Valentine’s Ideas for The Wine Lover

Ah, Valentine’s Day is upon us once again.  The most romantic day of the year, when, hand-in-hand with our amour, we are dizzily herded in to restaurants for an exorbitantly priced set menu meal.  A night where we stare lustfully in to our lover’s eyes and swallow hard to keep down the last excruciating sip of ‘complementary’ Prosecco Frizzante; before swatting away the familiar tear that it’s beans-on-toast until pay day.  An evening to be rounded off by the persistent suggestion from the robustly unromantic restaurateur that ‘perhaps sir would like to vacate the table, once he has finished masticating that final bite of dessert’, to allow room for the next loving couple.  Ah, Valentine’s Day.

brindisi amoroso

Despite my cynicism I obviously have nothing against spending an evening with my loved one- just not necessarily that night.  So, here are a few romantic wine events to suit any budget that are sure to excite the wine-lover in your life.

Wine Producers’ Weekend at Knockranny House Hotel

If you are in the first flushes of romance (or just flush with cash!) and feel like spoiling your significant other, you could not do any better than treating them to a wonderful weekend of wining and dining at Knockranny House for their Wine Producers Weekend.


Wine Producers’ Weekend at Knockranny House Hotel

February 26th-27th, 2016

‘Knockranny House Hotel hosts one of their informative and enjoyable Wine Producers’ Weekends this February, featuring walk around tastings, wineclinics, masterclasses from specific producers and wonderful menus at a tasting dinner in La Fougère to accompany some of these producers’ finest wines, designed by Knockranny’s talented chef, Seamus Commons.

Running on Friday 26th and Saturday 27th February, the weekend begins with a wine clinic on the mechanics and skills of wine tasting, given by Knockranny’s award-winning sommelier, Nick Faujours, and Sinead Cabot of wine importers Cabot & Co. from 8-9 p.m.

At 3pm on Saturday, the main walk-around tasting event takes place in the O’ Raifteiri Suite at Knockranny House Hotel, with various award-winning European wine producers, each critically acclaimed by leading international journalists, all hosting their own tasting table. 

There will also be a general table showcasing a wide variety of interesting wines, all available for tasting, along with local cheese and chutney makers, and some of Knockranny’s own in-house produce – homemade breads, chutneys, smoked salmon – available to taste. All the wines and local produce are available to purchase too, and guests are provided with information booklets to keep tabs on the wines they have tried and enjoyed, which also includes a wine order form.

During the course of the afternoon the wine producers will each be giving masterclasses on their wines and their wine producing regions, with one set of classes running from 3.30 to 4.15 pm, and the second taking place from 4.30 to 5.15pm.

The Walkaround Tasting runs until 5.30pm, and the final event (and the most delicious!) is the Wine Producers’ Dinner in La Fougère, where Seamus Commons’ menu will have individual dishes matching the wines of each producer, with those wines available to purchase by the glass for the meal.

The Wine Producers’ Weekend runs at Knockranny on February 26th & 27th 2016, and is an opportunity to gain some invaluable tasting experience with the people who make some of the best wines in Europe, in an intimate setting and an insightful way.

Dinner, B&B and the wine tasting event costs €135 per person sharing, with two nights B&B with dinner on one evening for €199 per person sharing. For non-residents who would like to attend this informative event, the rate is €69 per person, including dinner, wine tasting & masterclasses.’

This is sure to be one of the best wine events on the calendar this year and you can book your place by getting in touch directly with Knockranny House.

Knockranny House Hotel,Westport, Co. Mayo, Ireland, F28X340

Tel 00353 (0)98 28600   Fax 00353 (0)98 28611



Wine and Dine

If a full weekend of wine and nosh seems a bit excessive, why not gift one of these fantastic one-off nights.

Ely Wine Club

Ely have two locations in Dublin city, both of which are amongst the best wine bars in the city.  Each week their wine manager, Ian Brosnan holds at least one fantastic themed wine and dinner event in one of the locations.  These sell out fast and many of the February events are unsurprisingly full.  However, there are still places for the Germany and Austria tastings.  These may not seem like the sexiest wine regions in the world, but you may be surprised when you try a seductively elegant German Pinot Noir, or a rich and vibrant Austrian Grüner Veltliner.

For a list of upcoming events or further information you can contact Ian Brosnan directly via or call (01) 678 7867, or check out their website:


Alternatively, if you live near Belfast, or fancy a trip North, you could gift your loved one a fabulous evening of wine and fine Champagnes from JN Wine, paired with dishes from Danni Barry’s Michelin-Starred kitchen at EIPIC restaurant.

‘February 26th will see JN Wine teaming up with Deane’s EIPIC restaurant to showcase some of the world’s rarest and most delightful wines and champagnes partnered with the spectacular food of Chef Danni Barry. The evening will also welcome Bernadette Thienpont from Bordeaux and a representative from Billecart Salmon.

Guests will experience an exclusive tasting menu, which will be prepared by award-winning Chef Danni Barry and paired with a selection of Billecart Salmon Champagnes and wines from Vignobles Thienpont to compliment and lift the flavours of each dish, in partnership with JN Wine.’

The spectacular food and wines showcased on this very special evening are sure to impress the most ardent wine lover. This Fine Wine and Champagne Dinner, which begins at 7.30pm on Friday, 26th February costs £95 per person.’

For bookings contact EIPIC at Deanes, on 028 9033 1134 or for more information or to view the menu and wines for the evening, visit


Wine… Without the Dine

If you would like to gift your loved one a wine present, but dispense with the whole eating nonsense, there are a couple of fantastic wine tastings over the next couple of weeks that will help expand your wine knowledge in a relaxed atmosphere.

Mitchell & Son Palazzo Maffei Tasting

palazzo_maffeiFirst up is a tasting with Elisa Bolognani  of the Veneto region of Italy.

For four generations, the Cottini family have been producing wines of the highest quality and excellence in northern Italy.  The company’s history started over a hundred years ago in a land of great traditions. Today the family’s commitment to excellence continues and is demonstrated in the quality of their award-winning wines.

7pm, Wednesday 17th February

Mitchell & Son Glasthule

Tickets €10 available here

Tindal Wine Merchants Portfolio Tasting



If you have ever been to their Searsons retail shop in Monkstown village, you will know how good the Tindal wine offering is.  On the 23rd February you have the chance to get to know more about what they have to offer with their Portfolio Tasting at The Marker hotel in Dublin’s Grand Canal Square.

6pm, Tuesday 23rd February

The Marker Hotel

Tickets €15 available here

Happy Drinking.


Spanish Tastings to Lift the November Gloom

With the deepening evenings looming over us, October and November offer some great wine events to cheer up even the most passionate Bacchant!

Rhône Wine Week runs from 2nd-8th November, with some terrific events around the country. Check out the full schedule on their website or Jean Smullen’s Wine Diary. The highlight of the week is the Ely Big Rhône tasting; read about last year’s mayhem over at Frankly Wines.

logo-isw-enFor the Iberophiles amongst you, lamenting the end of the World Tapas Day celebrations, fret not; there are two terrific events to brighten up your gloomy November evenings. First up is International Sherry Week, where Dublin celebrations are centred on Stanley’s Wine bar. For the full list of events, get yourself over to recently-qualified sherry educator Paddy Murphy’s Vineinspiration.

Then on Wednesday 11thNovember Spain Uncorked offers the exciting opportunity to try some of the best wines Spain has to offer, in the fabulous surrounds of the Smock Alley theatre in Dublin city. Over 40 bodegas will represent the wines of Ribera del Duero and Rueda. Although geographically close, these two regions offer contrasting styles. The brooding, powerful Tempranillo reds from the former; crisp, refreshing Verdejo whites from the latter. Ribera del Duero was the first wine region I visited (read here) and remains one of my favourite wine styles, so don’t miss this wonderful event. Limited amount of tickets still available at Eventbrite.

Wine Tour From Barcelona

This article first appeared in Ireland’s biggest online wine magazine. For your FREE monthly magazine:


As the third most visited city in Europe last year, Barcelona needs no introduction; in 2014 over 7 million people enjoyed the modernist architecture of Gaudí set amongst the old world charm of this thriving city. There are sufficient guide books espousing the grandeur of the architecture and dark histories of the gothic Born to satisfy the most ardent culture vulture: but Barcelona also offers a myriad of opportunities for the enthusiastic wine traveller.

If you are planning a wine holiday from the city, start off on the right foot and base yourself in the wine-themed Praktik Vinoteca. This hotel offers tastings and events during the week that will keep any wine lover satisfied. It is located a short walk from the elegant Passeig de Gràcia, where you will find La Vinoteca Torres. This beautiful restaurant and wine bar offers every Torres wine by the glass, as well as some classic, rare vintages.

However, Barcelona’s Ace Card for the dedicated wine traveller is its proximity to some of the best wine regions in the world. Catalunya boasts ten Denominaciones de Origen, as well as being the traditional home of Cava. Take a break from the city to discover some of the best wines in Spain.

Penedès & Cava DO’sDO-PENEDES
Right on Barcelona’s doorstep is the premium wine region of Penedès. The main town is Vilafranca del Penedès, which is served by the local train service. This bustling town is well worth a visit and is the closest to the Torres family’s impressive winery. Book ahead at and they will arrange bus transfer out to their immaculate winery where you can enjoy a tour of the vineyards in a solar-powered train. Well worth the trip.

Penedès can also boast the best quality sparkling wine in the country. Cava is produced using the same laborious, slow method that produces Champagne; and the best can compete with their illustrious French counterparts.


Although Cava can be produced across Spain, its traditional heart beats in the small town of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia. A 45 minute train journey from Barcelona, Cava cellars jostle for space amongst the tapas bars and restaurants of this vibrant town.

Cava Cellars to Visit
Codorníu: Located a short walk from the town centre, this is the oldest winery in Spain, dating back to the sixteenth century. In 1872 Codorníu began making the first Cava and are still the second largest producer. From the cathedral-esque modernist visitor centre, to the endless miles of ageing tunnels dug 30 metres into the rock below the winery, the scale of Codorníu is jaw-dropping. http://www.codorniu .com

P1090318Recaredo: Inspired by the premium Champagne houses, Recaredo is meticulous about quality. Practicing extended lees ageing, biodynamic viticulture, and hand remuage and disgorgement, they produce some of the finest sparkling wine in Spain from local and international grape varieties. This small family business is a wonderfully intimate winery set in the centre of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia.

Further information can be found at

Priotat DOQ
The jewel in Catalunya’s viticultural crown, Priorat is one of only two regions in Spain (the other being Rioja) to achieve the premium DOC/DOQ classification. This arid, remote region is a relative newcomer to the world of fine wines, but has quickly garnered a reputation for its powerful, rich reds, grown on the unique llicorella soils.

Despite the popularity of the wines, Priorat’s mountainous isolation has seen a slow uptake in tourists, offering the intrepid wine traveller a glimpse of unspoilt, rural Catalunya. Although there is a public transport system, it is infrequent and unreliable; instead rent a car and drive the two hours from Barcelona.

The remote, sleepy white villages are the perfect antidote to the bustle of the city, so why not stay a couple of nights in the picturesque village of Gratallops. The wonderful family-run Hotel Cal Llop offers terrific views across some of the finest vineyards in Spain.

Wineries to Visit
Torres Priorat: As Torres looks to expand its family business in to each of the quality wine regions of Spain, it was inevitable they would build a winery in Priorat. Perched above the tiny town of El Loar, Torres’ modern winery offers samples of their complex, powerful wines from the tasting room that boasts unparalleled views across the vineyard-strewn Priorat landscape.

Burgos Porta: On a smaller scale is the boutique winery of Burgos Porta. Only accessible by a narrow, steep dirt goat track through the hills, this isolated winery is a terrific example of biodynamic viticulture. Their winemaking philosophy is simple; work hard to respect the grapes in the vineyard and the wine will need minimal intervention in the winery. I appreciated how difficult that must be as I struggled up the unforgiving, steep terraced vineyards in the June heat to drink from one of the precious natural wells. It’s all worth it when you taste their superb wines in the splendid isolation of the old converted winery.

Further information and a full list of wineries can be found at

These regions only scratch the surface of Catalunya’s wine offering, so on your return to Barcelona try out your new found knowledge with a trip around some of the city’s local wine bars, of which there are plenty. Not to be missed is the tiny, atmospheric Zim bar. With irregular opening hours and room for no more than 10 people, it is a hidden gem in Barcelona. For dessert, head to El Diset in the Born district for one of their local sweet wines and a Catalan cheeseboard.

Four To Try

Planets de Prior Pons Priorat DOQ 2010. O’Briens €21.99
Dominated by Cariñena and Garnatxa (Grenache- see grape of the month) from old vines, this wine comes from a small Priorat producer. A deep violet colour, it has terrific overripe red berries, liquorice and floral notes, held together by the classic llicorella minerality before a long peppery finish.

Morlanda Blanc Viticultors Del Priorat DOQ 2013. Cases Wine Warehouse €19.95
Although the region is better known for its powerful reds, Priorat also produces fantastic, complex white wines. Made from Garnatxa Blanca (White Grenache) and Macabeo this wine is aged in oak to give it a full body and more than a hint of toast and coconut over orange peel and ripe pineapple. This will not be to everyone’s taste, but a fabulously unusual and well made wine.
Rimats Gran Reserva
Rimarts Gran Reserva 40 Brut Natur. Redmond’s of Ranelagh €27.95
Made using the traditional Cava grapes of Xarel.lo, Macabeu and Parellada, as well as a dash of Chardonnay, this wine is aged 40 months on the lees to give rich pastry and almond alongside fresh citrus and floral notes. With its fine bead of bubbles, this is very dry and a terrific food wine; match with a goat cheese and strawberry salad, or fresh oysters.

Single Estate Vintage Blanc de Blanc Cava 2010. Marks & Spencer €23.50
For the Champagne lover looking for something different, this vintage Cava is single estate Chardonnay sourced from top producer Segura Viudas. Elegant, with a creamy mousse, ripe lemon, fresh herbs and a touch of stone fruit.

Tesco 25% Off Wine Sale

With the price of wine constantly rising due to excessive taxing, it’s great to get a little saving on our favourite beverage.  Driven by fierce competition in the market, particularly Lidl’s French wine sale, Tesco have had back-to-back wine promotions for the past month.  Unlike their suspect ‘half price’ offers on individual wines, the ‘25% Off Six Bottles’ promotion can be used in conjunction with any other reductions.

The catch is obviously the fact you have to buy six bottles or more to avail of the offer- which may sound excessive.  However, if you are like me and regularly help drink 2-3 (at least!) bottles of wine a week, it makes a lot of sense to grab them in one go when on promotion and save yourself a few quid. In reality you are only reducing the price to roughly the pre-gouging-tax rate of the past 2 years,  but still better in our pockets.  During the year I will post when these deals pop up in the supermarkets and make a few suggestions on decent wines to try.  If I miss one of them, please throw me a message and I’ll let my other readers know.  I almost missed this one as it ends at 10pm tonight.

In the meantime, when the supermarkets are not on promotion try to support your local wine shops- the service and selection there will always surpass any supermarket.

So, what did I buy today?  I just arrived home from Spain where I stocked up on heavy reds, so decided to try some lighter reds and a white to add to my weekday wine collection.  I was in a rush so grabbed two bottles each of the following three wines.

First I grabbed two cheap New World Pinot Noirs.


Oyster Bay Pinot Noir Was €14.99. Reduced €10. Sale Price Today €7.50.


Wave Series by Carmen 2013. Was €15. Reduced €10. Sale Price Today €7.50.

Oyster Bay Pinot Noir 2012 is very drinkable and was already reduced to €10, so cost €7.50 today.  This is incredible value for a New Zealand Pinot.  Perfect value for a Weekday Wine.

The second was a Chilean Pinot.  I have yet to find a good value Pinot Noir from Chile but the standard is certainly improving.  Carmen have been pushing this wine hard all Summer and was curious to try it, but was unwilling to pay the €15 I regularly see it priced.  For €7.50 it is well worth a punt.  Keep an eye on the blog and I’ll try it during the week.


Chais de Bourlemont Cotes de Duras 2013. Was €12. Reduced €10. Sale Price Today €7.50.

Finally I grabbed two bottles of this French white.  Again reduced to €10 (so €7.50 today) this Cotes de Duras is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.  It comes from a region adjacent to Bordeaux and grows many of the same grape varieties, but doesn’t carry the same price tag!  Again I haven’t tried this wine yet, so will give it a bash during the week and report back to you.

Happy Drinking.

Great Value Spanish in Aldi


Paniza Crianza, Cariñena DOP, Spain, 2009.

Aldi, €6.30.

It’s very hard to find a good bottle of wine in Ireland for under €7 these days.  When you consider the government slap €3.18 duty on every bottle of wine imported into the country, the value of the actual wine in the bottle becomes increasingly  squeezed at the lower end of the market.  On top of this the price of the bottle of wine, including the duty, is subject to 23% VAT.  So, of the €6.30 I paid for the wine above, €4.35 goes straight to the tax man!  As disgraceful as that it is (I’ll deal with this again), it is incredible that this wine can be so good.  The costs of producing this include the land for growing the grapes, wages for a team of pickers, paying for the material and permits of running a winery (including expensive oak barrels), storage for 5 years, glass bottle, label and shipping costs from Spain to Ireland.  On top of this the winery owner and the supermarket have to make a profit.  All out of the remaining €1.95.  So to say this wine is a bargain is an understatement.

It comes from Cariñena, a wine region in the north east of Spain, that was first planted by the Romans.  It is believed Carignan, a grape widely grown in southern France was first cultivated here.  The region is quite high- 400-800m above sea level, and this altitude is crucial to growing good grapes in central Spain.  The Summer heat, which can reach 38 degrees, is tempered by cool nights and a brisk northerly breeze known as the cierzo, allowing the grapes to relax at night after a day of sun baking.  It is this diurnal temperature variation that is responsible for the quality wines of  Rioja and Ribera del Duero further west.

It was my father, always with an astute eye for a good bargain, who picked up this wine yesterday.  I opened it and tested it through the Vin Aire to see what it was like with a little decanting, and perhaps needed it (a decanter would do just as well).  An unusual blend for Cariñena, it is 60% Tempranillo and 20% each Garnacha and Cabernet Sauvignon.  The wine is brick red in the glass, still fresh and fruity on the nose, despite it being five years old.  Lovely aromas of blackberries, cherries, vanilla from the American oak and a little smokey- very inviting.  In the mouth it is full bodied with nice tannins.  The blackberries, cherries, oak are still there on the palate, but there is a lovely spiciness that complements the tobacco and chocolate flavours.  The alcohol is evident on the finish though and I reckon it could well be higher than the 13.5% abv it says on the label.

This really is fabulous value and if you like robust Spanish reds with plenty of fruit and lots of character, you will not do better anywhere near this price.  I’d advise you to pick up a few bottles quickly though, as it seems to be a once off.

Rating: VERY GOOD 4/5


American Innovation- Spann Vineyards’ Betsy’s Backacher


Spann Vineyards, Lot 10 Betsy’s Backacher, Sonoma County, California.

Ambassador Wines NYC,$21.77.

European wines rose to their position of dominance through tradition- which is best exemplified by the QWPSR (Quality Wines Produced in Specific Regions).  Whether it is the AOP of France, the DOC of Italy, or the very precise (confusing?) German wine classification system, each essentially does the same thing- ensure the end buyer can expect a minimum standard from the bottle of wine they purchase.  By controlling nearly every aspect of wine production, from grape yields and varieties, to use of oak, the wines of each European region will display a certain homogeneity and sense of place, creating worldwide demand for many of the finest examples.

However, it can be argued that this unwavering set of restrictive rules can also hamstring innovation in Europe.  If you step outside the traditional rules, you  lose the branding of the region in which your grapes were grown- a bottle with Bordeaux on the label is going to command a greater price than one that says Vin de Pays, so few wineries can afford to innovate with restricted grapes.  There are, however, occasions when innovative wine makers step away from these restrictions and create something fantastic- the Super Tuscans in Italy are a prime example.  These wines have their roots in the Chianti DOC in the north west of the country in the 1970s.  At this time over-production and restrictive DOC rules were seeing a steep decline in the popularity of their wines.  A group of renegade wine makers took a risk and introduced Bordeaux grapes to their blend to produce the ‘Super Tuscans’.  Falling outside the DOC these wines were labeled as table wines, but soon began to command impressive prices as their popularity surged, proving that there is a demand for good wines, not just wines that have the backing of a regulatory body.  More recently, the Languedoc region of southern France has cast off its bulk wine status and is embracing grape blending innovations.

All of this is a long-winded introduction to the wine above, which was produced on the other side of the world, in Sonoma County, California.  Unshackled from the interference of European regulatory bodies, New World wineries often have more freedom to express innovation and have some fun with their grapes.  More importantly, they have a ready and willing market to sell it in to.  Produced by Spann Vineyards, and named for the steep vineyards the grapes grow on, this wine is a blend of seven grapes.  Unlike European wines, the blend is a mix of white and red grapes and are from different vintages- again almost unheard of in European still wines.  It was first created for the workers in the vineyards and close family and friends, but word of its quality spread quickly, so was Spann made the wine available to the public.  I bought this bottle on the other side of the USA, in a small wine shop on Second Avenue in New York, and I’m glad I squeezed it in to the suitcase to bring home.

It is a deep, vibrant red in the glass, smelling of spice, tobacco, sweet red cherries.  A hint of vanilla from the oak is in there also.  The taste was fabulous too- freshness, fruitiness, spices, mint all hitting the palate.  It is quite heavy bodied, but very fresh and clean with a good long finish of sweet fruits and tobacco.  This wine is not meant to made to be cellared or lain down gathering dust, but drunk young and fresh with friends.  I like wineries that don’t take themselves too seriously- or for that matter New World wines that try to be European.  This is an all-American, fun, quirky wine.  Just a shame I only had space in the suitcase for the one bottle.

Rating: EXCELLENT 4.5/5