer (for example, the rich, juicy sweetness of peach flesh can come through in peach lambics), the predominant characteristic that comes through from the Watermelon in Moosehead Watermelon Radler is the mouthwatering juiciness of the fruit.  Incredibly natural tasting watermelon fruit, and again, a particularly moreish, drinkable beer.

Peach Mango –

An explosion of fruit aromas – initially peach, but with distinct mango character also – comes through in both the aroma and flavour of this beer.  The impression of the body of the beer is that it is more substantial than the first two, but the finish of the beer is incredibly clean.  While odd to describe, the lusciousness of the fruit flavour comes through primarily in the aroma – it smells velvety, and this aroma translates into an impression on the palate.  In reality, the body of the liquid on the palate delivers a clean, refreshing beer that is, again, very moreish.

Grapefruit –

Under normal circumstances, grapefruit can be a particularly acidic fruit with notes of bitterness.  This acidity can make grapefruit superbly refreshing.  The balance achieved in this Radler is commendable – distinct grapefruit aroma, but balanced with the impression of pineapple, and suggestions of lemon zest and roasted (slightly sweet) lemon.  For people who enjoy soft drinks, the soft drink Lilt comes to mind, but also this drink gives the distinct impression of Lemon Meringue with a grapefruit zest.  Again, a superbly drinkable Radler – finish is quite quick, the aroma delivers a superb boost of fruitiness as each mouthful is tasted, and the clean finish makes one want to come back for more.

31st July 2020: Fresh and crisp white wine from Lidl

Today on Movies & Booze we’re taking a look at a lovely fresh white wine from Clare Valley one of Australia’s cooler regions.  We’re also taking a look at a South African red from the Western Cape made from the Merlot grape.  All great value and available year round in Lidl.

2019 Lidl Premium Clare Valley Riesling €8.99

Stockists: Lidl Supermarkets, Nationwide

Built on the pioneering spirit of Australia's early vignerons,  Australia now  has thousands of wineries, dotted throughout 65 wine regions across the country. Their unique climate and vast landscape enables them to produce an incredibly diverse range of wine. Vines were originally brought to Australia by the first fleet in 1788.

The home of Riesling is Germany,  young Riesling has aromas of honey and lemon backed by  a crisp acidity.  As Riesling  ages it will take on diesel aromas,   but the crisp style of citrus fruit will remain on the palate.   New World Riesling offers an up-front style of wine with pronounced aromas and good weight of fruit.

Riesling is a wonder of a vine,  like Cabernet Sauvignon it preserves its identity wherever it is grown.

Australian wine producers prefer cooler spots for the production of their fine, elegant Rieslings.  While being responsible for a dry Riesling style which is highly successful and indisputably their own,  the Australians have probably come closest to making wines with the same sort of finesse as a top quality Germany Riesling.1 ½ hour north of Adelaide is the Clare Valley one of Australia's most picturesque wine districts. Good quality Rieslings are found here.  The Clare Valley has  a patchwork of cool climate meso-climates which means it is ideal for growing cool climate grapes such as Riesling.

Riesling is a marvellously versatile grape, producing wines from very dry to lusciously sweet.  All have the wonderful balance of fruit and acidity and an elegant and racy style.  As they are often low in alcohol so  they are the perfect wine  for anyone watching their alcohol intake.  This Lidl Riesling has an ABV of 11.0% IT has lovely floral aromas and flavours of ripe pineapple and passion fruit.

2019 Cimarosa Merlot (Western Cape) €6.99

Stockists: Lidl Supermarkets, Nationwide

This is one of Lidl’s great value red wines from South Africa.  The quality vineyards of South Africa are widely dispersed through the Western and Northern Cape strung between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.  The climate is Mediterranean which gives long hot summers from November to May moderated by cold, wet, blustery winters, with snowfall on the higher mountains. Late frosts are rare so are heavy summer rains.   The Benguela current from Antarctica also cools the weather in the Cape Region.  Average summer daily temperatures is 23 degrees between February and March.  This warm climate produces very ripe grapes.

This is a great value, easy drinking wine made from the Merlot Grape.  Merlot is one of  the two major red grapes in Bordeaux, where it is blended with Cabernet Sauvignon.  As a single variety Merlot is now gaining popularity elsewhere in both France and the major wine growing countries.  The wines are lower in tannin and acidity than those made with Cabernet Sauvignon, so are easier to drink when young.  They are soft and smooth with plum and fruitcake flavours.

The winemakers like the Merlot grape because it is an early budding and early ripening variety.  It tends to produce it's best wine when grown on well drained soils in cool climates.   The most famous (and one of the most expensive!) wines in the world is made from the Merlot grape, Chateau Petrus which is produced in Pomerol a region in Bordeaux.


19 Lidl Winemakers Selection Shiraz €8.99

Stockists:  Lidl, Nationwide

The modern South African wine industry began just over 20 years ago when Mandela walked to freedom.    Fast forward to the present day and much has changed in terms of where South Africa is now positioned.  South Africa is now the eight most popular country of origin on the Irish market.  The country’s appeal has been its ability to produce everything from good entry level wine to top quality wines.

At the moment, South Africa is punching way above its weight in terms of its price/quality ratio.  Their wines are being sold at a very competitive price and South Africa offers enormous value for money. The door is also now opening for a new generation of South African producers who are fast establishing themselves; these millennials are making superb quality wines from emerging regions such as Swartland.

Swartland is the new kid on the block.  Uber cool, this emerging wine region is where many of the younger generation are sourcing their fruit.   No longer tied to the old rules, they are buying from existing growers in the area and creating some fantastic new wines and wine styles.  They are using old bush vines and virus free plant stock to make magnificent “new style” South African wine from varietals such as Chenin Blanc, Sémillon, Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault.  This is where South Africa is finding its mojo and most important of all, this is where there are HUGE opportunities to embrace South African wine.

South Africa is the world’s seventh largest wine producer; they export their wines to over 140 countries. The quality vineyards of South Africa are widely dispersed through the Western and Northern Cape strung between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.  The climate is Mediterranean which gives long hot summers from November to May moderated by cold, wet, blustery winters.

This Fairtrade Wine comes from Swartland, and features the Syrah grape.  This wine has a nice edge to it, not quite “new world” in style it has lovely pure blackcurrant fruit and that lovely hint of peppery spiciness, that is associated with the Syrah grape.

Wine Diary:  https://jeansmullen.com/

24th July 2020: One of the greatest Champagnes ever

Earlier this summer I attended my first on-line press tasting.  It was organized by a Romanian wine producer who send the wines via his Irish importer to my house.  A few days later all the key wine writers and myself tasted the wines with the winemaker via Zoom.  Our first wine today is one of the Cramele Recas wines I tasted that day.  A few weeks later I had the opportunity to taste, what I consider to be the greatest Champagne ever under similar circumstances, to celebrate being back in studio I’m tasting this again with my Newstalk colleagues.

2019 Umbrele Pinot Grigio Rose €11.00

Stockists: Independent off licenses

I visited this winery in November 2015 and met Englishman Philip Cox at his Cramele Recas winery, so it was lovely to meet him again on line in May.  Philip, originally from Bristol started working for Kenderman, a German wine company back in the early 1990’s.  His job involved buying bulk wine from Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania for the company.  He was MD of their Romanian set up 1993 was the first vintage and from there they built up an extensive business in Romania.

By 1996 Philip saw the potential for Romanian wine and decided to set up his own business, he rented the winery at Recas with a view to producing varietal wines.  Philip, together with his Romania wife Elvira started their business by acquiring a lease to buy option on 100 ha granted over a 5-year period.  With money from a group of investors they dug up vineyards, replanted and upgraded the winery.  In order to keep the cash flow moving they had to sell a hell of a lot of wine, which Philip, with his energy and inherent sales ability was able to achieve.  Philip who has a strong commercial head on his shoulders re-invested all the income to re-plant a range of French varietals that he knew would have appeal to the export market.  He also started to plant some of the local varieties for the Romanian market.

Today Cramele Recas is the biggest selling Romanian wine, with sales of over 10 million bottles annually.  Their wines are sold in many c-stores and supermarkets in key markets all over the world.  In Romania they are the biggest producer in value terms and the best known for local grape varieties.

This Rosé is made from Pinot Grigio, a “pink” grape.  Pinot Gris, Pinot Grigio can have a brownish pink colour, its parentage is thought to be Pinot Noir, crossed with Traminer an Eastern European varietal.  Philip told us that he used the pink skinned Pinot Gris/Grigio to give the wine its colour.  With the current fashion for all things pink, this is a great value example of Romanian Rosé.  It has tons of summer fruit flavours; you notice the lovely strawberry flavours.  Very drinkable and at this price this wine offers tremendous value.   This is a dry style Rosé so I’d enjoy it with a light salad with smoked fish and fresh vegetables.


Champagne Krug 168th Edition - €215.00 (per bottle)

Stockist: Independent off licenses

Hotels & Restaurants : Adare Manor, Limerick; Rosa Madre: Temple Bar, Dublin; The Merrion Hotel, Dublin 2; Chapter One: Parnell Square, Dublin 1;   Montys of Kathmandu: Temple Bar, Dublin 2;  The Greenhouse: Dawson St, Dublin2 and Wilde @ The Westbury, Dublin 2.

As far as I’m concerned Krug is the greatest Champagne bar none!  I was lucky enough to visit the winery in 1996 (which as it turned out was one of the greatest vintages ever) and saw the wine fermenting away in small oak barriques.  Our host was Catherine Seydoux who was the Great Niece of Joseph Krug who established the business in Reims in 1843.  That was a memorable experience, later, while studying the WSET Diploma, a group of us working in the trade, pooled our resources and purchased 48 of the Grand Marque Champagnes which we tasted in a blind tasting.  It was no surprise that in the result of our private tasting, Krug came out on top!

Fast forward to a different world 21 years later, a world of Covid and Zoom Tastings and I sit down to taste the 168 Edition of Krug with the 6th generation of the family, Olivier Krug.  Olivier joined the business 31 years ago to work with his father, he is not a wine maker, but since 1989 has been working as the Brand Ambassador of the House.

Olivier told us that the vision that Joseph Krug had was to create a great Champagne not only in vintage years but every year.  Champagne revolves around 319 villages, 17,000 growers and 280,000 different plots where the grapes are grown.  Joseph wanted consistent quality so he chooses 300 individual vineyard plots and choose them as the sites he would use for the grapes he wanted to make his Champagne with.

The key to premium Champagne is the blending, this is the winemaker’s art, to choose the best fruit from various sites and blend them together to create a consistent style that is all about quality and that is the essence of the Krug philosophy.  The other important feature is the Reserve wine they use to top up the wine for the second fermentation.  The Reserve wines are chosen from a number of vintages, in the case of Krug these are some of the best.  The 168th edition uses Reserve wine from 2012, one of the best vintages of the last 30 years, and also included are wines from the 1996 vintage which as I know, was spectacular!

The current Chef de Cave (head winemaker & blender) is Julie Carvil who put the blend together via Zoom during lockdown while the winery was closed (it has since re-opened).   The 168th Edition is really beautiful, it has lovely floral notes, with hints of brioche.  On the plate the nutty, citrus and honied notes show through.  This is harmony in a glass, a unique fusion of all that is great about Champagne and a wonderful way to toast my colleagues from Newstalk. Its lovely to see you all again!

Wine Diary:  https://jeansmullen.com/

17th July 2020: A history of lager: part 2

Last week, we looked at the history of the Lager Style Family.  We considered how lagers are defined by the type of yeast – Saccharomyces Pastorianus (or bottom-fermenting yeast) – that is used in brewing, and how the Rheinheitsgebot provided the conditions that allowed the Lager Style Family to develop.  We tasted two distinct German lager styles – a Dortmunder and a Kellerbier.

This week we are continuing to look at the history of lager by looking at two further styles – the Bockbier and the (German) Pilsner.  We will be tasting two examples of these styles from the same stable of beers as last week – from Ayinger, the only German brewery to feature in Ratebeer’s Top 100 breweries.  Our beers for today are Ayinger Celebrator and Ayinger Bairisch Pils.

Bockbier –

A Bockbier is a strong style of German lager.  There are different stories as to the origins of the name ‘bockbier’ – ranging from a story of a challenge between two knights in the Middle Ages involving a goat (‘Bock’ is German for ‘Goat’) to the idea that the beer was brewed only under the sign of Capricorn (the ‘Goat’) in December.  However, most likely ‘bock’ is a corruption of ‘Einbeck’ – the town in Germany where this beer originated.

From the twelfth century, Einbeck was recognised as a centre for brewing excellence.  While Bavaria is more central to many of the stories of German brewing history, the esteem in which Einbeck is held is well reflected in the fact that Duke Maximillian I of Bavaria persuaded a brewer from Einbeck – Elias Pichler – to come to Munich to brew the Einbeck style of beer.  ‘Einbecker’ beer (beer from Einbeck) developed a substantial reputation for itself over hundreds of years between the 1200’s and 1600’s.

The original style of Bockbier is called a Doppelbock – it is a dark, strong lager.  Doppelbocks are traditionally named with a name that ends in ‘-ator’.  When the Paulaner brewery brewed a Doppelbock, it was named ‘Salvator’, and was drunk by monks in the Paulaner monastery to provide additional sustenance during times of fasting.  The tradition of names ending in ‘-ator’ continues with the beer that we are tasting today – Ayinger Celebrator.

While Doppelbock is the classic style of bockbier, there are other variants also.  Maibock or Hellesbock is a bright (golden) strong lager.  Eisbock is a particularly strong bockbier.

German Pilsner –

The Germans sometimes (paradoxically) to lay claim to the Pilsner style.  While ‘Pilsner’ literally means ‘from Pilsen (a town that was located in Bohemia – modern day Czech Republic), the Germans claim ownership of the style arguing that the yeast used to brew the original pilsner came from Germany (there is a great, though unsubstantiated story that an undercover monk was sent on a mission to steal yeast from a German brewery and bring it back to Pilsen), and the brewery of the original Pilsner beer – Joseph Groll – came from Bavaria.

The original pilsner came about as a result of a social revolt.  At the time, brewing of beer was controlled by licence, and brewing was very much regional – different towns brewed their own beer for the people of the town.  If the town’s brewery was not managed well, it could cause significant disquiet for the government of the town – this happened in 1838 in Pilsen when an entire seasons brew was dumped ceremoniously in front of the town hall by the disgruntled townsfolk.  The citizens came together to build a ‘Citizen’s Brewery’.  Martin Stelzer was commissioned to build the new brewery.  He travelled extensively around Bavaria, and met and headhunted Joseph Groll – a Bavarian – to act as brewmaster.

The style of beer that Groll brewed became known as ‘Pilsner’.  Because of the prevalence of variants of this original Pilsner, it is possibly the most widely known style of beer in the world today.  Some argue that the original Czech Pilsner was the first bright, golden lager – however, evidence suggests that this is marketing hype.  Before the first pilsner was brewed in 1842, there is evidence that many Bavarian beers were described as ‘white-wine coloured’ (i.e. pale or straw gold in colour).  However, the original Pilsner did fuse a range of ingredients and technologies – soft water of Pilsen, pale pilsner malt, bottom fermenting lager yeast and the thermometer and saccharometer as brewing implements to allow better control of the brewing process.

Nowadays, there are two ‘classic’ styles of Pilsner – Czech Pilsner and German Pilsner.  Both are pale gold in colour, and typically around 5% a.b.v. in strength.  Czech Pilsner are typically characterised by (slightly more spice) Czech hops such as Saaz, and an acceptance of moderate levels of diacetyl – a flavour in beer that is detected as buttery or butterscotch.  German Pilsners are typically characterised by the use of German noble hops, and most German brewers would be horrified at the thought of diacetyl in their pilsners.


Ayinger Celebrator –

Beer Style                   -  German Doppelbock

Alcohol by Volume    -  6.7% a.b.v.

Brewed by                   -  Ayinger Brewery

Brewed in                    -  Aying, Bavaria, Germany.

Dark sugars, molasses and dark spicy rum sweetness come through in the aromas of Ayinger Celebrator.  Rich in flavour – particularly due to higher alcohol content – fermentation with lager yeast gives this beer a clean fermentation character making it eminently drinkable.

Malt character showcases the above dark sugar flavours, with burnt sugar, subtle roast coming through as background burnt wood and a caramel/toffee/ treacle sweetness.

Fruit – dark cherry, toffee apple, dried dates and prunes as well as red apple and cantaloupe and honeydew melon – and spice – allspice, cinnamon are present.  A vanillin oaky character combines with burnt sugar flavours to give notes of crème brulee.

Ayinger Bairisch Pils –

Beer Style                   -  German Pilsner

Alcohol by Volume    -  5.3% a.b.v.

Brewed by                   -  Ayinger Brewery

Brewed in                    -  Aying, Bavaria, Germany.

Barisch Pils is a deliciously refreshing, classic pale gold German pilsner balancing sweet honeycomb malt sweetness with crisp, delicate hop bitterness and delivering a zingy (subtle) lime zest, lime pith character.

This beer is perfectly balanced with layers of extremely delicate notes – aromas of sweet rolled tobacco, herbs, green nettles, bright green grass and green apple fruitiness, floral/rose petal notes, pepper spice and even the subtle suggestion of beany or coffee bean notes.

Barisch Pils is incredibly sophisticated.  Hop bitterness gives balance, enhances drinkability, and contributes to the clean dry finish of the beer.  Refreshing and, at the same time, powerfully complex.

10th July 2020: A history lesson on lagers

Lagers account for between 80% and 90% of the beer consumed around the world.  However, lagers are a relatively ‘new’ phenomenon in the beer world – where beer has been brewed in some form or other for between 6,000 and 10,000 years, lagers have really only been a feature of brewing for much less than a century, and the classic golden lager with which we are most familiar is less than 200 years old.

Today we are looking at lagers specifically – the difference between craft lagers and mainstream, mass market lagers and we will be talking a little about the historical factors that lead to the growth of this family of beers.

The two beers that we are tasting are from the only German brewery to feature in Ratebeer (web-sites) top 100 breweries of the world – Ayinger.  Our first beer is Ayinger Kellerbier.  Our second beer is Ayinger Jahrhundertsbier.

History of Lagers 

‘Lager’ and ‘Ale’ are terms that are used to delineate the most basic distinction between families of beer styles.  However, the definition of ‘ale’ has changed over the years.  Part of the reason for this has to do with the level of understanding that brewers had of what was happening in the brewing process.

Going back to the Middle Ages, the distinction between the main ‘families’ of beer styles was a distinction between ‘ales’ and ‘beers’.  About 800 years ago, hops emerged as an ingredient in beers.  Initially, brewers were hesitant to adopt hops as a brewing ingredient – in the alternative, brewers used a blend of herbs and spices (called ‘gruit’ or ‘gruut’) to flavour their beers.  Ales were brewed with gruit, and beers were brewed with hops.  Over time, the preservative quality of hops in beer lead brewers to understand the advantages of this vine flower as a brewing ingredient, and hops have become central to brewing as a result.

The distinction between ‘lagers’ and ‘ales’ came later.  ‘Lagers’ emerged as a style over an extended period of time as a result of a number of factors.  Nowadays, we know of lagers as being beers brewed with a certain type or family of brewing yeasts – Saccharomyces Pastorianus, Uvarum or Carlsbergensis, depending on your preference for the technical name for the yeast – as distinct from Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, which is used in the brewing of ales.  These two families of yeast are easier understood as ‘Bottom Fermenting’ yeasts (used in brewing lagers, and with a tendency to drop to the bottom of the tank at the end of fermentation) and ‘Top Fermenting’ yeasts (used in brewing ales, with a tendency to rise to the top of the tank at the end of fermentation).

Often, when people look at style families, they misunderstand that the emergence of the style was a result of a brewer opening his ingredients cupboard in his brewery, and deciding to combine a number of different brewing ingredients to make a certain beer.  In reality, style families emerge over an extended period of time, and come about as a result of a confluence of factors – social, cultural, economic, legal and technical.  In terms of technical factors, yeast as a brewing ingredient is probably the ingredient that has relied most on scientific advancement for brewers to truly understand it.

Yeast is a micro-organism – a small, single celled living thing – that consumes sugars during fermentation and converts them into alcohol, carbon dioxide and various flavour substances.  In the process of doing this, yeast multiplies in the brewing vat – at the end of fermentation, there is anything between two times to six times as much yeast in the brewing vessel as is put into the vessel at the start.  The discovery of yeast is often attributed to Louis Pasteur.  However, evidence suggests that there was an understanding of the importance of yeast before the time of Pasteur.  One element of this evidence is the existence of a German name most famously associated with the Playboy Mansion – Hefner.

In Germany, many surnames are associated with the profession that the person undertook.  Names like Mueller (‘miller’), Schmidt (‘blacksmith’), Schneider (‘tailor’), Fischer (‘fisherman’), Becker (‘baker’) and Kruger (‘innkeeper’) are all derived from the profession associated with a member of the family at some point in history.  The name ‘Hefner’ is no different.  The word ‘hefe’ in German translates as ‘yeast’.  The Hefner collected ‘zeug’ (or ‘stuff’) from the bottom of a beer tank after fermentation.  This ‘stuff’ was moved into the ‘Zeug-Wanne’ (or ‘stuff vat’) and used in brewing the next batch of beer.  The Hefner was responsible for harvesting and maintaining this stuff, and maintained a stock of (likely dried) yeast over the summer months.

Temperature has long been a challenge for beer.  If beer is kept cold, then micro-organisms that spoil the beer grow more slowly, and the beer is less likely to sour (just like milk).  When beer soured, some brewers sought to prevent the loss of money by either blending away the older (stale) beer with fresh beer, or by adding strong tasting ingredients to mask the sour flavour.  In some cases, these strong tasting ingredients could be detrimental to human health.  Likewise, if a brewer was losing money, the alternative solution was to put up the price of beer – which was, in turn, detrimental to the beer drinker’s wealth.

The Rheinheitsgebot (German Beer Purity Laws) emerged to protect beer drinkers from these two calamities.  Around this time, ordinances proclaimed in Germany that beer could only be brewed in the winter months – something that is linked to the understanding that cold temperatures helped to ensure better beer.  Over the summer, beer would be stored in cellars, where the temperature would typically be at a consistent level (typically around 8 degrees Celsius), thus helping to maintain the quality of the beer.  The Purity Laws also limited the amount that could be charged for beers.  In this way, the quality and price of beer was regulated to keep beer drinkers happy.

The ordinance to only brew beer in the winter lead to a certain side effect.  In so doing, fermentations typically happened at colder temperatures. We now know that lager yeasts prefer to operate at colder temperatures, so these rules lead to a situation where lager yeasts were more likely to thrive in breweries in Bavaria, as compared with ale yeasts (associated with ‘Altbier’ or ‘old beer’ – meaning historic beer) which were mostly prevalent in England at the time.

The rules on brewing beer only in winter months lead to lager yeasts being associated with brewing in Bavaria.  Over time, yeasts self-selected as a result of the brewing environment in which they found themselves, and, while different regions brewed different styles of beer according to the strength to which the beer is brewed, the types of malts and hops used, the common characteristic for many of the beer styles that emerged over the last 800 years in the regions of Bavaria and Bohemia (now Germany and Czech Republic) is the use of lager yeasts in the brewing of the beer.

In Germany, we find that specific beer styles are associated with specific regions.  The style of Bockbier (a strong German lager) emerged from the city of Einbeck.  Munich Helles (as the name would suggest) emerged from breweries in and around Munich.  The Dortmunder style is associated with Dortmund.  Across the border in the Czech Republic, the most famous style of beer in the world – Pilsner – translates as ‘from the town of Pilsen.  In Germany, this regionalisation of breweries and beer styles is still evident, though thanks to improved transport and technology, many beer styles are now available across the world.  With all of these beer styles, the one factor that they all have in common is their belonging to the lager style family, and this has emerged as a result of the history of brewing in this region.


Ayinger Kellerbier –

Beer Style                   -  Kellerbier

Alcohol by Volume    -  4.9% a.b.v.

Brewed By                  -  Ayinger Brewery

Brewed in                    -  Aying (south of Munich), Bavaria, Germany

Kellerbier is a beer style that emerged out of a serving method instead of a brewing practice.  ‘Keller’ means ‘cellar’ – so this beer literally means – ‘beer served from the cellar’.  An alternative term associated with this style is ‘Zwicklbier’, where ‘zwickl’ refers to the tap on the side of a brewery tank from which a sample of beer can be drawn.  Over time, this serving method has morphed into a style, and this style of beer has been packaged into bottles or kegs so that people can experience the style of beer that might be served from a brewery tank away from the brewery.

The two last stages of the brewing process are fermenting and conditioning.  Fermentation is where sugars in the wort (unfermented beer) are converted into alcohol, carbon dioxide and a myriad of flavour substances.  Conditioning is sometimes refererred to as ‘secondary fermentation’ and it is a slower process where a more limited amount of yeast in suspension in the beer works to smooth out flavours in the beer over a period of time.

Kellerbier, as such, would be defined by the fact that it is a beer that would still contain yeast.  In this sense, it is comparable to German Hefeweisse (wheat beer with yeast – hefe – in suspension).  In contrast to hefeweisse, though, Kellerbier is brewed with lager yeast.  The style of beer is that it is yeasty and very malty – often amber in colour, but colour can range from pale gold to dark amber.  The style is most associated with Franconia in Northern Bavaria, but breweries across Bavaria will often brew a beer to this style, and many craft breweries have brewed their own interpretations of kellerbiers.

Ayinger Kellerbier is pale gold in colour, and has a distinctly cloudy appearance due to the yeast in suspension in the beer.  Aromas of fresh green grass, summer meadows, nettles and thyme.  Because it is brewed using a lager yeast, the foundation of the beer is notably clean, and malty and subtle fermentation flavours come through in the form of bready yeast, subtle mouthwatering fruit flavour – honeydew melon, strawberry and apricot.  Nougat comes through as secondary fruit flavours develop in the beer – red fruit flavours (strawberry and raspberry).  The beer is delicately seasoned with hop herb and spice aromas and flavours – suggestions of black pepper and chilli together with bright coriander.  The bitterness in Ayinger Kellerbier is quite low, allowing the malt character to shine through.

Kellerbiers are often served in ceramic mugs – in fact the emergence of glasses to serve beers lead to the growth in popularity of bright, pale coloured beers that would contrast with Kellerbiers.  When the beer drinker could see the liquid, the pale colour, brightness and clarity of beer styles like pilsner and helles found great appeal, and dark, cloudy kellerbiers found themselves playing second fiddle in the lager stakes.  A shame, this, as the flavours in kellerbiers are truly delightful!  These days, beer enthusiasts – particularly in Franconia – feel that kellerbiers make great appertifs when served to stimulate the appetite before dinner.

Ayinger Jahrhundertbier –

Beer Style                   -  Dortmunder Lager

Alcohol by Volume    -  5.5% a.b.v.

Brewed By                  -  Ayinger Brewery

Brewed in                    -  Aying (south of Munich), Bavaria, Germany

‘Jahrhundertbier’ is a challenge in itself – those of us who are lacking in the ability to speak and/or understand German regularly find ourselves challenged by the habit of German speaking people to collect large numbers of letters, and put them together to form relatively difficult to pronounce words.  Maybe it is easier to know that this name literally means ‘Century Beer’ or ‘Beer of the Century’.

Ayinger Jahrhundertbier is brewed to the Dortmunder style.  Dortmunder Lagers (meaning literally ‘from Dortmund’) emerged as a bright golden, malty lager style.  The style is comparable to Munich Helles, being characterised by a clean, lager fermentation and showcasing the pale malt flavours associated with straw gold lagers.

Ayinger Jahrhundertbier is a pale gold, bright lager that pours with a firm white head.  On the initial tasting, fruit flavours such as strawberry (strawberry juice and strawberry pips), kiwi fruit, mandarin orange, orange rind and stone fruits merge with soft spice (sandalwood, white pepper and suggestions of cinnamon) and bright, fresh herbs (crisp mint, eucalyptus, coriander and hints of tobacco).

Jahrhundertbier is a distinctly refreshing, pale gold malty lager.  Soft vanillin oakiness emerges as the combination of malt sweetness and soft fruit sweetness gives an impression of strawberry shortbread.  This beer finishes with a clean, dry finish.


3rd July 2020: Light white wines to brighten up any weekend

Summer time means lighter styles of wine and today we have two wonderful white wine from Lidl to try.  The first, from South African is made from Chenin Blanc and the second is one of the world’s most reliable wines styles,  New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

2019 South African Premium Fairtrade Chenin Blanc €7.99

Stockists:  Lidl, Nationwide

In the realm of things South African wines are a relative newcomer to the Irish wine market.   Like Chile and  Australia  the arrival of their wines  en masse onto the Irish shelves is one of the developments of the wine market in Ireland during the last twenty years.    What is perhaps not as well known is that South African has a wine making tradition which stretches back over three hundred years. South Africa is the world’s sixth largest wine exporter; they export their wines to over 140 countries.

The father of the South African wine industry was a 33-year-old Dutch surgeon, called Jan van Riebeeck, appointed by the Dutch East India Company to set up a supply station.  Van Riebeeck brought vines from France with him, largely believed to be Chenin Blanc, and successfully planted them in 1655.  Since then, over 300 years later, the vine continues to be successfully grown in South Africa.

The quality vineyards of South Africa are widely dispersed through the Western and Northern Cape strung between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.  The climate is Mediterranean which gives long hot summers from November to May moderated by cold, wet, blustery winters, with snowfall on the higher mountains. Late frosts are rare so are heavy summer rains.   The Benguela current from Antarctica also cools the weather in the Cape Region.  Average summer daily temperatures is 23 degrees between February and March.  This warm climate produces very ripe grapes.

Famously South African vineyards always contained more white varieties than red.  At the start of the 1990's Chenin Blanc (known in South Africa as Steen) made up more than 30% of all plantings.   today Chenin Blanc is reduced to 18.3% of total vineyards plantings.  Chenin Blanc is by far the most widely planted white variety is also the grape variety that produces the most outstanding white wines coming out of South Africa today in terms of quality.

South Africa grows an enormously diverse range of both red and white grapes.  From Chenin Blanc to Touriga Nacional (a grape indigenous to Portugal), in the last decade the quality of their wines have improved enormously.     Many of the top wineries are less than 20 years old.  The industry today is marked by innovation and a new generation of wine makers.

This wine comes from a beautiful part of the Cape, the region of Paarl (which means Pearl in Afrikaans).  This mountainous region enjoys some of the most beautiful scenery you will ever see.  Paarl is next door to Stellenbosch, probably one of South Africa’s best know wine regions.

This is a fine example of what South African Chenin is capable of.  A wine with tons of fruit and a zesty lively freshness that will appeal to the consumer who loves acidity.

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc Awatere Valley €9.49

Stockists:  Lidl, Nationwide

New Zealand grows the world's most southerly grapes and a parallel is sometimes made between the southern latitudes of New Zealand's wine regions and those of famous European regions.  If New Zealand were in the Northern hemisphere the country would stretch from North Africa to Paris, but the moderating influence of the Gulf stream on European vineyards results in hotter growing conditions than in the Southern Hemisphere.

New Zealand lies in a temperate zone.  It is a cool climate wine region.  This cool climate prolongs the period during which the grapes ripen, allowing for the development of deep flavour and intensified varietal character.  Intensity of fruit flavours and crisp acidity are the hallmarks of New Zealand's white wines.

The majority of vineyards are situated in coastal areas, generally cool but ideal for the production of light wines, sunlight providing warmth during the day and sea breezes cooling the vineyards during the night.

Sauvignon Blanc was first planted in Auckland in the 1970's and then in Marlborough in 1973.  The first wine made in commercial quantities took place in 1980.  Success at local and international wine competitions boosted winemaker's confidence in the varietal, as well as consumer demand.  By the early 1990's Sauvignon Blanc was firmly established as New Zealand's flagship wine, with local and international demand increasing every year.  It is now the country's most widely planted varietal.

Sauvignon Blanc has a distinctive aroma, The smell of the so-called thiol character of Sauvignon is reminiscent of passion fruit, gooseberry and grapefruit. The characteristic odor is followed by a rich flavor with a pronounced finish.

This wine comes from Awatere which is next door to Marlborough.  The Wither Hills form the boundry between the regions,  Awatere is to the South of them.  From the small town of Sedden the vineyards stretch inland along the Awatere river (which means fast flowing in Maori).

Awatere is a region in its own right, but it is seen as a sub-region of Marlborough. There is a lot of vines grown here, it is the third largest region in New Zealand, even if it is categorised as a sub-region.   Awatere is a cool region, with great variation between day and night time temperatures which means cool climate grapes, such as Sauvignon Blanc perform well here.

Awatere Sauvignon Blanc’s are typically punchier, racier and more herbal than those from Marlborough.  This is a good example of a well made wine from this region.  Fresh, aromatic with lots of citrus fruit flavours and a burst of zippy acidity.

Wine Diary:  https://jeansmullen.com/

26th June 2020: Hard Seltzers taking the world by storm

Today on Movies & Booze we are going to look at the brand-new alcoholic beverage that’s guaranteed to take Ireland by storm, Hard Seltzers. Not so much a drink, more a lifestyle trend.  We’re also going to take a look at the grape varieties we Irish like to drink and our featured wine is Barefoot’s White Zinfandel.

Barefoot Wine Seltzers 250ml can €2.75

Last summer, across the Atlantic, the biggest drinks trend was a brand-new product called a “Hard Seltzer”..basically alcoholic water.  The Seltzer walking off the shelves was White Claw and its biggest customer was the Millennial/Gen Z consumer who fell in love with it for lots of reasons!  Part of the appeal was that it came in cans, so it went to all the outdoor events, festivals, concerts, barbeques and picnics.  It was also low calorie so win win all round.

Now I’ll be honest, I read about White Claw last summer in the drinks media and was a bit sniffy.  So, when the press release arrived to let me know that Barefoot Wine Seltzers had arrived, accompanied by a sample, I was fully prepared to sip and bin, especially when I saw a few derogatory comments on social media from those in the wine world who have an opinion.

I was expecting to try a chemical fruit flavoured drink with lots of sugar in it, that tasted like alcoholic lemonade.   Not at all, a “hard seltzer” has a flavour unlike any I have tasted before and I loved it!.  It is bone dry in terms of mouth feel, it’s like drinking soda water, with a nice crisp finish and an alcoholic kick.  You do get the hint of fruit, but it’s so subtle its barely noticeable.  The can is great too.. at 250ml is just the right size for a small glass to give you a lift after a long hard week sitting in the sun (as we all seem to be doing at the moment).

I’m a fan and in future before I get judgy, I’ll try something first.  This is not a wine spritzer which Barefoot also produce, this is actually a hard seltzer.

Hard Seltzers are here to stay and the drinks industry are waking up to them.  Some of the big-name brewers in the US are now getting into the Seltzer game, including Budweiser and Corona.   The reckoning is that Seltzers are going big and by 2021 in the United Sales alone, Seltzers are expected to be generating sales of up to US$2.5 billion.

Californian wine brand Barefoot, the 5th most popular wine brand in the world have just launched the Barefoot Wine Seltzer on the Irish market.  It comes in two flavours, Pineapple and Strawberry.   It is made from sparkling water, white wine and natural fruit flavours.   It has an ABV of 4% and for those so inclined, it is gluten free.   Oh, and the icing on the cake, 70 calories a can.


Barefoot White Zinfandel €11.00

Stockists:  very widely available in supermarkets and off licences

Anyone who drinks wines is familiar with the names of grape varieties (or varietals) as we in the trade like to call them.  A long time ago, the names of the grapes never appeared on the labels, but in the 1970’s that all changed, when the Australians, in an endeavour to sell their wines on export markets decided to name the wine after the grape that made it, rather than the region it came from.  A revolution was born and the wine world never looked back.

Recently someone asked me what the most popular grape variety was on the Irish market and to be honest I hadn’t got a clue.  Then a colleague shared with me some recent data relating to the Irish wine market and in it, broken down by varietal was the top 10 grape varieties, there were a few surprises.

In 2019, Sauvignon Blanc was the most popular grape variety on the Irish market by a mile, over 50% ahead in terms of case sales to the second most popular grape variety, Cabernet Sauvignon.  It also came as a surprise to see Chardonnay in third place, significantly ahead of Pinot Grigio/Gris in fourth position. I was also heartened to see Malbec appear in fifth place, which of course is due to the success of the Argentina.  In 6th place was White Zinfandel the grape that we are featuring today on Movies & Booze.

White Zinfandel is the red Zinfandel grape, vinified as a white wine.   It  was developed by Sutter Home Family Vineyards winemaker Bob Trinchero in 1972.  Bob Trinchero wanted to make a more intense style of red  Zinfandel so he removed some free run juice from the must and didn't know what to do with it so he made a small batch of white, or blush, Zinfandel.  This style was first made by a winemaker called George West in 1860's but without much success.  The Trinchero's  found a keen buyer for the wine and decided to call the first batch "Oeile de Perdrix" (Eye of the Partridge). This first Sutter Home "white" Zinfandel was fermented  dry and oak aged and became the first commercially produced white Zinfandel to be sold on the market

Today we are trying the Barefoot White Zin, and Barefoot winemaker Jen Wall has put her own stamp on this unique Californian wine style.  Jen’s  secret is that she blends her White Zinfandel with a very rare and unique native grape called Symphony.  Symphony is a Californian crossing of Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris developed in 1948 by the late Harold Olmo, professor of viticulture at UC-Davis. As its pedigree suggests, it is an aromatic variety with aromas of peach, apricot and lychee with slightly spicy flavours.  Symphony gives the Barefoot White Zin its added character.  Definitely worth a try.

Wine Diary https://jeansmullen.com/

19th June 2020: It once had a bad rep, but now Riesling soars

Friday 5th June, 2020

Today on Movies & Booze we will focus on two of my favourite grapes, Riesling and Syrah.  We’re going to Germany to the Mosel, home to some of the steepest vineyards in the world to take a look at a super example of this very under-rated white grape variety.  Then to France to the Languedoc region, where near the town of Beziers on the slope of an old volcano, Syrah is grown in the warm Mediterraean climate.

2019 Weinhaus Reh Kenderman Riesling Schiefer Steillage  €12.00

Kenderman is a family-owned German producer who has been making wine since 1920.  They have  four wineries in three key German wine regions, Mosel, Pfalz and Rheinhessen. Kenderman are one of the world’s largest distributor of German wines and they export to over  35 countries.  The Weinhaus Reh Kendermann featuring here today is part of their premium wine category.

This wine is made from the Riesling grape, the home of Riesling is Germany.  Young Riesling has aromas of honey and lemon backed by  a crisp acidity.  As Riesling  ages it will take on kerosene, or diesel aromas but the crisp style of citrus fruit will remain on the palate.  Riesling is a noble grape variety, it is capable of giving extraordinary results in depending on the location where it is produced it can vary in style.  For example, Riesling from the Mosel tends to have be a light tangy style of Riesling. German Rieslings are usually low in alcohol, so they make perfect wine  for drinking on a summer’s day. This wine has an ABV of 11.0%

Soil plays a major part in German wines, the vines grow on soils that have been formed over millions of years by physical and chemical weathering of rocks. The most frequently found soil types in German vineyards are slate, loess or limestone.  They are between 10,000 and 400 million years old. Each of these soil types has special properties which have a  particular influence on the grape variety which grows on it.

The slate on the Mosel's steep slopes produces delicious slate flavours with fruity acidity, this wine has Schiefer Steillage on the lable.  Schiefer refers to the slate soil which dates back to the Devonian era (350-400 million years ago). The Mosel is about as far north as grapes will grow and, in this cool climate, steep slopes (Steillage) and their angle to the sun help the grapes to ripen.  During the day the slate soil absorbs the heat of the day and retains is at night vines which helps with the ripening of the vines in this very northern cool climate wine region.

This wine is off-dry which means it retains a little of the original sweetness from the grapes, which rounds out the steeliness and softens out the character of the wine.

If you are a fan of blue cheese, then this is the perfect wine to serve with it.  Alternatively, this wine is made to go with a Thai Green Chicken Curry as the hint of sweetness that is part of the wine style will work perfectly with anything with a little spice or heat in it.  Alternatively, why not enjoy it as an Aperitif wine, perfect for summer drinking.

2019 Domaine de Sainte Marthe Syrah IGP Pays d’OC €10.00

Another family owned company, this time from France.  The Bonfils family have been making wine for six generations since 1870.  Today their wines are distributed in 42 countries and they have 17 estates, mostly in the south of France in the Languedoc region.  The Bonfils family are one of France’s largest independent wine growers, they farm 1,600 ha of vines in 17 Domaine and Chateau.  They have one estate in the Bordeaux region.

Our red today is part of the Bonfils estate from the Pays D’Oc  region in the Languedoc region now known as Occitanie.  This was the name used for this part of France during the middle ages.  Since 1st January 2016 it is the name that the regions formerly known as Languedoc Rousillion and Midi Pyrenees is once again known as.

This wine is a Vin de Pays,  a category of wine created in France in the 1970’s to encourage the production of wines that are a step up from basic table wine. In 2009, France registered their VDP wines with the European Union as IGP’s (Indication Géographique Protégée) in a nutshell if you see on a label it simply means quality wines from a specific region.

Domain de Sainte Marthe was constructed on the slopes of a dormant volcano.  The estate has 95 ha and the soil  structure that the grapes are grown on is  mainly basalt, marl and limestone.

The Syrah grape gives a deep coloured positively perfumed dry wine,  Syrah is one of a nobel black grape varieties, it produces serious red wines which are capable of ageing for decades.  Wines made from Syrah tend to produce dense, purple-coloured wines with rich, often spicy fruit flavours and are usually very tannic when young. Syrah gives flavours of blackcurrant, spice, pepper, mint and eucalyptus.  Syrah like all classic red grapes responds well to oak-ageing.

This is a classic warm climate Syrah wine, it has flavours of blackcurrant fruit, dark chocolate and a hint of spice.

Wine Diary:  https://jeansmullen.com/


12th June 2020: The difference between bitters


There are some terms that are synonymous with beer.  Bitter (as a flavour) has to be either near the top of the list, or at it.  When it comes to talking about English Ale Styles, again the Bitter style comes out front.

Today, we will be tasting two bitters from York Brewery – Guzzler (an Ordinary Bitter) and Minster (a Best Bitter), and discussing and clearing up some of the confusion that surrounds the term ‘bitter’ as it pertains to beer.

Bitter as a Flavour –

In flavour terms, ‘bitter’ in beer is a very specific flavour.  I’m going to start with what it is not, and then discuss exactly what bitter is in flavour terms.  Later on, I will discuss how bitterness serves to provide balance in beer.

When somebody tastes lemon juice, they will often grimace and crunch up their face and exclaim ‘That is bitter’.  This is NOT bitterness.  I know that I am delving into the nether regions of beer geekery here, but bitterness is a very specific flavour in beer.  Quinine tonic water is bitter.  IPA’s are bitter.  Lemon juice is SOUR or acidic – a very different flavour.

Our tongue picks up five flavours – sweet, salt, savoury, sour/acidic and bitter.  Early on, flavour scientists ‘mapped out’ the tongue, identifying specific areas of the tongue that, supposedly, were individually responsible for detecting specific flavours.  In 1901, a German Scientist – David P. Hanig – investigated the sensitivity of different parts of the tongue to different flavours.  He found that the front or tip of the tongue was more sensitive to sweet flavours, the front/middle picked up saltiness better, sourness was detected more notably on the sides of the tongue, and bitterness was detected at the back of the tongue (savoury, or ‘umami’ – a Japanese term – is a ‘tongue flavour’ that has emerged more recently than 1901).

This idea of different parts of the tongue being responsible for different flavours was further developed in 1940 by a Harvard Psychology professor with the (perfectly ironic, for a social scientist) name of Edwin G. Boring.  Boring reimagined the concept of different parts of the tongue being responsible for different flavours into a ‘tongue map’ – with the tongue divided into different, labelled, geographic regions that were, supposedly, responsible for detecting different flavours.

This idea of a ‘tongue map’ has emerged from the work of Boring.  This concept has survived – probably because it is intuitive and appealingly simple to understand – been disputed, and is now particularly misunderstood.

Continuing our strangely appropriate trend of scientist names, in 1965 a surgeon named T.R. Bull called ‘bull’ on the idea of the tongue map.  There are two cranial nerves responsible for taste perception – the glossopharangeal nerve at the back of the tongue and the chordo tympani at the front.  Bull argued that, if different parts of the tongue were responsible for specific flavours, then damage to one or other of these nerves should nullify the person’s ability to taste that flavour.  Bull found that subjects who had their chordo tympani (the nerve linked to the front of the tongue) cut in a surgical procedure could still taste sweetness.  In a later experiment, Linda Bartoshuk from the University of Florida found that applying anesthesia to the chordo timpani nerve not only did not nullify the subject’s ability to taste sweetness, in fact people with their chordo tympani nerve anesthetised could taste sweetness more intensely.

So is Boring’s tongue map valid, or is it Bull?

We now know that our tongues have receptors spread across the tongue that are capable of tasting all five flavours associated with the tongue.  In fact, receptors for bitterness exist not only in the tongue, but extend down the digestive system all the way through to the anus.  So from this perspective, the idea of a tongue map – different parts of the tongue being responsible for detecting different flavours – has been spectacularly refuted.

However, before throwing the tongue map out with the bath of perfectly flavourful beer in which I have been resting while writing this, it is probably a good idea to take a step back and look at where each of our scientists were coming from.  Boring was a social scientist – a Psychology Professor – who was interested in perceptions of flavours.  Bull, on the other hand, was a medic – a surgeon.  Boring was most interested in what our brains were telling us about flavours, while Bull was interested in understanding how our body machine processed the information relating to these flavours. This is where the root of the confusion about the tongue map comes from.

We know that it is true that different parts of our tongue are more sensitive when detecting different flavours.  These different levels of sensitivity are associated with the different regions mapped out by Boring.  Furthermore, our brains tend to ‘attach’ a flavour to a part of our mouth – so while our entire tongues are capable of detecting flavours like bitterness, when we are seeking to perceive bitterness, our brains trigger the idea that the bitterness has been detected at that part of the tongue that is most sensitive to it – the back of the tongue.

In summary, looking at things from a medical point of view, the idea of the tongue map – that different parts of our tongue are responsible for detecting different flavours – has been entirely debunked.  However, when it comes to detecting flavours, the idea of a tongue map helps us understand the parts of our tongue that are more sensitive to particular flavours, and this can help us detect these flavours more readily

Perceiving Bitterness –

Our tongues have different types of receptors – tonic and phasic receptors.  Tonic receptors take a flavour and react slowly to this flavour.  They continue to react over a longer period of time, sending signals to the brain that the flavour is being detected.  Phasic receptors react quickly to a flavour, and the signal to the brain diminishes quite quickly.

The receptors for detecting bitterness are tonic receptors – the slow ones.

Taking what we know about the sensitivity of our tongue to different flavours, and putting with this the fact that the receptors that pick up bitterness are tonic – slow acting – receptors, we can work out the best way to pick up bitter flavour in beer.

Take a mouthful of beer.  Hold the beer at the back of your tongue for about fifteen to twenty seconds.  After holding the beer at the back of your tongue for this time, swallow the beer, and count to fifteen or twenty.  Think about the dominant flavour that emerges at the back of your tongue.  If bitterness is present as a flavour in the beer, this bitter flavour will be perceived using this method.

Bitterness in beer comes primarily from one of the elements of hops.  Alpha acids in hops are converted (isomerised) into isomerised alpha acids in the boil in the brewing process.  These isomerised alpha acids are both more soluble – meaning that they dissolve more easily into the beer liquid – and taste bitter.  The more iso-alpha acids there are in beer, the more (absolute) bitterness there is in the beer.  I.B.U.’s (or International Bitterness Units) are a measure of the concentration of isomerised alpha acids in beer.


Many brewers will now indicate the level of I.B.U.’s in their beer.  An American Lager will typically have a level around 8 to 12 I.B.U.’s – very low.  Some European lagers will have bitterness around 18 to 25 I.B.U.’s.  American Pale Ales might have bitterness levels between 30 and 50 I.B.U.’s and IPA’s can have bitterness in the region of 40 to 70 I.B.U.’s.  Note – these numbers are not absolute, but they are good indications of what is to be expected from each of these styles.


However, there is a difference between perceived bitterness and absolute bitterness.  I.B.U. measurements measure the absolute amount of isomerised alpha acids present in a beer that can deliver bitter flavour to the drinker.  However, the drinker will perceive this bitterness in the context of the other flavours present in the beer.

Sweetness and bitterness serve to balance eachother out.  Sweetness can be pleasant, but too much sweetness can be cloying.  Bitterness can be harsh or overpowering, but the right level of bitterness can provide a crisp drinkability to a beer.  The balance between sweetness and bitterness in a beer is the primary determinant of the level of perceived bitterness (and perceived sweetness) in a beer.

When a beer has a high level of bitterness, this bitterness will be perceived to be more intense if there is a low level of sweetness in the beer.  Increasing the sweetness will serve to reduce the intensity of the bitterness perception.  Likewise, a beer that is particularly sweet will have improved drinkability if this sweetness is appropriately balanced by bitterness.  This bitter-sweet balance is the balance that is most central to many styles of beers.

Perceived bitterness, therefore, is a function of the absolute amount of bitterness in the beer – the I.B.U.s in the beer – coupled with the amount of sweetness and the perception of sweetness in the beer (from residual sugars and potentially from other sources).  A beer can have a high level of absolute bitterness, but can be perceived to be not overly bitter.  Likewise, a beer can have a relatively low level of absolute bitterness, but can be perceived to be quite bitter if there is not a lot of sweetness there to balance the bitterness.


Bitter as a Style –

The phrase ‘a pint of Bitter’ is synonymous with the English pub.  While the style Mild was the predominant style in the U.K. up to the mid 1900’s, and while lagers now dominate the mainstream market, English bitter is the most popular traditional style of beer in England.

One would be forgiven for assuming that bitterness is the predominant flavour that one should expect from a ‘Bitter’.  However, such would not be an accurate assumption.  Most bitters are brewed to present as perfectly balanced beers, with the level of bitterness present designed to complement the malt character and to enhance the drinkability of the beer.

A ‘bitter’ is an English Pale Ale.  Colour for a Bitter can typically range from a rich gold to the lighter amber colours associated with pale beers.  When beer is brewed with lighter coloured malted barley – the colour of the beer comes primarily from the grains and malted barley used in brewing the beer – the flavours from these grains can be more delicate.  Dark grains used in the brewing of brown ales, red ales and stouts can deliver rich caramel, burnt sugar, and roast character to the beer.  In contrast, when a beer is brewed with paler malts, the grain flavours can come through as ‘grainy’, light honey and/or biscuit.

Sweetness in beer comes primarily from sugars that come from starches contained in grains used in brewing the beer.  These lighter coloured grains that qualify a bitter as part of the ‘Pale Ale’ family provide less intensity of grain flavour – and often less intensity of sweetness – to the beer.  Couple this with the fact that bitters are typically attenuated to a significant extent – the sugars that are generated from the grains in the mash tun are fermented out into alcohol to a notable extent causing the beer to have a relatively dry finish – and one has a beer with an absence of sweetness available in the beer to balance any bitterness that might be present.

The bitter style is divided on a ‘ladder’ of alcohol strengths.  Ordinary Bitters have an alcohol strength between 3.2% and 3.8% a.b.v.  Best Bitters range from 3.8% to 4.6%.  The top rung of the latter – Strong Bitters (previously knows as ‘Extra Special Bitters’ or E.S.B.’s, but now with a new name as ‘E.S.B. was claimed as a trademark by one London brewer) range from 4.6% to 6.2% a.b.v.

Bitters have a reasonable but not overpowering level of absolute bitterness present in the beer – 25 to 35 I.B.U.’s for Ordinary Bitters, through 25 to 40 I.B.U.’s for Best Bitters and 30 to 50 I.B.U.s for ‘Strong Bitters’.  In comparison to other darker (and, sometimes, sweeter) English ales the bitterness might be perceived more readily.  However, balance is the over-arching characteristic of an excellent English Bitter – enough bitterness to ensure drinkability and to balance the malt character of the beer, but not so much as to distract the beer drinker.


Guzzler –

Beer Style                   –  Ordinary Bitter

Alcohol by Volume    –  3.6% a.b.v.

Brewed by                   –  York Brewery

Brewed in                    –  York, England

With an a.b.v. of 3.6%, Guzzler from York Brewery qualifies as an ‘Ordinary Bitter’ – an English pale ale designed for everyday drinking that could very possibly be the lunch time beer of choice for farm labourers.  In Ireland – where mainstream beer norms have lead many people to expect beers to be 4.3% a.b.v. – 3.6% is a relatively low level of alcohol content.  With lower alcohol, the ratio of solid ingredients (malt and grains) to water tilts towards water, so the opportunity for the beer to have more flavour is lessened.  However, with Guzzler, York Brewery have done an excellent job in brewing a beer that delivers significantly above its alcohol strength both in terms of flavour and in terms of complexity.

Aromas for Guzzler combine grainy, biscuit malt flavours with floral, earthy hop character.  Rose petals and Turkish delight come through on the nose, and this combines with classic earthy English hop character.  A touch of citrusy grapefruit comes through from the hop flavour on tasting the beer.

Tasting this beer, the malt character develops.  Subtle honey combines with the grainy, biscuit malt character and powdery marshmallow is also in evidence in the foundations of the beer.  This beer is perfectly balanced with mild bitterness – just enough bitterness to balance the sweetness of the grain character, making the beer incredibly drinkable, but not enough for the bitterness of the beer to be a notably characteristic of the flavour.  Soft spice character – black and white pepper – emerge to provide further balance to the golden grain character.  The slightest hint of French cheese – camembert (a flavour developing from the English ale yeast used in brewing the beer) provides a barely perceptible note of complexity to the flavour of this beer.

Guzzler is eminently drinkable and intensely satisfying.  The complexity of the beer makes this everyday beer something that any beer connoisseur would particulary appreciate.  While, as the name suggests, the beer is easily quaffable (a ‘Guzzler’), there is much more flavour available in this beer that the 3.6% a.b.v. suggests should be there.  This is a beer that punches way above its weight – easily one could assume that this beer carries the character of a beer with 0.5% to 1.0% more alcohol.

Guzzler rounds out with a mild bitterness and a dry finish.  This is a superb English ale that originally started out as a seasonal for York Brewery but quickly, due to its popularity, has become part of York’s core range of beers.  Definitely one to hunt out!


Minster Ale –

Beer Style                   –  Ordinary Bitter

Alcohol by Volume    –  4.2% a.b.v.

Brewed by                   –  York Brewery

Brewed in                    –  York, England

At 4.2% a.b.v. Minster Ale fits into the ‘Best Bitter’ style of English pale ales.  While quite close in alcohol content to Guzzler, and given that Guzzler punches above its weight on flavour versus alcohol strength, Minster delivers a distinctly different flavour profile to the beer drinker.

As an English Pale Ale, Minster presents at the paler end of the pale ale spectrum with a straw gold colour.  Woodland and herbal aromas come thrugh from the hop character of this beer.  Earthy, minerally English hop character is very much in evidence.  The combination of flavours in this beer is quite delicate.  It is a complex beer with layers of flavour, but these flavours are subtle, well balanced, and emerge particularly as the beer opens up.

On tasting the beer, fruit flavours come through.  Plum – particularly appropriate for an English style – is the first fruit flavour that comes through, with the flavour of the beer evoking the idea of biting into a rich, purple, juicy plum, and tasting the slightly sweet, and distinctly ‘plummy’ yellow orange flesh of the fruit.  Peach or nectarine also develop in the flavour.

The grain foundation of this beer combines on initial impression of honeycomb with grainy character and cream cracker.  The bitterness of the beer is again present to balance the grain character of the beer rather than existing as a separate flavour dimension by itself.

Continuing to taste the beer, herbal character – thyme and allspice – come through, and the fruit flavour develops further.  The beer is mouthwatering, and the impression of watermelon and cucumber are evoked, combining with the aroma and flavour of nettles.  Subtle white and black pepper provide further balance in the beer.

Minster Ale finishes out with a dry character.

In Minster Ale, York Brewery have brewed a second English bitter with its own unique, and particularly delicious character.  On a side-by-side with Guzzler, these two beers are distinctly different examples of their respective styles, and two delicious representations of the bitter style family.  I would recommend hunting both out, and tasting them together if possible to see the variation and differences in character between the two beers.



29th May 2020: Australian wines from Lidl, with some delicious recipes to pair with them

Built on the pioneering spirit of Australia's early vignerons, the Australian wine industry with its 200-year heritage is now spread across all states and territories.  With a geographical size similar to Europe and with its own distinct climates, soils and terroirs, Australia now produces an increasingly diverse range of styles, flavours and grape varieties.  Australian wine is the second most popular country of origin on the Irish market.  Today on Movies & Booze we’re going to take a look at a few Australian wines, all currently available in Lidl.

2018 Lidl’s Premium Australian Chardonnay €7.99

Stockists:  Lidl, Nationwide

Chardonnay was one of the original grape varieties brought to Australia in the 1820’s where it thrived in Australia’s warm climate. An experimental vineyard planted in 1908 in the Hunter Valley north of Sydney is now one of the oldest Chardonnay vineyards in the world.  Due to its adaptability, there's no one universal style. Australian Chardonnay tends to express the diversity of the people who craft the wines and the unique regional characteristics, depending on where the grapes are grown.

Lidl’s Chardonnay comes from grapes grown in Coonawarra in South Australia, where the vineyards are cooled by breezes from the Southern Ocean. This wine has lovely ripe tropical fruit aromas, with a hint of spice coming from the wood.  When tasted it has lovely melon and tropical fruit flavours with a hint of butter and a lovely touch of vanilla.  This wine would be lovely with roast or BBQ chicken but if you want to go for it and make a spicy chicken satay or curry or chicken with tarragon and spices, then there is enough weight of fruit and power  in this wine to stand up to any strong flavours such as  chilli or other spices.

For a dish to pair with the Coonawara Chardonnay available in Lidl store nationwide, why not try Prawns with clementine pomegranate and rosemary butter

300g of cooked prawns

Zest and juice of 2 clementines

1 sprig of rosemary finely chopped

2 spring onions finely chopped

1 clove of garlic finely chopped

The seeds and juice from 1 ripe pomegranate

125 g of butter

Salt and pepper

  • Melt the butter in a pan and add all the ingredients to it except the prawns
  • Once all is combined, add the prawns and heat through
  • Serve with crusty bread to mop up the juices

For a video on how to cook this, click here


2018 Lidl’s Premium Australian Cabernet Sauvignon €8.99

Stockists:  Lidl, Nationwide

Australia’s Limestone Coast extends from Cape Willoughby at the east end to the border with Victoria. The best-known Australian wine regions here have been designated as an Australian Geographical Indication (AGI) and the best known of these are Coonawarra and Pathaway.

This is premium wine country; viticulture has long been part of the tradition in this south east corner of South Australia. The first vineyard was planted there in 1860.  It has a maritime climate, it is famous for its 'terra rossa' or red soil, which adds to the quality of the grapes grown here.  Many of Australia's premium wines are born in the vineyards of Coonawarra.

Cabernet Sauvignon is the world's most renowned grape variety for the production of fine red wine.  What makes Cabernet Sauvignon remarkable to taste is the fact that over the centuries, Cabernet Sauvignon has developed a special affinity for oak barrels.  The particular appeal of Cabernet Sauvignon lies not so much in the primary fruit flavours but also in the flavour compounds that evolve when the wine is aged in wood.

Cabernet Sauvignon has a pronounced taste of blackcurrants, often with extra flavours of mint, herbs and cedar.  The wine is high in tannin which is what makes it  age so well. Cabernet Sauvignon is an extremely important grape especially when grown in quality wine regions such as Coonawarra.

Lidl’s Premimum Cabernet Sauvignon is a very fruit forward style of red wine, you get the lovely blackcurrant fruit showing through and a nice wedge of firm tannin.  This is a great wine to match with any sort of meat dish, especially with a Sunday roast, of lamb or beef.  This is a very drinkable good value Australian Cabernet Sauvignon from one of the country’s best-known wine regions.

For a dish to pair with the Coonawara Cabernet Sauvignon available in Lidl store nationwide

This is quick easy and very satisfying, with big bold flavours, just what my cooking is all about.

Serves 4

14 cooked new potatoes (650g) skin on and cut in half

Half a chorizo sausage (125g) peeled and cut into chunks

2 red onions (280 g) peeled and sliced

3 cloves of garlic (10g) peeled and chopped

1/2 packet(100g) baby leaf spinach

A splash of olive oil

I180g goats cheese sliced thickly.

Salt and pepper

  • Heat the oil and add the potatoes, cook for 3 -4 minutes on a medium heat then add the onions and garlic, followed by the chorizo a minute later
  • If the mixture looks a little on the dry side add another splash of olive oil.
  • Cook everything for 5 -6 more minutes turning occasionally then add the spinach and seasoning
  • Serve hot with the goats cheese on top which should start to melt into the salad.

For a video on how to cook this, click here

2017 Lidl’s Premium Australian Shiraz €8.99

Stockists:  Lidl, Nationwide

Australia had its biggest vintage for 10 years in 2017, the only major producing country globally to have a decent harvest.  Europe if  you remember in 2017  had a huge drought and vines struggled in the heat.

The Syrah/Shiraz  grape is very distinctive, it is dry, dark and dense with lots of blackcurrant fruit, firm tannin and a hint of pepperiness.   In Australia the grape is known as Shiraz and today it

is the red grape variety most associated with Australia and was probably brought there by horticulturist James Busby in 1832.  Barossa Valley is one of Australia’s best-known red wine regions.  This small  hilly region north of Adelaide has become one of the world’s best-known red wine regions of the modern era.

Barossa is not your average Australian region; it has a range of microclimates that includes a good amount of seasonal rainfall.  It has mild daytime temperatures and is cool at night. Some of Australia’s greatest wines made from the Shiraz grape are produced here.  Shiraz has been grown in Barossa since the mid-19th century.

The Lidl Premium Australian Shiraz has tons of blackcurrant fruit backed by a touch of vanilla with a little chocolate twist.  It is full bodied and the earthy hint of bell pepper also shows through.  I love the slightly spicy finish.  This wine would be perfect with steak cooked on a barbeque.

Wine Diary https://jeansmullen.com/

22nd May 2020: Ciders to enjoy in the sunshine

While Irish Summers are never what one could call reliable, the first suggestions that we might get some sunny days have come, and with them comes the inexorable move towards the cider season.  Cider is a delicious drink year round, but seems to be particularly popular when the weather is warm.

Today we are tasting two craft ciders, and discussing what the difference is between mainstream and craft cider.  Our ciders for today are Hogan’s Killer Sharp and Cockagee Irish Keeved Cider.

Craft Cider –

The term ‘craft’ is so over-used these days as to have become almost meaningless.  I believe that the straw that broke the camels back for me might have been when I saw McDonald’s arguing that their burger range was ‘crafted’.  Perhaps ‘artisan’ would be a better term.  In any event, there is a need for  a term to distinguish beers and ciders that have been made with artistry and panache from mass market, mainstream drinks.  Craft or Artisan – take your pick.

In cider terms, the definition of a ‘craft’ cider is just as challenging as it can be in brewing terms.  Attempts have been made to define craft cider in terms of juice content of the cider – but some ciders naturally lend themselves to being made with a lower percentage of apple juice, so challenges can emerge.  Some craft cider makers make ciders with 60% to 70% juice content – still way higher than the 30% to 35% prevalent with mass market ciders.  Fermenting apple juice to dryness can result in a liquid with anywhere between 7% and 10% a.b.v., so if the cider maker is seeking to make a cider with a more ‘normal’ level of 5% a.b.v., use of 100% apple juice simply will not work.  The result cannot be achieved without using ‘brook apples’ – to bring down the alcohol content to a more normal level.

In my mind, craft ciders are ciders where the artistry of the cider maker shines through.  This can be in the selection of the particular blend of apples used in making their cider.  It can be used in the application of traditional or creative cider making processes.  It can be in the maintenance of heritage and tradition in the cider making art – foregoing modern approaches that might reduce costs, but which might threaten the quality and purity of the cider that results.

Both of our ciders today reflect what I believe are central virtues that belong in craft cider.  The first cider – Hogan’s Killer Sharp – brings sour fermentation to cider, and integrates a complexity of mouthwatering acidic flavours into the cider, resulting in a truly refreshing artistic masterpiece of a cider.  Cockagee revives a traditional cider making process that would have died out in Ireland. This process – keeving – resulted in ciders that were exported from Ireland to France fifty years before Guinness was ever exported, and in ciders that commanded prices that were many multiples higher than some of the finest French wines.

Cider making is an art.  Cider making can also be a mass market process resulting in a basic liquid sold through heavy investment in image development and marketing.  True cidermakers would argue that many of the mass market ciders available should not qualify as ‘cider’ – but this argument would be hard to sustain given that society at large is not open to having their mind changed.  However, true artisan cidermakers deserve to have their craft – or artisan – ciders distinguished from mass market ciders, as the quality of the liquid is simply streets apart.


Hogan’s Killer Sharp –

Cider Style                  -  Sour / Brett Fermented Cider

Alcohol by Volume    -  5.8% a.b.v.

Made by                      -  Hogan’s Cidery

Made in                       -  Warwickshire, England

In any tasting note for a cider, the word ‘apple’ is inevitably going to appear – with an alcoholic drink that is focused around fermenting apple juice, this is probably inevitable.  However, Hogan’s Killer Sharp brings layers of complexity to the flavour – driven by the fact that the cider is fermented with Brettanomyces (or ‘Brett’).

In the past, we have reviewed sour beers on Movies and Booze.  There are various ways in which sour beers are brewed – ranging from spontaneous fermentation, a la lambics to mixed fermentation, a la Flanders Red.  With most beers, the beer is fermented with a particular family of yeast – saccharomyces cerevisiae if it is an ale, or saccharamoyces uvarum if it is a lager.  Sour beers allow wild yeasts and other unusual microorganisms to get involved in the fermentation, and the resulting flavours can be diverse and surprising.

No different with a sour cider.  Hogan’s Killer Sharp is fermented with Brettanomyces – a particular family of micro-organisms associated with sour fermented beverages and which can give mouthwatering acidity and distinctive flavours to the cider.  Killer Sharp has a foundation of sweet apple juice combining tannic dryness, but integrated into this flavour is a distinctive acidity.  Citric sourness – in the form of lemon juice – combines with tart gooseberry/rhubarb flavours and a touch of acetic malt vinegar.  A note of apple cider vinegar develops in the finish.  These flavours can sound unusual in the context of a cider – and it is true to say that Hogan’s Killer Sharp stands out from other ciders – but the complexity of flavours works particularly well.

While the sour character of Killer Sharp is very evident, it is superbly well integrated into the flavour of the cider.  Citric lemon becomes a counterpoint to the apple flavour of the cider, and the rhubarb and gooseberry flavours provide further dimensions to the fruit flavour.  The mouthwatering acidity balances the sweetness of the apple juice.  The tannic dryness of the finish is quite unusual – at the same time as balancing the sweetness of the cider, it also is quite unusual to experience a liquid with a dry finish while at the same time finding that this liquid is causing your mouth to water profusely due to the sour acidic character of the drink.


Cockagee Irish Keeved Cider –

Cider Style                  -  Keeved Cider

Alcohol by Volume    -  5.0% a.b.v.

Made by                      -  The Cider Mill

Made in                       -  Slane, County Meath, Ireland

Keeving is a traditional cidermaking process that was prevalent in Ireland, the U.K. and France, but which had all but died out in two of these three countries.  The French have maintained keeving as part of their cider-making process – it is more likely that a French cider will be keeved than otherwise – but the practice has all but died out in England.  Some craft cidermakers are reviving keeving in the U.K.  In Ireland, Mark Jenkinson has revived keeving in Ireland in the form of Cockagee Cider.

Bittersweet and Bittersharp apple varieties are used as the base ingredient for Cockagee Irish Keeved Cider.  Such apples contain enzymes that are critical to the process involved in keeving.

Keeving is the very definition of an artisan cider-making process.  Where normally with cider apples are washed, milled and pressed to achieve apple juice for fermentation, in keeving this process is separated.  Apples are washed and milled to a pulp, and this pulp is then held overnight.  The maceration of the pulp overnight allows contact between the fruit flesh and skin, and triggers an action of enzymes within the pulp.  On the following day, the pulp is pressed to achieve juice.

Wild yeast starts a very slow fermentation, and natural pectins in the apples separate out and are brought to the surface of the liquid by CO2 bubbles from the fermentation.  A film of gel forms on the surface of the liquid which brings with it various substances that cause cloudiness in the juice.  The result is a brilliant clear liquid under this ‘chapeau brun’ or ‘flying lees’.  The bright liquid is decanted from the chapeau brun for fermentation.  Where there is discussion about whether cider should contain 100% apple juice or whether cider with 60% juice should still qualify, Jenkinson of Cockagee proudly proclaims that Keeved cider is effectively 110% juice.  While mathematically this does not make sense, only apple juice is used in making keeved cider, and the separation of the chapeau brun from the bright liquid means that a starting volume of 110 litres of juice gives a finishing volume of 100 litres of cider – hence 110% apple juice.

Fermentation in the keeving process is very slow – lasting over an 8 to 12 month period, and carefully managed by the cider maker.  Fermentation is spontaneous.

What is the result of this complex process?  Keeved ciders can range from ciders where the natural apple juice character of the cider dominates to ones where funky flavours from the mixed fermentation stand out.  Cockagee is the former – the flavours of apple in this cider are rich and full.  Body and mouthfeel are velvety, as the natural fruit apple sweetness of the cider combines with a complexity of proteins from the apples.  Cockagee is balanced with drying tannins.  The finish rounds out with a light white pepper spiciness.  Overall, this is a truly delicious cider for which its artisan credentials shine through.

8th May 2020: New wines from Sarah Jessica Parker and Sting

The number of celebrity-branded wines has grown steadily in the past few decades, from just a few brands in the 1970s to several hundred today (the celebrity wine industry is now worth more than $50 million in the US alone). Roughly speaking,  'celebrity winemakers' fall into two categories: those who establish their own winery and those who contract an established winery to produce a wine to their specifications. The long-established member of the first category and probably the best know is  Hollywood director Francis Ford Coppola,  , who bought the Niebaum Winery in Napa Valley in 1975 and went on to make his first vintage Rubicon in 1978 with help from Robert Mondavi.

Today celebrities from many arenas have their own wines to sell.  Sports stars, rock stars, film stars and musicians.  Sports stars include golfer Greg Norman and the cricket player, Ian Botham.  From the world of rock AC/DC, Madonna, Boz Scaggs, Mick Hucknell and of course Sting whose wine we are featuring this afternoon.   Film stars include Sam Neill, Dan Ackroyd, Gerard Depardieu and John Malkovich.  Best known from the television world are Graham Norton and Sarah Jessica Parker whose wine is the first to be shown on today’s Movies & Booze.

2019 Sarah Jessica Parker Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc €18.00

(on offer at €15.00) 

Stockists:  Off licenses nationwide

Sarah Jessica Parker is no stranger to Ireland, she and her family own a holiday home in Kilcar in Donegal which she visits regularly.  Today we are featuring her latest venture her own wine label which has just been launched on the Irish market.  The SJP Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is produced in collaboration with New Zealand winery Invivo.

Invivo has been described as “New Zealand’s most innovative winery.” Founded in 2008 by school friends Tim Lightbourne and winemaker Rob Cameron, Invivo set out to make great wine without the elitist attitude the industry can be known for, they believe that nothing should stand in the way of a great drink. 12 years later, the formula has been a success, with their wines receiving over 200 international wine show medals, distribution in 16 countries and sales of over 3,000,000 bottles.  Invivo also works in partnership with Graham Norton.

The wine is a collaboration project and Sarah Jessica Parker has been working with Invivo and has been involved in every aspect of the new wine, from the winemaking itself to choosing the final blend, as well as the brand name, and the label design

Invivo winemaker Rob Cameron said  “This wine is 100% Sarah Jessica Parker. So other than selecting the base wines for the Sauvignon Blanc and Rosé,  we have taken a back seat and we let her create the blends”. The blending, tasting and adjusting involve the same process followed by any winemaker the blend was chosen by SJP with the final production overseen by Invivo

So what of the wine?  Well it’s a very well made Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand’s Marlborough region in the south island.  It has lovely tropical fruit notes, mango and pineapple and it is a level up in quality terms.  There are lots of ripe tropical fruit nuances and on the palate the wine  has some depth and complexity.


2018 Message in a Bottle IGT Toscana €24.00

Stockists :  Off licenses nationwide

Our second celebrity wine is produced at the Tuscan estate owned by British singer-songwriter Sting and his wife Trudie Styler. The couple have been producing wine for the last 21 years at their Tenuta Il Palagio winery in Tuscany, which is also their family’s summer home. The 16th century,  350-hectare estate was purchased by them in 1999 and the entire estate has been replanted, refurbished is now run biodynamically.

Wines has been made on the Il Palagio estate since the mid-1500s Sting and Trudie have gone to great lengths to keep the tradition alive they produce four Tuscan reds,  Sister Moon, When We Dance, Casino Delle Wie, which means “little house by the roads” and the wine we are featuring today Message in a Bottle.

When Sting wrote his iconic song Message in a Bottle, he sang of the universal human need to connect, never more apparent during this time of Covid. The wine is made by their winemakers Daniel O’Donnell and Paolo Caciorgna,  and is a Tuscan Indicazione Geografica Tipica, in theory 'simple' table wine but with a geographical description and (optionally) specification of vintage and grape variety.  In practice the category is much used for all wines, of whatever quality level, that do not fit the local DOC criteria.

This wine is a blend of Sangiovese 70%, Syrah 15% and Merlot 15%, and has been aged for 12 months in French oak barrels.  Sangiovese is the native grape of Tuscany and the most important when it comes to producing Chianti.  It is not unlike Pinot Noir in style, in that it produced a lighter fresher style of red wine.  Young Sangiovese has fresh fruity flavours of strawberry and a little spiciness, but it readily takes on oaky, even tarry, flavours when aged in barrels.  This wine is chocolaty with red fruit flavours, it has a hint of spice and lovely integrated tannin, there is also a subtle sweetness on the finish which makes it very appealing.

WINE DIARY https://jeansmullen.com/

1st May 2020: Happy Sauvignon Blanc Day!

The grape with “rock star” credentials these days, must surely be Sauvignon Blanc.  It even has its own day, which rotates on an annual basis.  Today, on 1st May, 2020 we celebrate the 11th Annual Sauvignon Blanc Day.   In honour of the occasion, here on Movies & Booze we are featuring two white wines made from Sauvignon Blanc.  The first comes from Sancerre a French AOP in the Loire Valley and the second from Marlborough on New Zealand’s south island.

No other grape seems to garner the support of the wine trade quite like Sauvignon, no other grape gathers so much derision either. Oz Clarke summed this up, he described wines made from Sauvignon as “the wine, wine snobs can’t bear”.. Why?  Because this is the wine a generation of fans seeks out for its ripe distinct flavours and aromas.  The best Sauvignon Blanc does not have to be expensive or complex it entertains with its attitude.

If you are going to enjoy a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc today then tag them using #NZWine and #SauvBlancDay.

2019 Vignoble Dauny Sancerre €19.95

Stockists:  Independent Off Licences

The home of Sauvignon Blanc is the Loire Valley, here Sauvignon Blanc accounts for 16% of their total grape production, or 32% of all Sauvignon Blanc planted in France. The Sancerre vineyards lie on the left bank of the Loire north east of Bourges.

Grapes have been grown in Sancerre since 582. In the 12th century, the vineyards developed significantly under the auspices of the Augustine monks. At the time, Sancerre produced a famous red wine made mainly from Pinot Noir, however when phylloxera struck at the end of the 19th century, many of the vineyards were destroyed and were subsequently replanted with Sauvignon Blanc, a grape particularly well-suited to the region’s soil and climate. Sancerre white was granted AOP status in 1936; then in 1959, the AOP was extended to include reds and rosés made from Pinot Noir.

The vineyards that produce this wine, Les Caillottes, are notably pebbly with chalky (limestone) subsoils, which you can taste in the wine. Christian Dauny Sancerre Blanc is absolutely classic Sancerre with an abundance of all the flavours that you would expect, grassy and pure. This wine is also produced organically. It is classic, grassy Sancerre  lively, vibrant and full of citrus fruit with an edge of minerality showing through that adds a lovely lean character to the finish.

2019 Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc €15.00

This Sauvignon Blanc is currently on offer at €11.00

Stockists:  Independent Off Licences you can also buy it on-line at www.WinesOfTheWorld.ie

From a single vineyard planted almost sixty years ago in1961 by Sir George Fistonich, Villa Maria was created and today it is still family owned.  Villa Maria has been New Zealand's leading wine award winner, both nationally and internationally since the early 1980's.  Villa Maria is still the number one New Zealand wine brand in the Irish market and Drinks International voted Villa Maria  New Zealand’s Most Admired Wine Brand last year.

Interestingly enough from a Movie perspective Villa Maria have just released a feature length documentary called Vintage, in collaboration with American film maker, Colin West.  It was shown in Dublin recently at the Stella in Ranelagh.  The documentary features the beautiful landscapes and vineyards of the Marlborough region and the work of Nick Picone, Villa Maria’s chief winemaker. Colin West follow the wine making team for 40 days and the film gives a unique insight into the realities of wine making.  If you want to watch it is currently available on Virgin Media 3 or Amazon Prime.

Sauvignon Blanc is New Zealand’s most widely planted grape variety. The Marlborough region was first planted 142 years ago, yet it is only a mere 30 years since Cloudy Bay put New Zealand on the global wine map in 1986.   Today Sauvignon Blanc is firmly established as New Zealand’s flagship wine with international demand increasing every year.  Today it accounts for 66% of New Zealand’s total wine production.

Pungently aromatic, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc assails the senses with red capsicum (bell peppers) and gooseberry characters, lush passionfruit and tropical fruit notes.  Fresh cut grass, tomato stalk and lime flavours added to the mix give this wine style its enormous appeal.

Virtual Wine Tastings

Lockdown has created a new wine genre. Virtual wine tastings.  They are springing up all over the place.  They are a great way to pass a few hours, if you want to learn more about wine.  Details of current tastings are now available on the wine diary at https://jeansmullen.com/


24th April 2020: Classic beer styles

Sometimes a term in beer literally ‘does exactly what it says on the tin’.  The term ‘session’ is one of those – it is applied to a beer when the beer is designed to drink in a ‘session’, or to drink a number of beers rather than just one.

The IPA style is the most popular style of craft beer in the world.  It is not surprising that the IPA style has been stretched in various different directions by brewers looking to brew creative adaptations of the style.  Today, we are comparing one of these IPA variations – the ‘Session IPA’ with a classic IPA.

Variations of the IPA Style –

One can take a ‘paint by numbers’ approach to beer styles, and sometimes when brewers seek to stretch creativity with a beer style, this is exactly what they do!  They take the core elements of the style, and look at varying one or more of these core elements to come up with a variation on the style.

The classic India Pale Ale style has three core elements that define the style.  At the dead centre of the style, an IPA is a hop-forward beer – hops are a central flavour characteristic of the style.  Brewers have varied the hops used in brewing IPA’s to give different sub-styles – we get American IPA’s (which are brewed with American hops) or English IPA’s (brewed with English hops).  Getting more specific, we get West Coast IPA’s (brewed using hops that were popularised on the West Coast of the U.S.A.) and more recently New England IPA’s (where the hops are used in brewing practices that has resulted in the development of a fruity, relatively low bitterness style of IPA which emerged in New England in the U.S.A.

The ‘Pale’ in India Pale Ale has been stretched in so many directions that people describing the style now purposefully shorten it to IPA.  Given that brewers have brewed Black IPA’s, Brown IPA’s and Red IPA’s, it is hard to highlight the idea that these are ‘black’, ‘brown’ or ‘red’ PALE ales.  Pale gives the idea that the beer is golden in colour, or at most amber.  Stretching the IPA style has even given rise to people renaming the Black IPA to account for the dichotomy in the name – some call Black IPA’s Cascadian Dark Ales (after Cascade hops which are popularly used in the style).

The third letter of the IPA – ‘A’ – stands for Ale.  This too has been stretched.  India Pale Lagers (IPL’s) are one of the results, with lager yeast substituted for ale yeast in the brewing of the beer.  The result is a cleaner fermentation character in the India Pale Lager as compared to an IPA, with the result that the hop flavour can be more prevalent.  However, the interaction of hops and yeast can also cause the flavour from a specific hop to be quite notably different in an IPA as compared to an IPL – for example, ale yeast’s propensity to develop fruit flavours during fermentation can mean that the fruit essential oils from some hops can morph during fermentation giving fantastic tropical fruit flavours.


Given the origins of the style, the hops in an IPA helped to preserve the beer on the long sea voyage from England to the Indian colonies (hence the ‘India’ in India Pale Ale).  A second characteristic of the classic IPA was a relatively high alcohol content (at least by today’s standards).  Classic IPA’s are typically 5.5% a.b.v. to 7.5% a.b.v.   The style has been stretched in two directions.  Imperial IPA’s (or ‘Double I’ PA’s) stretch the alcohol strength upwards – it is not unusual for a Double IPA to stretch anywhere from 7.5% a.b.v. up to 10% a.b.v.  Likewise, Session IPA’s can range from 3.5% a.b.v. to 5.5% a.b.v., and sometimes lower than this range.

Varying the alcohol content in a beer can impact the character of the beer.  Alcohol contributes fullness and richness to the body of a beer.  It also carries flavour, so the flavours that one perceives in a higher alcohol beer can be fuller as well.

Reducing the alcohol content has an effect in the other direction, and it can make the beer more ‘sessionable’ in more ways than one.  In Ireland, when one thinks of a ‘session’, often people think of it in terms of consuming an above average quantity of alcohol.  Somewhat ironically, when ‘session’ is used in beer styles it refers to a situation where somebody can consume more liquid while consuming less alcohol relative to the amount of liquid consumed – the alcohol by volume percentage in the beer is lower.

By reducing the flavour carrying power of the beer, reducing alcohol content can also make a beer less satiating and more refreshing.  If the goal is for the beer to be a ‘session’ style beer, this it makes perfect sense to have a beer that does not overwhelm the drinker with flavour to the point where they feel that they simply have had enough after one glass.

When brewing a beer, one of the most critical elements of success is maintaining balance in the beer.  If alcohol content is reduced, so too is the amount of grains used relative to the amount of water used in brewing the beer.  When brewing a session IPA, the brewer has to cleverly balance the extent to which they want hops to be prevalent in the beer with the available ‘balancing power’ of malt flavours in the beer.  When a brewer is brewing a classic IPA, the IPA can have lots of hop character.  This hop character can contribute sweetness, which can serve to balance hop bitterness, be balanced by hop spice character and complement fruit flavours in hops.  If the malt character in the beer is reduced – as is the case with a session IPA – so too does the brewer need to manage the level of hop character in the beer so that balance is maintained.

Commuter Session IPA –

Beer Style                   -  Session American IPA

Alcohol by Volume    -  4.1% a.b.v.

Brewed by                   -  Hop City Brewing Company

Brewed in                    -  Brampton, Ontario, Canada

Commuter Session IPA pours with a deep golden colour and a white/off white head.  Straight away, the hop character in the beer is unmistakeable in the initial aromas.  Delicious tropical fruit and citrus fruit are quickly in evidence on the nose, with a background suggestion of hop spice (white pepper).  Sweet mandarin orange aromas come through as both fruit and sweet orange juice / tropical fruit juice aroma.

On tasting the beer, the hop fruit flavour follows through and grows in complexity.  Sweet mandarin orange (from the similarly named ‘Mandarina’ hops) is present, but it is coupled with cantaloupe melon, honeydew melon, golden delicious apple and stone fruit flavours.  The fruit sweetness in the beer is balanced by hop bitterness which is present to enhance drinkability, but not so assertive as to dominate the flavour of the beer.

The finish of the beer is crisp and refreshing – keeping with the ‘session’ of Session IPA.  The body of the beer is light, carbonation, contributes to this crispness, and the fruit flavour finishes relatively quickly with a mouth watering character.


Hopbot IPA –

Beer Style                   -  Classic American IPA

Alcohol by Volume    -  7.1% a.b.v.

Brewed by                   -  Hop City Brewing Company

Brewed in                    -  Brampton, Ontario, Canada

When looking at the presentation of Hopbot IPA, its appearance is similar to Commuter IPA.  Burnished gold colour with a white/off-white head.

Aromas are quite similar – with IPA’s, hop aroma is a key characteristic of the beer.  However, the fruit aromas for Hopbot IPA lean more towards slightly richer tropical fruit aromas complemented by citrus aroma.  The more substantial malt character is evident in background aromas behind the hops.  Hop spice in the form of white pepper and allspice is also in evidence in the aroma.

Straight away on tasting Hopbot, the greater substance in the beer is in evidence.  Richer malt character comes through as toasty bread character coupled with sweet malt, malt honeycomb character.  The fruit and spice of the hops follows through on the flavour, with stone fruit (peach /  apricot), tropical fruit (guava, lychee) and citrus fruit (pineapple, grapefruit, lime) all present.  The juiciness of the beer comes through as an almost chewy juiciness – almost reminiscent of the flavour of fruit pulp.

The finish of the beer is richer.  Substantial bitterness is present to provide balance, but this bitterness, while assertive provides balance, and is properly balanced by the sweetness of the beer.



End of Notes.

10th April 2020: Delicious wine to pair with your Easter lamb

Easter is here and for everyone it is going to be unlike any Easter we have ever had before.  A glance at social media shows that food and drink is keeping the nation sane in these days of isolation.  Work is cancelled, schools are shut and socialising is not allowed, so everyone is cooking to pass the time.  The latest social media trend is menu envy and bottle brag, the communal practice of sharing wine and food with friends continues and many wine lovers are reviving family recipes and opening a bottle to match.  They share the experience live with friends via social media, no safer way to party these days!  Today on Movies & Booze we are going to recommend two wines from Lidl to enjoy with your Easter Sunday dinner, whether alone or online!

2019 Pinot Gris (Gisborne) €8.99

Stockists:  Lidl, Nationwide

Gisborne, situated on the hilly East Cape of New Zealand’s north Island is their third largest wine region.  Gisbourne is one of the sunniest regions in New Zealand and is usually one of the first regions to start harvesting.  Because of their proximity to the sea, many of the vineyards in the area are influenced by sea breezes which cool down the temperates in the vineyards.  Gisbourne is also quite a wet region,  they have high rainfall levels.  The region is best know for white grapes, especially Chardonnay which grows extremely well here.   They produce a range of very good “drink young” wines made from Chardonnay, Viognier,  Gewurtztraminer, Chenin Blanc, Semillion and of course Pinot Gris.

Lidl’s Gisborne Pinot Gris is new to their core range, which means it will be available all year round.

This is a very drinkable white wine, with lots of ripe tropical fruit flavours.  The wine has a slight pink tinge, which is what you would expect from wines made from this grape, one of its parents was the red Pinot Noir grape and the skin of this grapehas a touch of pink in its colour.    Pinot Gris is a full bodied white wine style.  Its tropical fruit flavours can be quite lush with peachy flavours and tropical melon fruits and it can sometimes have a hint of ginger spice.

The grape belongs to the Pinot family  (it is widely cultivated in Italy where it is known as Pinot Grigio), the grape has been widely planted in New Zealand since 1995 and Gisbourne and Central Otago are the two New Zealand wine regions best known for this grape.

New Zealand Pinot Gris is not like Italian Pinot Grigio, it tends to have riper more lush flavours and a lovely richness, this classic cool climate grape is very versatile and is a great match with a wide range of food styles.  For white wine drinkers who are

This medium bodied Pinot Gris would be a perfect match with roast turkey, if that is your choice for this year’s Easter Sunday dinner.   It will also be perfect with any sort of fish, so if you are having a salmon mousse starter then that will work, or even better with garlic prawns.  For white wine drinkers cooking spring lamb, it will also work as a food match.

The wine has ripe tropical pronounced peach fruit flavor with a hint of white flowers, it is quite full bodied and would also be perfect as an aperitif wine.


2017 Saint Emilion Grand Cru €14.99

Stockists:  Lidl, Nationwide

Saint Emilion,  a small medieval town on the east bank of the Gironde River in Bordeaux is renowned as much for its beautiful buildings and scenery as for its wine.   The town has wonderful steep, narrow, cobbled streets, and a huge Romanesque church with the iconic 13th-century Tour du Roy tower.   Here the Merlot grape is king and in most of the wine blends produced on this side of the river, Merlot dominates.

This was a gold medal winner at the 2019 Berliner Wein Trophy Competition, which I took part in, one of a panel of 130 international wine judges.  Lidl’s Saint Emilion Grand Crus is part of their core range, which means it is be available all year round.

Younger St Emilion wines tend to have a lot of fruit and so it can be served with poultry and that includes turkey! This is a very soft easy drinking style of red from the Bordeaux region of France.  Grand Cru means that the vineyard sites where the grapes for this wine are grown are some of the best in the region.   Lidl’s Saint Emilion Grand Cru has lovely spicy aromas of cloves with hints of mocha or coffee on the nose.  When you taste it, the Plum fruit dominates and it also has hints of spice and lovely soft approachable tannin. It is a very approachable red and would be a great choice for anyone serving lamb this weekend as it goes particularly well with red meat.  So why not match  this with traditional leg of lamb, roasted with rosemary and garlic and served with a selection of veg and roast potatoes.

Or if you prefer, you can wait until the end of the meal, and match it with a selection of mature cheese such as Vintage Irish cheddar or Comte or an aged Emmental served on crackers.

Wine Diary: https://jeansmullen.com/


3rd April 2020: Spectacular, opulent and polished wines to spruce up your quarantine

Tomas Clancy reviews Mas de la Dame, Cuvée Gourmande Blanc 2015 and Bodegas Condado de Haza, DO Ribera del Duero, Spain 2016

Mas de la Dame, Cuvée Gourmande Blanc 2015

Pricing: €17.95 down from €19.50

Available: Online for zero contact

Mas De La Dame is run jointly by two sisters Anne Poniatowski and Caroline Misoffe both winemakers  in the very strange and remote Mas de la Dame in the heart of France's most mystical Provence village Les Baux de Provence.

The winery was painted by Van Gogh, written about by Simone de Beauvoir and mentioned by Nostrodamus

It is surrounded by Saint Remy de Provence, a little known landlocked nation state, an enclave of Monaco... It is Monaco's Billionaire's secret summer retreat. Crammed with high end shops, restaurants and rare tiny boutique wineries like this one Mas de La Dames.

The estate was founded by the sisters great, great grandfather and is planted on a beautiful, site, warmed in the evening by the heat given off from the white walled cliffs of Les Baux to their north and bathed in cooling sea breezes to their south near Arles and the Bouches de Rhone.

The wine is an exotic blend of Semillon and Clairette, giving it a white, perfumed floral note with a warm lavender heathery hint, then a dab of lime and oil and glossy richness towards the finish.


Bodegas Condado de Haza, DO Ribera del Duero, Spain 2016

Pricing : around €25

Available : Independent off license  - online for zero contact

The story of the Ribera del Duero is a strange tale of EU policy, Sugar Beat and the Spanish Royal family. Ribera del Duero is a very high plateau located about an hour and half north of Madrid. It was until the 1950s a hard to get to location that proved of interest to several groups including winemakers at the end of the 19th century.

Just like in Rioja, Ribera was too high to have been completely damaged by the vine plague Phylloxera and so a few wealthy wine lovers planted new vineyards and founded Bodegas. The most famous of which was Vega Sicilia founded by members of the Royal Family.

Their wine was excellent but they did not sell it commercially.

In the 1940s and early 1950s Ribera’s biggest crop was sugar beat, allowing a state run sugar making industry. When Spain joined the EU the UK insisted that Ireland and Spain stop subsidising their sugar beat industries and they did. In Ireland we close down Carlow, in Spain angrily they switched to growing grapes as here and making wine.

Dismissed as poor everyday quaffing wine, Fernandez showed them with Condado de Haza that the terroir was so good anyone applying effort could make great wine.

This wine shows how right he was offering as it does opulent, spicy Tempranillo with super ripeness, yet a savoury alluring finish that yearns to be a fine dining companion.

Even better while Rioja’s top wines and peers from Bordeaux and Tuscany have become wildly expensive, Ribera wines, while not cheap remain benchmarks for excellence at fair pricing.

20th March 2020: A robust, easy drinking, gloriously ripe charmer 

Tomas Clancy reviews Ecuyer de Cournneau, Chateau Cournneau, AC Bordeaux Superior 2017 and


Ecuyer de Cournneau, Chateau Cournneau, AC Bordeaux Superior 2017

Pricing : €15.50 down from €19.50

Available : Independent wine shops nationwide.

This is a very well made, fruity and quite moody wine. It is a wine to be enjoyed now, in its youth, rather than wait for the tannins to cool or soften. It is a quite robust and rustic wine.

Ecuyer means, squire, a young and lower order nobleman, a Knights personal assistant in a way.

This wine is made at the fully biodynamic Chateau Cournneau, which is also Demeter certified, the most taxing of all organic certification that requires a commitment to making your estate a functioning ecosystem, so no chemicals, but also making your own fertilizer from cows and sheep, which you must raise too.

All this they ruthlessly adhere to at this 600 year old winery founded by French explorer Jacques Cartier, who discovered Canada, and his family. Today it is run by the Piat family.

The chateau is located on the unfashionable for wine Dordogne region, and so despite being breathtakingly beautiful, with a proper turreted castle and langerous driveways, it has never broken through into the fine wine icons and remains well priced at all quality levels.

This is a bargain in the current sale price and can be delivered nationwide, but in the current unsettled times can be dropped to your door in a health and safety compliant manner if you live nearby Terroirs.

A robust, easy drinking, gloriously ripe dark fruited charmer.

20th March 2020: Beer for your skype pints

Dean McGuinness, the Beer messiah reviews Bitburger Triple Hopped

For the last couple of weeks, I have been reading an excellent new book by Mark Dredge – A Brief History of Lager.  My reading of this book coincided with my getting to taste an excellent collaboration beer from Bitburger (collaborating with Sierra Nevada) that was particularly relevant to my new book.  At the time, I thought it would make for an interesting topic for the next Movies and Booze – so today, we are tasting Bitburger Triple Hop (a collaboration with Sierra Nevada), and the original German Pilsner – Bitburger.

Since deciding that this would be the theme for today’s show, events in the world have drastically changed.  As I was thinking about the idea of doing a collaboration beer today, it occurred to me that the whole idea of collaborations was particularly relevant to the situation in which we find ourselves.  So as well as looking at the history of lager that has lead us to Bitburger Triple Hopped, I am also looking at enjoying beer and collaborating in the context of the current Covid-19 situation.

History of Lager –

For anybody interested in more depth on this topic, I cannot recommend Mark Dredge’s new book more.  It is thorough, well written and an imminently enjoyable exploration of the history of the world’s most popular style family, written in a way that is appropriate to both the layperson and the serious beer enthusiast alike.  I expect my potted version of this history will not do Mark’s erudite tome justice, but hopefully I will briefly capture some of the key points.

The original beers in the world (going back 6,000 to 10,000 years) would have fermented spontaneously with wild yeasts.  Beer styles like lambics and saisons would be todays best reflection of these original beers.  Many different ingredients were used in brewing beer, with the idea that beer is ‘liquid bread’ (a fermented liquid derived from grains) being at the centre of the beverage.  Moving towards the Middle Ages (before lagers as we know them today), hops emerged as an ingredient used in brewing.  The history of hops is a whole subject by itself, but suffice it to say that people distinguished (at that time) between ales, which were brewed using herbs and spices (or gruit) and beer (that was brewed with hops).  Over time, the advantages of brewing with hops – in terms of hop bitterness balancing beer flavour, making it imminently drinkable, and in terms of hops having a preservative quality in beer – lead to a situation where hops became integral to the brewing of most beer styles.  This provided a foundation for one of the dimensions of the lagers with which we are familiar today.

Lager has passed through three ages, and with craft beer today, we may be entering a fourth age of lager.  At the centre of the development of lager is the Rheinheitsgebot of 1516 – the German Purity Laws – that shaped not only beer quality, but technical aspects of the brewing of beer and beer culture.  The Rheinheitsgebot directly influenced the evolution of lager yeast – Saccharomyces Pastorianus (or Uvarum or Carlsbergensis) – which is at the centre of the lager style family.  However, more on this later.

The ages of lager were most distinctly characterised by the types of malts that were used in brewing beer.  The malts used were reflected distinctly in both the colour and the flavour of beers that are associated with these three different ages.

If we go back about 500 years – around the establishment of the Rheinheitsgebot – malting of barley would have involved a particular process that distinctly influenced the flavour of the beer brewed with this malt.  Malted barley is the grain that is used in brewing.  It provides starch, which is converted to sugar, which is later turned into alcohol, carbon dioxide and various distinct flavours during fermentation.  Drying of barley in the malting process was done over wood fires.  The smoke from these wood fires would have been absorbed into the malted barley.  These smoky flavours survive into the beer brewed using these distinctive malts.  Lager styles such as Rauchbier characterised the First Age of Lagers, and smoky flavours and dark colours were defining features of these beers.

Moving forward, around the middle of the 1800’s malts used in beer changed.  The methods for drying grains in kilning had refined, and the absorption of smoke from burning woods was not a feature of the new malted barley.  In the Second Age, lagers continued to be dark, and the flavours from the malt were more sweet, biscuit or caramel/toffee-like.  Dunkel lagers from Germany available these days would reflect this Second Age of Lagers.

1842 marked a significant time in the history of beer.  This was the birth of the pilsner style in Bohemia – what is now the Czech Republic.  The softening of malt kilning to give pale malts was a core characteristic of this style, and this golden colour is now the characteristic that people most associate with lagers – mainly because so many modern lagers emulate the Pilsner style, or its less hoppy, more malty cousin, the Helles style.  When malts are dried in the kilning process, this heating process can have the effect of roasting, toasting or caramelising the malt.  By working out how to do this in a very gentle manner, the evolution of pale malts resulted, and the consequence was that beers could be bright gold in colour, and this marked the Third Age of Lagers.

In truth, though, the evolution of the lager style family is really a story that is centred around the Rheinheitsgebot.  The defining characteristic of lagers today is that they are brewed with yeast from a particular family – Saccharomyces Pastorianus (or Uvarum or Carlsbergensis).  The evolution of this family of yeasts was very much shaped by the Rheinheitsgebot.

The Rheinheitsgebot did much more than just define four (or three or five) ingredients that could be used in brewing beer.  Before the Rheinheitsgebot was drafted, it was not unusual for a wide array of different ingredients to be used in brewing.  Some of the ingredients of the time were definitely undesirable.  Some brewers used ingredients that had psychoactive properties (like those used in absinthe) and in other instances ingredients were used that were simply bad for people’s health.  By limiting beer ingredients to four (or three), these dangerous ingredients were effectively prohibited.

The Rheinheitsgebot also recognised knowledge of the time about how to brew beer to the best standards of quality.  It was recognised that beer brewed in the colder months seemed to be better quality than beer brewed in summer months – in part because the ambient temperature allowed for effective refrigeration of the beer at a time when mechanical refrigeration was not possible.  The Rheinheitsgebot decreed that beer be brewed in the winter months, and this meant that beer was stored over the summer in cellars – again ensuring that the beer was kept at a temperature appropriate to preserving the flavour and quality of the beer.

This cellaring is the origin of the the word ‘Lager’.  The German word ‘lagern’ means ‘to store’ or ‘to cellar’.  Keeping beer in cellars once it had been brewed, and storing it for an extended period had a direct impact on the evolution of the yeast used in brewing lagers.  Lager yeasts have evolved to enjoy fermentation in colder temperatures – this evolution and self-selection has, most likely, resulted from the brewing practices that emerged from the Rheinheitsgebot.

Lagers, Craft Beer, Collaborations –

In moving through the First to Third Ages of Lagers, we see the types of malt used in these lager beers evolving, while lager yeast remains at the centre of the lager style family.  Use of hops had established itself by the time that lagers emerged in brewing history.  Over these three ages, the types of hops used did not vary substantially.  As a result, distinguishing between the first three ages of lager is much more centred on the variations in colour and flavour that resulted from different malts.  These different colours and flavours became the defining characteristics of the different ages of lager.

The emergence of craft beer has been characterised by a much more brash, adventurous and innovative approach to beer flavour.  Craft beer has built on the foundations of classic beer styles, but also explored how beer can evolve and develop.  The result is that craft beers are typically characterised by two things – firstly, brewers reimagining, reintroducing or reviving classic beer styles that had fallen out of popularity, or that deserved renewed attention, and secondly brewers using creativity, innovation, and sometimes pure madness to create new beer styles heretofore unimagined.

Craft beer is often more often associated with the ale style family.  However, many craft brewers have also experimented with lagers.  In some cases, craft breweries have focused exclusively on only brewing an array of lager styles.  The first three Ages of Lager provide a rich foundation for these craft brewers to emulate historic lager styles.  The historic lager styles, together with the experience that craft breweries have had in experimenting with different beers, provides an alternative foundation to brewers to create new beer styles, or new interpretations of classic beer styles.

The Bitburger Triple Hopped collaboration reflects the fusion of the essence of Sierra Nevada’s craft experience with Bitburger’s history, heritage and tradition.  The resulting beer reflects the essence of both of these traditions, and this reflects the essence of collaboration beers.

Collaborations bring together the best of two breweries to create a beer that neither brewery might brew if left to their own devices.  When two breweries come together for a collaboration they, in effect, create a virtual brewery.  While the beer is brewed at one of the breweries (in this case, Bitburger), the reality is that the ‘brewery’ (or the creative force behind the beer) is a virtual brewery that fuses the talents and creativity of two breweries.  They come together because it makes sense, and the results can be amazing.

In light of the current COVID-19 situation, maybe it’s also important to highlight something else.  While it is great that these two breweries have come together to create a new beer, that doesn’t mean that they have to stay together all of the time.  After the collaboration, both breweries/sets of brewers return to their home base, and continue their normal operations as separate breweries.

Which is to say that, while often it is great when people come together, in some cases it is necessary for people to stay apart and operate independently.  With COVID-19, we are asked to practice social distancing, and this can be challenging to people who enjoy meeting up on a Friday or Saturday night.  With creativity and ingenuity, we can come up with ideas to enjoy beers and social contact virtually, while still practising physical distancing.  Collaboration beers involve two breweries – who are used to staying apart and operating independently – coming together for a specific reason to work together.  So too can we – people who enjoy coming together regularly – work out a way to achieve social contact, and perhaps share a few beers in a virtual social setting for the short time that this is necessary and appropriate.

Bitburger Triple Hopped –

Beer Style                            -  German Pilsner

Alcohol by Volume          -  4.8% a.b.v.

Brewed by                          -  Bitburger Brewery

Brewed in                            -  Bitburger, Germany

While bright beer is what one most associates with German Pilsners, this particular collaboration beer reflects the current trend in hoppy beers – a cloudy beer, with the cloudiness resulting from the generous dry hopping of  the beer.  As a consequence, the golden colour of the beer is a touch deeper – more orange gold, and characterised by a golden ghostliness in the haze.

The aroma betrays the influence of Sierra Nevada.  The nose is treated to delightful aromas of West Coast hops.  Piney woodiness combines with tropical and citrus fruits in the aroma.  The hops deliver a punchy but complex aroma – all of the promise of West Coast hops to follow through in the flavour, but reflecting the restrained sophistication that has emerged in the last decade with the original American craft brewers understanding that complexity can work better than intensity.

Juiciness comes through in the flavour.  Mandarin oranges, melon, grape, lychee, a touch of restrained pink grapefruit are all balanced by classic piney West Coast hop flavour.  The fruitiness of the beer develops the perception of sweetness in the flavour, and gives the beer the impression of an ale, but from a lager.  This dichotomy comes from the fruity flavours that one would normally associate with an ale being infused into the lager by the hops used in brewing the beer.

This is a beer to look out for – available for a limited time, and a beer that marks the start of a new age of lagers in the history of beer!

Bitburger –

Beer Style                            -  German Pilsner

Alcohol by Volume          -  4.8% a.b.v.

Brewed by                          -  Bitburger Brewery

Brewed in                            -  Bitburger, Germany

Bitburger is bright golden in colour with a clean white head.  The initial aromas in this beer come through as grainy pale malt combined with tobacco, mild spice and herbal European hops.

Tasting this beer, it is incredibly clean and refreshing.  The grainy flavour comes through on the palate – malt grain, combining with gentle honey sweetness, and perfectly balanced by crisp, clean hop bitterness.  The hop flavour in the beer is complex and layered.  Spicy hops – black pepper, but like a beer that has been gently seasoned with same, combines with white pepper.  Tobacco complexity is present in the hop flavour.  A hint of chilli heat is there, but again the hop flavour is emphasised by subtly and complexity rather than by the standout distinctive hop flavours that are more associated with modern craft beers.

This beer is a modern classic – the beer that represents the birth of the German Pilsner style.  A truly delicious classic.



13th March 2020:Wine to get you through isolation

Jean Smullen reviews 2018 Fabrizio Vella Bianco Organico, Sicily, Italy and 2018 Vina Zorzal Garnacha, Navarra, Spain m

Today on Movies & Booze we’re going to look at a white wine from Italy and a red wine from Spain both of which are available in Independent Off Licences.

2018 Fabrizio Vella Bianco Organico, Sicily, Italy   RRP: €14.95

STOCKISTS: Independent off licences 

Italy and Spain have a very good track record when it comes to producing organic wine.  90% of organic grapes globally come from European wine regions, Italy leads with way with organic wines accounting for 15.9% of all wines produced there; Spain comes in second place with organic wines accounting for a total of 11.6% of their total production.

This organic white is made from an relatively unknown Italian white grape variety called Catarratto.  Catarratto is native to Sicily, where it is used mainly as a blend.   This wine has been made with minimal intervention, which means it hasn’t been filtered, so it is a little cloudy in the glass.  However, the lack of filtration lets the charachter of the variety with its juicy texture and crisp lemon flavours shine through.  Ideal as an aperitif or perfect with fish, seafood and light salad dishes Certified organic and vegan friendly.

2018 Vina Zorzal Garnacha, Navarra, Spain RRP €14.95

STOCKISTS: Independent off licences 

The region of Cantabria is the largest producer of organic wine in Spain with 35% of production, this is followed by Navarra at 20.9% and the region of Castille y Leon with 19.7%.

Navarra was awarded its own DO in 1958.  Navarra is one province but within it there are two DO’s.  The DO Navarra and the DOCa Rioja, the latter in six districts to the south in the Baja region. Navarra has been working very hard to drag itself out of the shadow of its famous neighbor. The key to their success lies in the fact that many of the producers are now organic farmers and as demand grows for organic wines, I would expect much more visibility for the region’s wines in the coming years, especially now as 40% of wines exported from the DO Navarra region are organic wines.

Three brothers took over from their father and set about to rescue native grape varieties from Navarra that have almost been forgotten, producing single varietal wines that speak for themselves and are affordable for everyone.

The wines are fermented in stainless-steel tanks and this Garnacha (Grenache) remains completely unoaked. Full of flavour. Vibrant, soft and juicy. Fleshy and full with red fruits and a touch of spice. A joy to drink ! Organic methods followed, though the wine is not technically certified.

Wine Diary:  https://jeansmullen.com/


6th March 2020: Wines for the Weekend

Tomas Clancy reviews Domaine Michel Bouzereau, Bourgogne Chardonnay, Burgundy 2016 and Warre’s Otima, 10 Year Old Tawny Port, Douro, Portugal

One of the consistent Holy Grail elements in the world of wine is finding a wine from next door to a great producer that sells for a fraction of that famous neighbour. This kind of happy discovery mainly occurs in Europe where a combination of petty officials, historical feuds and centuries of deeply random boundary marking can split an ancient village in half.

Domaine Michel Bouzereau, Bourgogne Chardonnay, Burgundy 2016 €35

Available : Searsons Wine Merchants and at Independent Off Licences and Wine Shops nationwide

Well that is the story here. The vineyards of Domaine Michel Bouzereau are located across the landscape of two of wines most alluring and beautiful villages, Puligny and Meursault. The honey coloured stone walls that run along the roads and divide up many of the vineyards are made into more formal cut stone houses, each one apparently a small winery. The villages are compact and surrounded by slopes and vines, no one wants to build on or give up the centuries old jewels of the vineyards themselves.

Even the graveyard is located in a very tight and unappealing spot. The Bouzereau family have many plots and vineyards that have been designated over the centuries as either appellation Puligny-Montrachet or Meursault, but several parcels of land, around four hectares are located within the vilages of Puligny and Meursault but not designated as within the legal appellation of either village.

This is where wine lovers pounce. The grapes from each plot are made into a simple AC Bourgogne each year by the family and unless you know, this could be from poor flat, overworked vineyards on the flat parts of the Cote D’Or or throughout the legal overly wide Burgundy zone. Some Burgundies labelled like this can be dreadful watery nonsense. This wine by contrast offers Meursault like charm and complexity at a fraction of the full appellation wines. It is not cheap, rather it is a huge bargain over such wines and a secret to enjoying the nutty, hazelnut and honeyed wash with touches of toasted brioche and a fine, precise, cutting finish. Delicious.

Warre’s Otima, 10 Year Old Tawny Port, Douro, Portugal €27

Available: Martins Off Licence, Fairview and Independent Off Licences and Wine Shops nationwide

Without Irishman Arthur Wellesley we might not today in Portugal’s Douro Valley have a wine and Port wine business as we known it. Wellesley played a vital part in advancing Douro wines by firstly with his military hat on, defeating the French Napoleonic Army who had invaded and were occupying vast portions of Portugal including Porto, the capital of the Douro. Driving out the French Wellesley reinforced the power and safety of the great Port Houses who made wine in this unique region.

Secondly, Wellesley popularised the drinking of Port wines from the Douro and kept close contacts with many of the Port houses especially Warre’s where William Warre had been one of Wellesley’s officers during the War.

Wellesley is better known to us of course as the Dublin born, Duke of Wellington and many Irish links still persist today across the Douro.

The unique Port wine is the Douro’s greatest creation. It begins life on the death defyingly steep slopes of the winding Douro River, one which has carved mile high canyons through Portugal’s remote high interior. Many of the vineyards or Quintas in the high Douro are almost unreachable by road or rail and for centuries the only way to gain access to these vineyards was by river.

The red wines made from local indigenous grapes like Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca, as here, are fermented into wine but with a portion of the sweet juice left to ferment, a spirit such as Brandy or Cognac is poured into the fermenting wine. This kills the yeast and stops the fermentation leaving a sweet and strong wine of around 20% alcohol. This is then shipped down river to Porto where it is aged. If it is to become vintage Port it will be poured quickly into bottles and stored for decades.

If we wish to create a Tawny Port however the wine is poured into small oak barrels and left to the intervention of oak and oyygen in the best examples for 10, 20 or more years. The result is that the wine is etched of its deep purple colour and a mahogany amber delight emerges as here and shown off so beautifully in this clear, almost test tube like bottle.

The flavours of cinnamon, Christmas cake, spice, toasted nut, light fig and hints of caramel over a clean, lifting bright fruity finish here are startling and served chilled with cold hard slices of cheese like Comte or Very Mature Cheddar, it is one of the world’s underappreciated delights

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Alcohol Cinema Dean McGuinness Esther McCarthy Film Jean Smullen Movies Movies And Booze Movies And Booze On Moncrieff Red Tomas Clancy White Wine

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