I was asked recently what is the most crucial thing to understand about wine and I had to think about my answer. The answer could have been the grapes used or viticulture or vinification techniques, but I realised it was simpler, it's geography.
Many factors go into what makes one wine taste different from another but by far the most interesting factor is where exactly those grapes are grown. The Pinot Noir grown in Pommard really does make a wine that is noticeably different to the wine made in the neighbouring village of Volnay and both of these villages make a wine vastly different to a Pinot Noir from Central Otago or Oregon.
The grape growers and winemakers have influence too, of course, but if they are doing their job well they are more often than not simply allowing the grapes to show off their quality and their location.
The last year has forced us all to look a little closer at our local environs. Thankfully many local butchers, bakers, greengrocers and off-licences have benefited and I hope we continue to support our local shopkeepers once we are all vaccinated.
All this brings me to the 2021 NOffLA National Off-Licence of the Year Awards which produced some new names this year. Molloys Francis Street won the overall Off-Licence of the Year Award and Carry Out ‘The Reeks’ in Killarney won the Hennessy Munster Off-Licence of the Year.
The 2017 overall winner Blackrock Cellar won the Dublin Off-Licence award and Dicey Rileys took the Connacht-Ulster award while Galvins Carrigaline won the Beer Specialist award and McHughs Malahide Road the Wine Specialist award. O’Donovans Midleton won the Customer Service Award and the Responsible Retailer of the Year award.
All the wines here are more likely to be available from local off-licences rather than supermarkets and all have a sense of place. The Willunga Clarendon Single Vineyard is a companion wine in the Blewitt Springs vineyard Grenache (featured a while ago) — the comparison between the two is fascinating as the Clarendon has more elegance and floral notes mainly due to the vineyard’s location at a higher altitude and a different soil structure to that in Blewitt Springs. Also below are some winners from the NOffLA Gold Star wine fair and a delicious botrytis Sémillon from Australia at a bargain price (and a match for all but the finest Sauternes).
Stockists: NOffLA Independent Off-Licences such as Matsons, Galvins, No.21 etc, Carry Out, Mitchells, wineonline.ie
This classic Albariño is from the Atlantic west coast of Galicia in Spain and you can get a hint of the salty air. The grapes are grown on pergolas — hang at head height on vineyards usually in sight of the sea. Peach and apricot aromas, lively textured pear and apple fruit flavours and a lemony slightly saline crisp finish.
Stockists: NOffLA Independents - e.g: No. 21, O’Keefes St. Lukes Cross, Jus de Vin, Shiels.
Organic (and Vegan/Vegetarian) Nero d'Avola from Sicily and under a tenner, and thankfully this is better even than you could hope. The sister white version from local grapes like Cattarato is also recommended. Blackberries, plums and a hint of spice on the nose, fruity and ripe with texture and length and some good balancing freshness.
Stockists: JJ O’Driscolls, O’Donovans Cork, World Wide Wines Waterford, Vintry, Baggot St. Wines, Drinkstore, Next Door Ennis.
Alvarinho is the Portuguese name for Albariño and it is believed the grape originated in the Minho region before migrating north to Galicia. This has floral peach aromas, ripe creamy soft fruits on the palate — tropical fruit touches mixed with fresh apples. It's clean and zingy on the finish but with a little less salty sea influence.
Stockists: Cinnamon Cottage, Worldwide Wines, O'Donovans, Jus de Vine, Drink Store, Vintry, wineonline.ie
Willunga’s Shiraz-Viognier (€17.99) won a gold medal at last year’s Gold Star awards for its verve and chocolaty richness and is also recommended (and easier to find). This single vineyard Clarendon is a fine comparison — a 97 year old site at altitude this is beautifully aromatic with floral and creamy cherry aromas, an explosion of crunchy berry fruits on the palate, elegant and delicious.
Stockists: JJ O’Driscolls, O'Donovans, Galvins, Vintry, Independent Off-licences.
Langhorne Creek is an hours drive south from Adelaide and a great source of rich minty cabernet and chocolatey intense shiraz. Ben Glaetzer's Heartland Shiraz is a bit of a classic and underpriced for the quality — dark fruit aromas and juicy chewy plum and blackcurrant flavours with liquorice and a hint of tar. A big wine that retains its elegance, serve cool.
Stockists: Bradleys, No. 21, Martins martinsofflicence.ie, Molloys Off Licence, Fine Wines Limerick, Baggot St. Wines.
I haven’t featured a dessert wine in a while and this is a real treat. Botrytis only forms in certain (often extremely local) conditions — the grapes shrivel and lose their water giving intense honeyed aromas. Acacia honey scents mixed with creamy lemon, pristine and pure sweet lemon fruits with crisp acidity. Serve chilled with apple tart and cream.
Stockists: Available on shelf from selected independents: Celtic Whiskey Shop, IrishMalts.com, James Fox, and via methodandmadnesswhiskey.com
Midleton Distillery has once again shown just how creative they can be with another top-notch whiskey release in their Method & Madness range. This began its life in first fill and refill ex-Bourbon casks before being finished for between three and eight months in small 50-litre Mulberry casks imported from Budapest — a first for Irish whiskey.
Aromas of salted Breton butter toffees and fresh-cut pine, sweet pear, apple and shortbread flavours on the palate and a finish that combines buttery caramel notes with green fruits and a final kick of spice and mixed peel that lingers and lingers.