Le Froglet – “Cup-a-Wine” from M&S

13 Jul

Having been exiled to the UK with work for a few months in my completely non-wine-related day job, I thought it would be a good opportunity to see what’s out there in terms of wine innovation and perhaps preview what might be the next thing to hit our lovely green shores. Do forgive me if some, if not all of the breakthroughs that I report on have already reached Eire.

I’ve already spotted a few quirks down in London which I will bring to you as I can, and I stumbled upon another gem in Marks and Spencer in Leeds train station today. No I’m not going to talk about the new Percy Pig yoghurt (which is nowhere near as good as it sounds), or my glee at passing Elland Road once more on the train.

I’m talking about the ‘cup-a-wine’ that M&S have recently launched in their UK stores. It is essentially a sealed plastic glass of wine. Not one for the purists; it was universally dismissed on Dragons’ Den when its inventor tried to hawk them the idea in 2009. It comes in a 187ml reusable recyclable plastic glass (made by Wine Innovations) and is covered with a foil seal which the label states must be drunk within 3 months of purchase. This one is a Vin de Pays D’Oc, oddly called “Le Froglet” and comes in Shiraz, Chardonnay and Rosé flavours. It costs £2.25 a glass.

Never one to shirk a wine challenge, I decided to give all three a go, sure the £6.75 would barely dent my fat daily expense allowance, and hey, Leeds wasn’t exactly buzzing on a dull, rainy evening in West Yorkshire.

First up, the Chardonnay. The initial sniff of the wine nearly knocked me out. They really fill wine up to the brim and I couldn’t swirl it around to release more noxious aromas, so I adjourned to a real glass. This wine had hints of typical Chardonnay on the nose; butter, tropical fruits, lemon. But there was something stale or unnatural overpowering it. I closed my hotel window in case the Leeds air was affecting my judgement but alas no difference. It tasted equally revolting – I first got Lilt which then evolved into paint, the type when in playschool you thought was a good idea to drink. For the record, blue paint was my favourite. It left my mouth tasting like I’d spent the night in Leggs. 2/10

Next, the Rosé. It couldn’t get any worse, could it?! Thankfully it didn’t. Learnt my lesson from the last time and gave it a minute before poking my nose near it. It smelt rather pleasantly of sweet, candied strawberry. This had me thinking it was Grenache-dominated but the 12% alcohol might suggest otherwise. On the palate – not much. Faint red fruits, perhaps a touch of oak. Perfectly pleasant, quaffable wine if I’m being honest. The 187ml reusable recyclable plastic glass turns out to be problematic however – the wine takes on a chemical character if you sip directly from it (must be the sticky stuff the glues the foil to the glass). The rim is also quite sharp, much to my chagrin as the glass took a small piece of lip with it on its way back down to the table. 5/10 (1 mark deducted for assault)

Finally the Shiraz. Its unappealing nose of pepperami, combined with the usual spice, liquorice and black fruit of the grape had me nervous. On the palate – rough, uneven tannins, feeble black fruit, and AGAIN a hint of paint (who the hell was meant to be watching me back then?) No length on the finish; in sum a limp, horrid wine. 3/10

For me the jury’s out on this format – while I don’t necessarily hate the idea, I hated two of the three wines I tasted this evening. And if you multiply £2.25 by 4, your bottle’s worth is costing you 9 pounds, or nearly 11 euro which is a crime for that standard of wine. There clearly is a place for this type of format: at concerts and sporting events (where real glass can be a hazard/weapon); on cheap airlines; and trendy parks and commons around South West London. Whatever the place of consumption, M&S are apparently struggling to meet demand, so to that, I must raise my plastic glass!



20 Jun

I returned home to Dalkey this weekend to study for my Advanced WSET wine exam on Monday. My parents were away for the weekend so I would be guaranteed some peace and quiet. However I was greeted by an enormous thing that had suddenly shot up from that ugly plant that had always been in our front garden. Curious, I got on the phone to Dad, who explained that it was the Agave plant which was coming into flower for the first time. He planted it around when I was born, 25 and ¾ years ago.

Happily casting my study aside (Trockenbeerenauslese and Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete – you can wait), I threw myself into finding out a bit more about the plant, and you can only imagine my delight when I found out that the Agave plant is the main constituent in the making of… TEQUILA! As it dawned on me that a ready source of lethal alcohol was sitting approximately one metre from my doorstep, plans of Dalkey’s first Tequila distillery were immediately drafted for submission to Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. I was looking forward to my new title of Don Eamon, and turning my house into a lavish hacienda, complete with a shrine to our Mexican brothers’ famous 2-0 victory over France. Of course I didn’t bother to look into why Tequila is only made in Mexico, but these days you can blame most things on global warming can’t you?

I was then distraught to discover that Mexican Tequila is actually made from the blue agave plant (Advanced WSET textbook again totally destroying my buzz), a sister species of the agave americana which has been residing in our front garden. To make Tequila, they strip off all the spiky leaves from the flowering blue agave and cook its heart slowly to convert the starch into fermentable sugars. It’s then fermented, distilled and may be aged in oak barrels. The plant takes eight years to harvest, so think about that the next time you barbarically slam it against the bar, salt and bits of lemon in your face, eyes, hair, everywhere. They rarely consume it in such a manner in Mexico; when I was there with locals I had it with grapefruit juice as a chaser, and was utterly delicious.

The agave americana on the other hand is a sister species, and its uses range from making string, providing needles for sewing sacks, and producing a sap so harsh on your skin you’ll be reminded about that sting for up to a year. I perked up when I read that it can also be used for producing mezcal, which is a similar tequila-type spirit, and can be produced using agave americana when it’s in its flowering phase. So my dream is still alive! If I go with this, my only worry is where I can get a worm, like this little fella.

Finally the bittersweet twist to the tale – sadly the flowering of the plant signals its death. It will continue to grow skywards up to 8 metres (this video is a bit mental), suddenly burst into magnificent flower, and then die. I imagine this will happen soon so be sure to check back to My Grape Escape to find out.

Merlot – Magnificent or Mediocre?

9 Jun

Merlot – from the old French word for young blackbird; seemingly the only creature that loves the grape resolutely, unaffected by films or fads or medical studies. Amongst us humans however, it is loved and loathed in equal measure. Bridget Jones influenced a whole generation of Chardonnay consumption, and in a similar fashion Merlot has been a victim of the fickle consumer. Just ask pasta carbonara, or asparagus.

So what is Merlot? Well it’s a black grape, originating in Bordeaux and found now in most wine-producing countres (with clay soils). It typically gives soft, velvety wines with classic aromas and flavours of plum, blackberry and cassis. In comparison with its sistah Cabernet Sauvignon, it ripens earlier on the vine, and tends to mature more quickly. This can make it more approachable to the everyday wine drinker. When they are blended together, like in many parts of Bordeaux, Merlot adds body and softness to the mix, a bit like the Munster midfield.

Merlot really took off after an infamous 1991 US news program broke a story around the beneficial effects of red wine on health. They put forward the ‘French Paradox’ phenomenon; questioning the low rates of coronary heart disease in a country that insists on eating rich, fatty foods. The apparent reason for this contradiction is red wine consumption, namely the presence of the resveratrol chemical. The world subsequently went bananas for Merlot, as it was easy to pronounce and its soft, fruity style was attractive to many wine drinkers. Wine makers could not keep up with demand and plantings appeared everywhere, unfortunately much of it in the wrong places, like in cool climate coastal regions. The Merlot grape would not ripen properly in these areas, resulting in bitter, astringent, vegetal-tasting wine flooding the market. Merlot became the victim of its own early success.

Just when Merlot was rocking; going through the motions like Dublin in an All-Ireland semi final, along came Pinot Noir, a graceful, elegant wine akin to a Kerry team romping home against the boys in blue. The match occurred in California in 2004, and was a film called Sideways. The film’s anti-hero, Miles, a lame schoolteacher and wine snob, hates Merlot, in favour of Pinot Noir. Miles absolutely refuses to drink Merlot. When his less ‘refined’ friend Jack implores him to go with the flow ahead of a meeting a couple of lovely ladies, he roars “No, if anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am NOT drinking any fucking Merlot!”

The film’s effect on wine industry was profound. By the time the film was awarded an Oscar three months after its release, sales of Merlot in the US had already dipped 2%, with Pinot Noir jumping 16%. People across the country rushed to their local shops and supermarkets demanding the ‘Sideways wine’. Retailers capitalised by running Pinot Noir promotions and festivals. Many winemakers immediately yanked out their Merlot vines and replaced them with Pinot Noir. In fact, in 2003 wine makers in California planted 840 acres of Merlot, but in 2008 only planted 39. Compare this with Pinot Noir plantings in the same period: from 600 acres in 2003 to 1,796 in 2008!

The delicious irony of the whole film is that by the film’s end, *WARNING! PLOT SPOILER!* we see a dejected and depressed Miles in a grotty fast food cafe, drinking his prized bottle of 1961 Chateau Cheval Blanc from a paper cup. In fairness, Miles wouldn’t be the first person to make the mistake of roundly denouncing Merlot yet lavish praise on a Saint Emilion wine like Cheval Blanc – this particular bottle would have contained 39% Merlot, and 0% Pinot Noir.

Ruling out Cheval Blanc early in the running, I decided to see what was out there in terms of affordable, approachable Merlots. I dropped in to my local Oddbins off-licence and asked for three decent Merlots under a tenner (each). Surprisingly they couldn’t fulfil my request, obviously due to a lack of demand for such a thing, but we compromised on similar wines.


Errazuriz Merlot, Curico Valley Chile 2008, 13.5%, €9.99

Enjoyed this. Nice cassis/red fruit on the nose, with super ripe plummy jammy flavours on the palate. Hint of tobacco from ageing in French oak. Great example of Chilean Merlot and good value for a tenner. 7.5/10


Cantavida unoaked Carménère, Rapel Valley Chile 2009, 13%, €8.99

Brilliant purple in colour, aromas of ripe cherries and white chocolate. Typical red/dark fruit flavours, low tannins, medium acidity. A straightforward, fruit-driven, fun wine. If you’re set in your ways against Merlot try this. Great value. 8/10


Chateau Le Grand Verdus, Bordeaux Supérieur 2006, Merlot/Cabernet blend, 13%, €10.99

Disappointing. Decent nose – dark fruits with a bit of cinnamon. On the palate – dark, dried up fruits, an unpleasant meaty finish which strangely reminded me of queso campesino. Too dry. Past it. Even Paul Scholes has more life left in him. 4/10.


To confirm the results of my taste test, I got three of my women around to try them (I DARE YOU to argue the validity of this test!). Two of them preferred the Carménère, and one chose the Merlot. The Bordeaux was still demolished, but only because it was after 10pm and, living in the oppressive nation of alcoholic fiends that is Ireland, the off-licence was shut.

Alsace – Riesling, NOT Pinot Grigio and Riots

25 May

I have always held a special affinity with Alsace. I often fondly reflect on the incredible Erasmus year I spent in the Alsatian capital, Strasbourg, the highlights of which included chasing Racing Strasbourg FC around Europe in the UEFA Cup, and chasing Colombians and Mexicans around the nightclubs of the city. Other must-sees included daily strikes, the 2005 riots in la banlieue and our landlord who proudly declared upon our arrival “Je deteste les irlandais!”. Otherwise Strasbourg is famous for its ancient cathedral, the delightful Petit France quarter, and the honour of being home to the European Parliament once a month, when the bureaucratic gravy train of politicians, diplomats, officials, journalists, researchers and protestors descend on the city, all to satisfy the French’s desire to retain a significant European institution in the country. What I also developed during my year there was a penchant for Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer. For in Alsace these wines reach heights of complexity and character that it is almost unmatched anywhere else in the world.

The first thing you’ll notice about a bottle of Alsatian wine is the heavy Germanic influence. Alsace is the only appellation in France which permits varietal labelling, i.e. the law permits that the producer can helpfully print the grape variety on the label. This was a German tradition long before the New World wines were onto it. Every bottle of wine will also come in the traditional German flûte shape. This can be a bit of a nuisance selling wines abroad – the consumer has been slow to change their perception of these wines being sickly and sweet in the old Blue Nun/Black Tower style, while retailers have sometimes had difficulty shelving and displaying the tall and slender bottles. I certainly remember them not fitting into the wine fridge in Donnybrook Fair when I worked there.

So onto the wines themselves. First of all nearly everything is white, 91% of it in fact. You can get a small amount of Pinot Noir (pale and served chilled), and the region’s underrated sparkling wine, Crémant d’Alsace. The main white wines are extremely aromatic and floral, and really express the terroir from which they come from. As a result these wines never need oak to take on additional flavour. There are four ‘noble’ grape varieties in Alsace – Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Muscat; these are permitted in the production of the region’s sweet wines – Vendange Tardive (VT) and Sélection de Grains Nobles (SGN). These grapes are picked late, so that they are shrivelled and concentrated with a high proportion of natural sugars – the result is a wine sweeter than a Jermaine Beckford strike at Old Trafford.

Riesling is the most widely planted grape in the region, and is probably the best regarded. On the vine it’s a little green grape with freckles (my mom always said they were attractive!). It makes a dry, elegant and powerful wine, with stunning ability to age, taking on oily character with aromas of kerosene. Now you’ll probably wonder how drinking petrol is attractive, but it’s the ultimate and coveted expression of aged Riesling.

Gewürztraminer is a mutation of the Traminer grape, in fact Gewürz means spice in German. This is a big pink grape which is picked when ripe and luscious. It’s best known for its seductive rose petal and lychee fragrance. This wine is well known for its pairing with spicy Asian food, like Thai and Indian. The richness of Gewürztraminer and its slight sweetness on the finish offsets the spiciness of these dishes beautifully.

Pinot Gris is the same grape as the ridiculously over-hyped Italian Pinot Grigio. Back in the early 1800’s Napolean’s soldiers heading to Russia brought Merlot and Pinot Gris cuttings from France and planted them in Northern Italy. You can get complexity and richness in Alsatian Pinot Gris which is rarely found in Italian Pinot Grigio. You’ll have to pay a bit more for it but definitely worth a try if you’re a fan of Grigio and not Gris.

Muscat is the last of the four ‘noble’ grape varieties of Alsace, but sadly doesn’t make it too far away from the domestic market. It has highly aromatic ‘grapey’ character. In my days as a grape picker harvesting technician I recall it being the only wine grape I came across which actually tasted delicious on its own. The others – Syrah, Grenache, Merlot, Carignan, Mourvedre, Cinsault and Chardonnay all tasted watery and bland. Muscat wine is essentially grape in a glass.

One of the best experiences that stuck with me from the year was travelling the Route des Vins. This is a 170 kilometre road taking you through 67 idyllic and picturesque communes that make up Alsace wine country. You’ll pass by fairytale castles, imposing mountains and gorges, mysterious forests, and beautiful rolling golden vineyards, and stop by wineries for tasting and buying of course. But what gives the region most of its charm are the villages themselves – entering places like Riquewihr, Ribeauvillé and especially Colmar you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve stumbled into some sort of medieval time warp. Throughout history Alsace has constantly changed hands between the French and the Germans, and most recently during World War 2, thankfully most of the region’s villages escaped the war’s ravages. So the half-timbered houses, quaint churches and traditional Winstubs still stand, in the exact same way as they have done for centuries. I did the Route twice – once with the college where the objective was to get two busloads of international students as drunk as possible – and then with my parents where we rented a car and took the region in at a much slower and enjoyable pace, stopping to eat and drink at our leisure over the day. It was a truly wonderful day.

Last weekend I spotted a tweet from On The Grapevine in Dalkey and called in, where the lovely Carol took me through the wines she brought back from her recent trip to Alsace. It was great to talk to someone with such passion and knowledge about the region, the wine and the food. That evening I tried my hand at a bit of Alsatian cuisine, you’ll find my recipe for tarte flambée here. I accompanied the tarte with the Domaine Ostertag 2007 Riesling, which Carol picked out for me, priced at €21.99. On the nose it was fruity and aromatic, and was starting to develop those classic oily aromas. It tasted crisp and florally, hints of green fruit, with a lovely honeyed citrus coming through on the finish. They’re doing 10% off all Alsace wines for the month of May, so get down there fast.

Unfortunately Alsace is a pain in the ass to get to, as frequently complained by numerous Irish MEPs doing time in the European Parliament, as there’s no direct flight to Strasbourg from Dublin. We used to get on the Baden-Baden flyer (where the WAGS ran amok in 2006) and get a train up, or else Strasbourg is a two-and-a-half hour TGV from Paris.

Buckfast Tonic Wine

3 May

Ever since Benedictine monks invented the stuff in 1927, Buckfast has been getting students, bums, undesirables, yuppies, miscreants and whoever else “f*cked fast” for years. Its heady combination of alcohol, caffeine, price and sweetness make it an ideal solution to many of life’s problems – whether your intention is a) getting your buzz on before a night out, or b) trying to rid the bottle of its ghastly liquid so as to turn it into a deadly weapon.

Buckfast Tonic Wine is produced at Buckfast Abbey, Devon, and was first made in 1890s by monks using a recipe brought over from France. Originally claimed to have medical qualities, it has now become synonymous with Scottish ‘ned’ culture and Irish students. It is a ‘fortified wine’, meaning it is based on wine with extra distilled proporties added to it. So what’s in it?

  • Red wine, 14.8% alcohol
  • Sodium Glycerophosphate Solution – absolutely no idea what this is
  • Potassium Glycerophosphate Solution – again not a clue
  • Disodium phosphate – a stabiliser and emulsifer, can also be used as a laxative
  • Caffeine – and a whopping 385mg of it
  • Sulphites – these appear naturally in most wines; they act as a preservative

What does this thrilling concoction do to you? Well according to a recent report by BBC Scotland, Buckfast was mentioned in the crime reports of 5,000 incidents in the country in the last 3 years, with the Buckfast bottle being used as a weapon in 114 of these. It also seemed to play a prominent role in a recent mini-riot in Galway. Is this behaviour any surprise? One specky English scientist claimed that each bottle contained 281mg of caffeine – the equivalent of up to 8 cans of coke. The Irish version of Buckfast actually contains more caffeine – I worked out by the same calculation (well my specky housemate did) that Irish buckie has the equivalent of ELEVEN cans. This lethal alcoholic/chemical/caffeine-charged cocktail can lead to varying amounts of aggressiveness and unpredictable behaviour amongst some drinkers. And a very recent email conversation with friends would seem to back this up:

I nearly killed my cousin with a wheel brace last time I drank a bottle. Got the wheel brace after breaking into an abandoned car.  Great night though.

I know lots of people (all male) who won’t drink it because of the affect it has on them. One of them tried to throw a bottle of it at me before, and another used to go wandering on his own after drinking it. Dangerous stuff.

I would be the same [name removed!]. Other than becoming hyper active and demanding to wear other people’s clothes I’m generally fine.

Ahaha!! Ahh yes [name removed!] – you nearly had me convinced to give you all my clothes.

What with my wine blogging career not having reached the heights of eager suppliers offering me free wine to try out, I was forced to head down to my local off-licence to pick up a bottle. However I did not particularly enjoy the disdain and contempt shown to me when I was informed that they didn’t stock any. In the current climate retailers clearly need to embrace all customers, not turning them away feeling belittled. I made a couple of calls and eventually found it in Centra on Pearse Street. It was without doubt one of the more painful €11.49’s I’ve had to shell out in my life, but I was just happy to find it in the end. The nice man at the check-out did not denounce me as a thug or hooligan, instead wrapping the bottle in the customary brown bag, helping me hide my shame on the long walk home.

I apprehensively got out the glasses to taste the Buckfast. First observation was the handy screw cap stopper; so no excuses of cork taint affecting the wine. I poured what turned out to be a dull brown liquid, its legs sticking to the glass like a particularly clingy ex-girlfriend. It had pronounced sweet aromas of flat coke, soap, peachy honey and brown sugar, with subtle notes of Deep Heat. On the palate, it was disgustingly sweet, with low acidity and no tannins. Not a food wine then. The high alcohol burned the back of the throat, again the flat coke taste came out, or rather a brown Mr Freeze when you were young and it melted on you. I got the same stickiness on my hands and around my mouth! I also detected syrupy tinned fruit like pineapples or apricots. The finish was long, but again the sticky sweetness on my gums and teeth dominated.

I was happy to leave it at a few sips, any more and who knows, it may have caused me to return to the aforementioned liquor store and torch it.

Buckfast is available in off-licences located around Trinity College and served fresh in pitchers in the Bernard Shaw pub on Richmond Street. It is NOT available in Tesco and a few other “exclusive” off-licences in the Baggot Street area.

Wine Myth #3: Bloody teeth!

11 Apr

If you ever look like you’ve just been hanging out with the lions at feasting time after drinking wine, such is the extent of your red-stained lips, tongue and teeth, you might like to read on. It’s an annoyance at the best of times, but for some of us it can prove especially costly when trying to negotiate our way past that surly bouncer, a blatant giveaway to our concealed inebriation.

As you jealously look on at others and wonder why they don’t also resemble the cast of Interview with the Vampire, it’s not because you’ve been drinking cheap plonk. Your teeth are covered with a thin layer of wine-coloured saliva. You see teeth are porous, made up of thousands of tiny little lines called dentin tubules, which run from the nerve to the surface of the enamel. Some people’s enamel is weaker and more porous – blame genetics and possibly your dental hygiene as a young brat. The red wine becomes lodged in these tube-like structures that no amount of water or brushing will remove.

The solution? I find swirling some white wine around your mouth does the trick – in my heady days as a grape-picker in France all the soap and water in the world would not remove the stubborn red grape stains on our hands at the end of each day. However once we moved on to picking white grapes the juice acted to cause it to disappear instantly. You’ll be surprised that the same works here – all evidence of red wine consumption is destroyed. Now try to act sober.

Country Focus: Argentina

19 Mar

The Hand of God, Eva Perón, The Falklands, mouthwatering steaks, Carlos Tevez’s scars – there are many reasons for which Argentina is famous, and its wine is the latest export to get people talking about the land of the gaucho and tango dancer. Argentina is the fifth largest wine producer in the world, and its emerging international success can be put down in part to the trendy Malbec grape, as well as reasons as diverse as currency collapse and melting snowcaps. If you’ve ever wondered what the magic is behind that glass of Malbec, or indeed your mouth-watering Argentine steak, read on.

The history of the Argentine wine industry can be dated back to the mid-1500s with the arrival of Spanish conquistadores, who planted the first vines in the country. With the end of Spanish rule in the 1800s, immigrants from Europe began to arrive with their vine cuttings, most notably from France, Spain and Italy, to flee the phylloxera plague which was devastating vineyards all over these countries. Wine here was traditionally consumed in the country and rarely made it abroad. This started to change in the 1990s as the economy stabilized, FDI increased and exports surged. Then the economic collapse in 2002 led to the devaluation of the Argentine Peso, slashing production costs and making Argentine wine cheaper worldwide. Add to this the arrival of a new generation of winemakers, investors and consultants, which has brought increased expertise and know-how in wine production techniques, bringing the Argentine wine industry into the international spotlight.

Argentina’s unique geography has made it well suited to producing top-class wines. The main wine regions are located in the west of the country, along the foothills of the Andes. These snow-capped mountains not only provide welcome shelter from harsh conditions, but also provide vital irrigation to the arid plains where vines are planted – melted snow flows down in a series of canals where it is stored in reservoirs for watering. The high altitude of most of the country’s wine regions means that vineyards here rarely have to contend with the varying problems of insects, moulds and diseases that most wine-producing countries must face, and the lack of pesticides required means many organic wines can be easily produced. The Mendoza valley is the main area you need to know about, accounting for 70% of Argentine wine produced. It is here where the famous Malbec grape is most at home, and is a popular wine tourism destination.

You’ll find the usual international varietals here like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Tempranillo, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Italian immigrants have brought native varietals such as Barbera and Sangiovese, and these have fared well. The Torrontés grape is producing some fine white wines and gaining international notoriety as a standalone varietal.

But undoubtedly the shining star of the wine scene here is Malbec. It would be fair to say that this is merely a workhorse grape in France –its name originates from the term Mal bec (literally “bad beak”) in French. Originating in Cahors in the south of France, it is still produced there (cringe time for marketing enthusiasts) and is also thrown into some red Bordeaux wines to soften them up. However when it was first transported across the Atlantic by a Frenchman named Miguel Aimé Pouget in the 1850s, Malbec instantly fell in love with Argentina, and Argentina certainly embraced Malbec. At 1200 metres above sea-level in Mendoza, it took on sufficient character to stand alone as a single varietal. Deep in colour and intense in flavour, Malbec is the essence of everything the country stands for; elegance, complexity, appeal, power.

How is Malbec such a dream match for steak? Malbec is considered a ‘tannic’ wine. Tannins are the drying sensation you sometimes feel on your teeth and gums when drinking red wine. They can come from stems, seeds skins of the grape, or the oak used during the ageing process. If you haven’t got a tannic wine at hand, try sucking a used tea bag and you’ll experience the same feeling. The firm tannins found in Argentine Malbec work well with fatty cuts of meat, like steak. Green with envy at incessant ‘BEST! STEAK! EVER!’ statuses bombarding my Facebook home page, I have always wondered what it is that gives Argentine steaks such renown.

The secret, apparently, lies in the joy of the Argentine cow. For the life of the Argentine vaca is not a bad one! In the plains of Las Pampas, central Argentina, these happy herbivores enjoy the rich grasses, plentiful water, favorable weather and flat open spaces, roaming and chomping to their hearts’ content. They are even known to be partial to the odd beer. No need for hormones or artificial fertilizers. The result is lean, juicy beef.

The most expensive yet finest cut is the Bife de Lomo, which means the tenderloin cut to me and you. A more popular cut is the Bife de Chorizo, not to be confused with the delicious Spanish sausage. This is the coveted Sirloin cut. Also look out for Ojo de Bife (ribeye). Forget your peppercorn sauce, steaks are served with a side of sauce called chimichurri, which is made of garlic, hot peppers, oregano, parsley and vinegar and looks a bit like pesto. The rest is up to you – bien hecho if you want it well done, al punto if you prefer it medium and poco hecho if you like it rare. Beware of creadillas which appears on most menus –these are lamb’s testicles.

However the aforementioned blissful bovines are in danger – massive global demand has resulted in some cattle being reared in US-style feedlots in order to increase production and meet this demand. This surely goes against the very reason why the beef is so loved in the first place. On the other hand the future of the Argentine wine industry looks bright. It seems to be held in higher regard than its fierce rival and neighbour Chile, with its strong European heritage and unique wines produced (Malbec, Torrontés). Despite the emergence of Uruguay and Brazil, and the continuing success of Chile, I believe Argentina is well placed to dominate the South American wine industry for years to come.

To taste a bit of Argentina closer to home, try the Buenos Aires Grill in Dublin. As far as I know it is the only restaurant of its kind in the city. The visitor is greeted with a lovely ambience of live music and authentic-looking decor. The a la carte menu represents excellent value for money, however the food was somewhat lacking in inspiration. Still, two courses for under 20 euro makes it a great starting point for a large group of people on a night out. And you’ll have plenty of fun facts to bring to the table having read My Grape Escape!

Wine Myth #2: The Screwcap

24 Feb

If you have ever encountered a wine that is dull and lifeless in colour, has a musty nose, and tastes of mould with hints of wet newspaper and carpet, you probably know what it feels like to get a corked wine. The screwcap was introduced in 2001 as an answer to this problem, which affects up to 15% of all wines, depending on which expert you believe. There is still a popular myth that wine closed with a screwcap means a tacky or inferior product. These days many of the world’s best wine producers swear by them.

The romantics among us (this writer included) revel in the special ritual of cutting away the foil, sinking the screw into the cork, pulling it out with a assertive ‘POP’, intensely sniffing the wood before confidently giving our verdict on its contents (at this stage, to whoever will listen). Sure where is the joy in opening a wine bottle in a matter of seconds like it were a can of coke?

For all the merits of this ceremony you’d wonder if the high spoilage rate is worthwhile. Cork is a product of nature after all, and its inconsistency can lead to significant amounts of air which can taint the wine. Having said that the cork also has the incredible ability to let the wine breathe, something which is important in ageing wines. At this stage we don’t really know how screwcaps will affect wine in this ageing process. Cork is also a green, sustainable product.

While the screwcap is ideal in that it has a perfectly air-tight seal, almost guaranteeing flavour and freshness, this isn’t entirely beneficial. The unpleasant smell of hydrogen sulfide, a by-product of the fermentation process, can become completely trapped inside a wine bottle sealed by screwcap. In general though, the screwcap has an almost zero percent failure rate. This makes it the ideal closure for most wines.

As for plastic corks, forget it. Any obstacle which prevents you from gaining desperate access to the bottle at 4 in the morning without a corkscrew or best efforts of knife, hammer or whatever other blunt instrument ready to hand, is not the answer.

Review: Leggs Wine Bar

14 Feb

Love it or hate it, Leggs Wine Bar is one of Dublin’s most popular nocturnal haunts. The drill is all too familiar. You have enjoyed a great night out but it’s not enough. You glide past security and stumble down those cold, concrete stairs. Abandon your jacket in on the left and you enter battle. No sooner do the wonderful aromas of fast food and carpet hit you, a lovely bell-shaped glass of p*ss is thrust into your hand. It begs the question: HOW have you ended up in Leggs again?

Leggs Wine Bar. The final destination of Dublin’s partying masses every weekend. We wake up the following afternoon and promise ourselves never to darken that door again, only to end up there a short time later. How often have you seen this on Monday morning and groaned?

And how we curse the reason for our woeful hangovers the next day: the wine. Vinegar, p*ss, plonk, we’ve heard it all. Some of us have tried the red, known to be served in classy Champagne flutes. We’ve dabbled in Rosé, even ventured into the Sparkling/Champagne section. But we’re only fooling ourselves; the next day is a write-off.

So is Leggs wine that bad? Or could it be that a rake of pints, shots, naggins, jagerbombs or whatever-your-having, is not the ideal preparation for drinking any wine, whether its Gevrey-Chambertin or Goon. I decided to investigate; a quick reconnaissance mission to Leeson Street on a busy Friday night would suffice. Here are my findings.


The house wine selection is probably what most of us opt straight for, and stump up 36 euros for the pleasure. You may be surprised to discover that the red is actually quite good. I came across it a few years ago while working in a wine store, and it was popular at €11/12 per bottle. The Chateau La Roca is a Syrah/Grenache blend from the south of France. It’s a house wine (at €24) at the nearby Schoolhouse Hotel restaurant who describe it as “A really cracking wine, offering superb value. A Schoolhouse favourite”. High praise indeed for a Leggs wine. If I was really picky it would benefit from a succulent joint of roast beef or lamb to offset the slight dryness of the wine. Sadly in Leggs a glass of Ballygowan, a snip at 9 (yes, NINE) euro, will have to do.

I don’t know much about the house white, a Sauvignon Blanc, other than it can be bought from Irish suppliers for as little as €7.08 a bottle (Ex-VAT), which represents a tidy profit for the owners. It is described as “an elegant, fresh and zingy sauvignon blanc with perfect balance”. If only the same could be said about its drinker afterwards!

As for the house rosé, the menu vaguely states “Rose D’Anjou”. No indication of brand, house, vintage – nothing. In general these are sweetish rosés from the Anjou region in France, and as I have no idea what I’m getting myself in for, I would tend to steer clear. However some people swear by it, which is the only evidence I can offer as to its quality.


Nobilo White Cloud. Those three words should send a shudder down the spine of most regular Leggs customers. I wonder if whoever priced this wine at €39 can sleep at night because it is on sale in Sainsburys for £2.80. If you don’t fancy travelling over to the UK for an atrocious NZ Sauvignon Blanc you can pick it up in your local Tesco for €10.85.

There’s also a Semillon/Chardonnay blend from the Australian winemaker McGuigan on the menu, priced at €39. Having consulted the McGuigan website, no such wine appears to exist. It could just be a straight Chardonnay. If you’d like to try before you buy in Leggs, head down to Tesco and after parting with a meagre €6.99, you’ll walk out the proud owner of 1 bottle of McGuigan Chardonnay.

As the price goes up so does the quality of the wine. Above the €40 mark you’ve got wines from well-regarded producers such as Domaine Faiveley and E. Guigal, which perhaps makes it worthwhile to spend an extra few euro for quality. But then again, at the time of the morning, does it matter?


Over to the reds, one option is the De Gras Merlot from Chile. The menu describes it as “full rich and soft with good balance and aftertaste”. If that doesn’t sell itself the menu also notes “A good selection no matter what food”, just in case you were torn between those chicken nuggets or pizza. Equally, the Domaine Faiveley Macon Rouge is “nice with lamb chops, kidneys and grilled food”. Good to know, while in Leggs.

The Concannon Petite Sirah, at €52, may be out of your price range. But the menu tempts you with the interesting fact that “Petite Sirah is unique to California”. Well it’s not, the grape originated in the French Rhône region in the 1870s where it is known today as Durif or Petite Syrah (NOT to be confused with Syrah/Shiraz). It’s the type of fact that should go down a storm with the opposite sex.

The Porter Mill Station Cabernet Sauvignon is a reasonable bet at €36. And again above €40 there are a couple of nice Riojas, a powerful Côtes du Rhône and decent Burgundy to choose from.


The sparkling wine is totally overpriced, you shouldn’t be paying any more than 12 euro for a mediocre bottle in the shops yet they range from €55 to €65 here. Serious rip-off territory. You have a Cava, Prosecco and Sparking Rosé so the choice is balanced but very pricey. The flashier customer is catered for with a reasonable Champagne selection in Piper Heidsieck, Pol Roger, Moet and Bollinger. The most expensive item you can waste your money on in Leggs is Dom Perignon (at a flashy €275 a pop).


The wines offered by Leggs, while crazily expensive, are by no means mediocre (with a few exceptions). If you drank a wine costing €12-15 with a meal or just casually with friends, you probably wouldn’t blame your hangover on the wine itself, more the quantity consumed. As the old adage goes; ‘Beer after wine and you’ll feel fine; wine after beer and you’ll feel queer.’ I think this logic holds true here – because of the dehydrating nature of alcohol, the more alcohol you drink, the thirstier you get, which tends to make you glug wine like it was water when you get your hands on it. Many of us are in such a state when arriving in Leggs. So until Dublin comes up with an alternative viable late-night venue, we’ll be reading that overpriced, moronic wine menu for a while to come.

Wine Myth #1: Legs

4 Feb

Have you ever seen somebody take a glass, swirl the wine around, examine it and wistfully declare ‘This wine has good legs’?

Once accepted as a sign of quality, the legs, or tears as the French call them, are the streaks of wine that cling to the side of the glass as the wine is swirled about. Granted it is a pleasant aspect of tasting wine, and conversation; comtemplating life as the beads of wine run down the glass. The legs actually have nothing to do with the quality of wine – they reflect its alcohol content.

Now for a brief science lesson (stay with me): Legs occur because of the fact that alcohol has a lower surface tension and faster evaporation rate than water. As you swirl your wine around the glass, the bits sticking to the side begin to evaporate. As the alcohol evaporates faster the changed alcohol-to-water mix now has different surface tension areas. Eventually gravity wins, the water’s surface tension breaks, and it falls back down the glass, in tears. Try covering your next glass of wine and see if the legs appear. No evaporation – no legs.

So, next time somebody announces that a wine has great legs, you can attempt explaining the above. Or perhaps nod your head in agreement and suggest what a great ass it has too.