Irish wines I hear you say......
Irish wine is probably not in the same realms as an aged Claret, or a biodynamic mushroomy Burgundy 1er Cur, or indeed lying at the bottom of the Titanic with many other rare vintage wines. However, the tides are turning. Irish wines are beginning to make a small splash in the worlds wine ocean. Irish wine is a topical sector of the drinks industry that is gaining more and more prominence as time goes by. This sector is driven by the gargantuan efforts of devoutly passionate gatekeepers who are spearheading this viticultural age in Ireland. There is a handful of talented and dynamic botanists who refuse to listen to the norm, and we in Ireland are all the better for it. Ireland is actually listed as a wine producing country by the European Union, so let’s have a little look and see who’s doing what.
It is no secret that Ireland is geographically misplaced in terms of quality vine growing. The optimum latitude is between 45 degrees to 48 degrees. Anything above is too cold, and below is too warm. Not alone the latitude, but also the overall perennial climate is essential to aid sufficient growth. The summer must be long, the autumn mild, the winter cold, but not too cold, and spring is fresh with just enough rain and fog. Furthermore, heritage and culture have a phenomenal role to play. It is no coincidence that that Italy, France, and Spain have the largest volume of production and longest history. All of this is down to the long and dominant reign of the Greeks and the Romans throughout Europe. Wine was an integral part of their everyday lives. Spread amongst the clergy, nobility, and peasants alike. Wine has been part of their DNA for many a millennium.
So why, you ask, would Irish winemakers attempt to escape the traditions of wheat and grain for uisce-beatha and stout. Why would there be a flicker of interest for the extremely tricky to grow Vitis Vinifera vine.
With the unfortunate advent of climate change, it is no secret temperatures have risen in the last number of years. This is extremely beneficial for quality vine growing. So all of sudden, with the right climatic conditions throughout the year, the prospect of superior level Irish wine seems a possibility. Sunshine hours are non-negotiable in terms of photosynthesis for the health of the vine. Wexford has the highest number of sunshine hours per year. They receive 1600 hours per year, in comparison to Mayo that receives a dismal 1059 hours of sunshine per year. With expert advice from oenologists, Irish winemakers must explore south facing sites that have been soil tested to plant their first vines in. For quality vine growing, you monitor changes in the soil that occur in the nutrients, pH and organic matter over a number of years. Organic matter and pH levels dramatically impact the nutrient availability within the soil. Nutrients in the soil, not only feed the grapes and leaves, but also add to the complexity of the flavours. So it is vital the soil is nutrient dense
Second to the soil work, is choosing grape varieties that are susceptible to cooler climates. It is imperative to choose those that ripen later, and are expressive of their local terroir. With regard to Ireland this is less about olive groves and wild herbs, and more about brambles and hedgerow. This in turn creates a local style for Ireland. A style with depth of flavour and intensity of freshness and unique character. There are a host of winemakers in Ireland that are making serious strides.
One such winemaker is Arnaud Clopin, a wild and gregarious Frenchman who has made Wexford his home. He is currently pruning and tending vines in the sunny southeast, with a view to harvesting his first crop of good quality grapes on the 29th of October this year. He is originally from the iconic wine region of Champagne. His own grandfather was a vigneron in this region, so winemaking is part of his DNA. He established, a now thriving meat company. Exporting fine Irish meats around Europe. But the wine bug couldn’t be shushed. His company La Kav, wines are hoping to harvest their crop of five different quality grapes. They will produce their first wine and release this vintage in spring of 2023. A viable and exciting prospect for quality Irish wine.
In addition to the sunny southeast, Dublin is also making a valiant effort of producing quality wine for Ireland. David Llewellyn is based in Lusk, and alongside his stunning orchard for ciders, he also grows Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Rondo. The production volume is small, so prices are steep in comparison to European counterparts. However, their latest vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon is one of their best yet, they feel. They also make a wonderful sparkling wine, that has seen a brief time of skin contact with Cabernet Sauvignon berries. Therefore, it has a pale pink appearance, with a likeness to a Rose Champagne.
Wicklow Way wine company are also producing some classified Irish wines under the label Monier. However these wines are made from strawberries, raspberries and blackberries. This particular producer has made the decision to go down the fruit wine route, as opposed to using the Vitis Vinifera grape variety. Styles of wines like this have an increased fruit profile to them. They are made with a touch of sweetness to lift the front palate. But paired with a salty bacon salad, or a blue cheese crostini you can imagine the joy in this. Furthermore, Monier wines are a refreshing addition to a summer style cocktail. These well balanced wines are a variant of a classic style, but still a galliant wine that can express the local terroir and offer a gastronomic experience.
The offering is small, but extremely quality driven. Indeed these wines are not at the scale of barrel aged Rioja’s or Appassimento style Amarone’s. The spark has been lit, and the flame has ignited. This flame will burn brightly 30 years down the line. Temperatures will be warmer, minds will be more knowledgeable and heritage will be changing. Ireland will be a place of vision and dreams for winemakers. A refuge from warm regions that are overheating. A new tapestry of vines will be the norm here. It is an exciting prospect for the future of the Irish wine industry. But for now, enjoy these three wines below.
David Llewellyn, Lusca Cabernet/ Merlot, Lusk, Dublin, Ireland 12.5%, 37.5cl €27.95
This style of dry red is light to medium body, with red fruits dominating the palate. Strawberries, raspberries and a touch of creamy vanilla marry well with the crisp acidity and fine gentle tannins. A perfect wine for a charcuterie board, or a light pasta dish.
David Llewellyn, Lusca Sparkling Cabernet Sauvignon, N/V, Dublin, Ireland 11%, €70
The first vintage of this wine was made in 2018. Again small volume, therefore the seemingly hefty price tag. However the care and the attention in this wine production is unparalleled. A gentle pressing of these grapes gives a light dusting of red fruits, cranberry, and a toasty undertone. Beautifully fine and persistent bubbles. A real quality marker. Would pair so well with a creamy cheese selection.
Monier Irish Raspberry wine, Wicklow Way Wines, Wicklow, Ireland, 12.5%, €26.00
This is a light bodied wine, with brambles and raspberries at the core of the flavours profile. A touch of sweetness at the beginning of the wine, but finishes long and clean. This is certainly a summer garden party wine to delight ad amaze your guests with. Ideal with a charcuterie board, or indeed some salty feta cheese.