Advice: Book a train to The Ox Cave Wine Bar, Belfast

Matching food and wine is an imprecise art at the best of times, says Leslie Williams.

Matching food and wine is an imprecise art at the best of times. Finding an adequate match is easy enough, but perfect matches are rare — as rare as great sommeliers.

Throw in complex flavours such as syrupy black garlic purée, fermented kohlrabi, and burnt onion powder as on the menu in Ox in Belfast, and things get more complicated still.

That’s where you need someone like Alain Kerloc’h, who opened Ox with chef Stephen Toman around 18 months ago. Ox’s list is not too long but flexible enough to match just about any food.

I’ve had Ox’s tasting menu twice since November and, while some dishes were quite similar, Alain chose completely different wines each time to match Stephen’s tweaks.

Hence a Chenin Blanc was replaced by a Roussanne to take account of the removal of dill but addition of Chanterelle to the scallop amuse bouche.

In November, the Ox Cave Wine Bar opened in the building next door and I was delighted to find rarities such as Vin Jaune (a Fino-like wine from the Jura), sweet Bouscassé Pacherenc du Vic Bilh (made by Alain Brumont of Ch. Montus in Gascony), and Dom. Fiumicicoli from Corsica all available by the glass. My advice: Book a train to Belfast soon.

Dublin also gained a new wine bar last November with the opening of Stanleys on Andrew St near the corner of Wicklow St. The wine bar downstairs serves lighter dishes while upstairs is a full restaurant serving very well-executed food. The wine list was clearly chosen carefully by sommelier Morgan Vanderkamer and includes many delights including some excellent sherries.

For the diary

Monday, February 9: Evening with Yves Cuilleron, Stanleys Restaurant, Andrew St, D2; €110 per person. Tel: 01-4852373; Cuilleron is one of the Northern Rhone’s best winemakers — his Cornas, Côte-Rôtie, and Condrieu are benchmarks and included in the meal.

Wednesday, February 11: Domaine Modat Wine Evening, Ox Belfast, £35 per person, info@oxbelfast.com ; Roussillon-based Dom. Modat’s evening of wine, charcuterie, cheese, and discussion with the winemaker.

BEST VALUE UNDER €15

Marques de Almonacid Vendimia Seleccionada, Carineña — €10 (was €13.95)

Advice: Book a train to The Ox Cave Wine Bar, Belfast

Stockist: Dunnes Stores

Ox Restaurant has the M. de Almonacid Crianza on their list but this entry level wine of theirs is almost as good. Smoky and chocolatey with touches of liquorice and black cherries, this should cope with any winter dish you throw at it but would go particularly well with anything dark and spicy.

Toro Loco Reserva 2010, Utiel-Requena, Spain — €6.99

Advice: Book a train to The Ox Cave Wine Bar, Belfast

Stockist: Aldi

Given the likely state of January’s finances in most houses, I thought I would remind you of Aldi’s Toro Loco. The 2010 is a blend is 54% Tempranillo plus Garnacha, Cab Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz and has lots of ripe red and black fruits, good acidity and freshness and very solid fruit for the price.

Aviary Malbec, Colchagua, Chile — €9.99-€10.99

Advice: Book a train to The Ox Cave Wine Bar, Belfast

Stockists:: Carry-Out and Costcutter Nationwide

Malbec suits this time of year and the Aviary version is perfect for spicy rich foods and stews despite its low price. Ripe cherry and spicy blackberries on the nose and a fresh but fruit-focused palate and a relatively long finish. All the Aviary range is worth trying.

BEST VALUE OVER €15

Equipo Navazos La Bota 54 Fino, Sherry, Spain — €33.99

Advice: Book a train to The Ox Cave Wine Bar, Belfast

Stockist: The Celtic Whiskey Shop www.celticwhiskeyshop.ie 

I’ll be writing more about the extraordinary sherries of Equipo Navazos soon but I was pleased to see both Stanleys and Ox have them on their list. Rich almond, yeast and straw aromas, a dry, supple (almost viscous), citrus-tinged palate, with a long, long finish. Among the most complex finos I’ve tasted.

Pipoli Aglianico del Vulture 2012, Basilicata, Italy — €16.99

Advice: Book a train to The Ox Cave Wine Bar, Belfast

Stockists: Vineyard Galway, Corkscrew, Jus de Vine

Ox matched rare Chateaubriand steak with a smoky Aglianico from Campania on one of my visits, and this underrated Southern Italian grape deserves to be better known. Dark garnet in colour with spicy plums, cocoa and with lots of lingering dark fruit flavours.

Tommasi Ripasso 2011, Valpolicella, Italy — €22.95

Advice: Book a train to The Ox Cave Wine Bar, Belfast

Stockists: O’Donovans, O’Driscolls, Next Door Kilkee, Vintry Rathgar

It is around now in late January that the great Amarone houses make their wines, having dried the grapes since the harvest in the autumn. Tommasi’s Ripasso is poor man’s Amarone, fermented on Amarone’s dried skins with scents of spice, pepper and dried fruit and lots of sweet, spicy cherries on the palate.


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