Irish Contributions to the Wine World
The imminent celebration of St. Patrick’s Day reminded me that we owe a lot to the Irish and their involvement in the global wine trade. I know what you’re thinking; aren’t the Irish contributions just Guinness and whiskey? Yes, but Irish expatriates have had a huge influence on some of the world’s major wine regions.
Let’s look at Bordeaux first. There are wine producers that have names that do not sound exceedingly French, for instance, two First Growths, Château Léoville Barton and Château Lynch-Bages. Thomas Barton began by shipping wine to Ireland, but by 1722 he had established his business in France, and by 1826 he had founded his now famous Chateau. The Barton family still retain Irish passports to this day. Thomas Lynch inherited the property from his father, a native of Galway, in 1749. Ultimately, they sold it, but the family name lives on.
Now let’s turn to Australia where two famous wine regions have very Irish names: McLaren Vale and Clare Valley. And it doesn’t end there; two Australian industry giants Jim Barry and McGuigan Wines were founded by Irish descendents. Jim Barry became the first qualified winemaker in the Clare Valley, graduating with the 17th Degree in Oenology from Roseworthy Agricultural College in 1947. Dairy farming in the Hunter Valley was Owen McGuigan’s first calling. That all changed in 1880 when he decided to start vineyards to supplement his income. The rest, as they say, is history.
Now you know a little more of the Irish forays into the world of wine. Sláinte!
My ratings are based on a 5 star system developed by Michael Broadbent: 5 stars: Outstanding; 4 stars: Very good; 3 stars: Good; 2 stars: Moderately good; 1 star: Not very good, but not bad; No stars: Poor.
Château Moncontour Demi-Sec Vouvray 2020 ★★★★ $19.95 (Vintages)
Vouvray from the Loire Valley is a stylistic chameleon. The grape from the region, Chenin Blanc, can reliably produce excellent dry, semi-sweet, sweet, or even Sparkling wines. This one, produced from 20-45 year old vines, falls in the realm of semi-sweet. It’s quite full bodied, imbued with lemon, honey, poached pear, apple sauce, and chalky minerals. Serve it with mild curries, butter chicken, or seafood.
Casal di Serra Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore 2020 ★★★★ $19.95 (Vintages)
This Italian white is produced with organically grown grapes from the Marche region in Italy. It has a quite lovely texture with suggestions of lemon pith, lime, almond, anise, and yellow apple. Its dry nature, mouth watering acidity, and fruity character would make it a fine accompaniment for cheeses like Pecorino Romano or charcuterie of all kinds.
Tokaji Szamorodni Edes/Sweet 2018 ★★★★ $19.00 (LCBO)
Szamorodni is an excellent introduction the sweet wines of Hungary’s famous Tokaji region. In most Tokaji, sweetness is controlled by adding a premeasured amount of botrytis affected (BA) Furmint grapes to the fermentation, but Szamorodni translated to “as it comes”. This means that the grapes are field harvested with an uncontrolled amount of BA and normal grapes, hence the name. It’s definitely sweet at 99 g/L of residual sugar, full bodied, and filled with apricot jam, honey, lemon, orange marmalade, and spiced pear. If you’re looking to complement desserts like Sacher Torte or a blue cheese, this wine would be first-rate.
Wayne Gretzky Rosé 2021 ★★★½ $17.95 (The Wine Shop, LCBO)
A simple, light, dry Rosé from the Great One made with mostly Pinot Noir with the addition of a little Gewürztraminer and Pinot Grigio. It quite pale pink and displays white cranberry, watermelon, lemon, apple, grapefruit, and wet stone. Try it with shrimp cakes or margherita pizza.
d’Arenberg d’Arry’s Original Grenache/Shiraz 2018 ★★★½ $19.95 (Vintages)
Australia is really staking a claim to Rhone style wines and you can see why with reds like this one from McLaren Vale. It’s a little closed; so, decant it for ½ hour to open up the aromatics. Then you will find all the wine can offer: strawberry, plum jam, red cherry, fennel, licorice, black pepper, vanilla, and barrel smoke. Despite being very dry, this wine goes very well with marmalade glazed ham.
Jean-Pierre Moueix Bordeaux 2018 ★★★½+ $19.95 (Vintages)
It’s rare to find well-mannered, let alone a very good, Bordeaux below the $20 price point, but this one delivers. The label indicates a generic Bordeaux, which means it was made with fruit from anywhere in the whole region. That decision gave the winemaker the freedom to eschew Cabernet Sauvignon for a blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc, which renders it drinkable now. The tannins are high, but not too aggressive. The full bodied palate delivers flavours of black plum, cedar, blackberry, tobacco, vanilla, sage, and baking spices. Drink over the next year or two, it’s not built for long term aging. Butter seared medium rare beef tenderloin will show this wine to its best advantage.
Fontanafredda Langhe Nebbiolo 2020 ★★★★ $20.95 (Vintages)
Although it cannot be called Barolo since it comes from an adjacent region in Piedmont, it is nevertheless an excellent introduction to the Nebbiolo grape. There upside is it’s drinkable now since it does not possess the intense tannins that exemplify Barolo. Don’t be fooled by the pale ruby colour; the wine is definitely full bodied with a flavour profile dominated by spiced red plum, strawberry jam, sweet cherry, cedar, and vanilla. Polpette al sugo (meatballs with tomato sauce) and lamb would suit this perfectly.
Saumur Champigny Lieu Dit Les Poyeux 2018 ★★★★ $18.95 (Vintages)
For fans of Cabernet Franc, this is one worth searching for at Vintages. The name of the region, Champigny, comes from the Latin “Campus Ignis”, which means “Field of Fire”. Unsurprisingly, it is a warm microclimate in the Loire Valley that produces a ripe, full bodied version of Cab Franc. Expect a mix of florals with chocolate, blackberry, black currant, raspberry, and burnt caramel. Roasted meat with herbs and/or roasted root vegetables would harmonize impeccably with it.