Month: September 2019

Come d’Incanto Blanc de Noir – Cantine Carpentiere

An intriguing surprise on every shelf when it comes to wine in Puglia.
We found this lovely white, obtained from the off-the-skins vinification of Nero di Troia grapes.
The complex bouquet combines citrus and slight brambly notes, maybe the only clue that this wine stated life as a red grape. A vibrant, quite assertive, initial flavour – Sauvignon Blanc without tears – soon segues into a rich honeyed palate with hints of quince and russet apple.

A ‘must try’ if you are in the region.
€12 in the offie, €16-18 i a restaurant.


Mescan host Oktoberfest West

Oktoberfest West

Mescan Brewery announces Oktoberfest West
Saturday October 5th 2019, 1 pm till closing time

You don’t have to leave Ireland to experience the fun and frolics of Oktoberfest. Mescan Brewery are hosting. the fourth incarnation of the popular Oktoberfest West festival which combines craft beer, bratwurst and other Bavariana. Venue is  Gracy’s Bar,  a bar and pizza restaurant in converted farm buildings on the Westport House estate.


Mescan are teaming up with local chefs to bring festival goers the best bratwurst outside Germany to complement their specially brewed Oktoberfest beer. In the best Oktoberfest tradition the beer is served in an array of steins in all shapes and sizes. Mescan plan to keep the dancing going all day long with a great mix of live bands and leading European Oktoberfest DJs, Johan und Paul, flown in specially for the event.

The venue is easily accessed on foot from Westport Town and drivers will be happy to know there’s ample free parking onsite.

Oktoberfest West is part of the Fáilte Ireland Taste the Island campaign. Full details will be posted on Facebook leading up to the event. No tickets are required and entry is free. Dirndls and lederhosen are optional but they’ll definitely help to get you in the mood for the party!

Snacking in Italy

In a local restaurant in Gallipoli, Puglia. Next door is a particularly fine greengrocer’s shop, with an outdoor display. In my halting Italian I got into conversation with the proprietor over a product that turned out to be salted capers. He rolled some up in pommodori secchi (sun-dried tomatoes) and presented them to me. Fantastico!. Bought a quantity of each and brought them back to the apartment to snack on while I watched second half of Preston v Man City on a link. Unbelievable, Jeff! World class snack.

Guinea Fowl in Cataplana

Guinea fowl may be bought from a poulterer or good butcher. Pheasants are in season from November 1st until January 31st. You can buy them from a butcher, if you have no friends who shoot.

A chef at a hotel on Loch Ness, Scotland gave me this recipe, circa 1987. He cooked a five-course dinner with whisky in every course! Afterwards we drank… whisky of course.

This dish, a favourite of mine, I cook in a cataplana, a traditional Portuguese casserole from the country’s Algarve region. I brought one home from Portimao, 33 years ago. I’m now on my third – the second I gave away to a young friend and glad to report it’s still in use. 

Cataplana are made from copper or spun aluminium and  of a ‘clamshell’ design (imagine two woks, one upside down on top of the other, joined together with a hinge and sealed with a clamp on either side). Though the seal is not perfectly air tight it makes a great fist of tenderising meat or fowl. If you remove one of the sections for the last ten to fifteen minutes of cooking any sauce in the dish thickens up nicely.

You could, 0f course, use any lidded, oven-proof casserole dish.


2 guinea fowl or hen pheasants

4 rashers of smoked or pale  bacon

8 tbsp orange marmalade

4 tablespoons of whiskey

4 tablespoons of water

8 sage leaves

4 sprigs of lavender

freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C.

With a sharp knife cut the birds in half along the backbone.

Place the halves of the bird skin side up in the cooking dish. Spread the marmalade on the skin side of the pheasants. Drape a rasher over the breast of each bird Add the sprigs of lavender,  scatter the sage leaves and pour the whiskey over the pheasants. Season with black pepper.

Marinate for 1 to 2 hours.

Place the lidded casserole or cataplana in the oven and bake for about 45 minutes. Arrange on dinner plates, one per person, and pour the pan juices over the birds.

Quail stuffed with Roquefort

Honey-basted roasted quail painted with pomegranate syrup and aniseed myrtle and stuffed with Roquefort cheese; serve on a bed of ‘interesting leaves’ dressed with an extra virgin and aged balsamic vinaigrette or multi-coloured roasted vegetables cut into small pieces. In Australia there’s a man called Vic Cherikoff, regarded as a pioneer  of the native foods industry. Packaging and merchandising Aboriginal foraged herbs and spices, he brought many ‘new’ aromas and flavours to the cook’s palette. Aniseed myrtle is one of my favourites. Sainsbury’s in the UK used to stock a selection of Cherikoff products, including this one.

I once cooked* this dish for 500 people. Yes, 500. In November I received a phone call from an Irish hotelier who had been co-opted on to the organising committee of Catex, a large catering industry exhibition held annually in Dublin. Traditionally, on the last night of the show, there was a gala dinner at The Burlington Hotel, only venue at that time with the capacity to accommodate 500 diners.  Anyhow, I get this phone call from one of the organisers. ”Hi Ernie, got this great idea. We are going to get three restaurant critics to cook the dinner, starter, main and dessert. Calling it ‘The Tables Turned.” “Super idea, Ray,” said I. “Go for it”.

Towards the end of January I got another phone call.  “Well,” said Ray, “What are you gonna cook?” I couldn’t explain that I was merely making encouraging noses, that the intention hadn’t been to volunteer.

I thought the dish through. I wanted to make a statement. To remind diners that meat actually came from birds and beasts, not from anonymous trimmed cut-to-size portions. I wanted them to eat with their fingers, so I put a paper ruff on the leg. I did not want to serve potatoes (humungous spud consumption is a feature of Irish daily life) so I envisaged a bed of lentilles de Puy, simmered tender in good stock and shot though with skivers of caramelised shallot and shards of Fingal Ferguson’s crisp smoked dry-cured bacon. 

My tour de force main course was well received, I thought. Two Michelin-starred chefs came over to shake my hand. A noted gourmand asked for the recipe. When I went to the gents I could hardly get my head through the door. But there is another kind of chef – the ones who work not in fancy restaurants but who toil in more mundane eateries; also in schools, prisons, hospitals, barracks. They go under the umbrella of The Panel of Chefs and are usually found clad in green blazers. Anyhow, I found myself standing at ‘the stone’ between two such. “Whadya think of that meal?” said one. “Yeah. Hundred quid for a pair of  f*ckin’ sparrows… ..and no spuds!”

4 quail, unboned

4 25cm cubes of Roquefort orother strong blue cheese

Pomegranate syrup

2 tsp Australian aniseed myrtle or 12 cloves star anise, ground to powder 

2 tbsp soft honey for basting

‘Interesting leaves’ could include a mix of: rocket; mizuna; baby spinach, shredded cos or butterhead lettuce; bok choi; watercress, corn salad. Dress at the last minute with a 50/50 blend of aged (at least 6 years) balsamic vinegar and good extra virgin olive oil.

Preheat oven to 240°C.

Dilute the honey in a little hot water.

Loosely stuff each quail with a heaped teaspoonful of Roquefort. Place the quail in a shallow ovenproof dish. Using a pastry brush, paint each one lightly with the Pomegranate syrup. Scatter a generous pinch of powdered aniseed myrtle (or star anis) over each one. Place in oven. After 5 minutes, remove and drizzle honey over the quail. Roast for 20 minutes, basting twice with the honey and juices from the dish. Allow to rest for 5 minutes.

Arrange on large plates and surround with dressed ‘interesting’ leaves or serve with Puy lentils cooked in stock or with roast baby potatoes. And plenty of them!

CODA. A year or two later I was at a function where, at my table, was a guy I recognised as one of the bigwigs from The Panel of Chefs. Maybe luckily, he didn’t seem to know me. One of his confreres asked him asked “How are the bookings going for the Catex dinner?” “Bit slow,” he replied, “Funny thing. People keep ringing up asking ‘Are we having quail?’”

Make of that what you will.

  • ably assisted by the entire kitchen brigade of the Burlington Hotel (now The Clayton Hotel, Burlington Road).

Days in a Taster’s Life: 3

Liberty, Fraternity…

Equality? Not quite. Cheapest wine in the line up was a Grenache Blanc from a modest IGP in the south of France (estimated r.r.p €14.99. Most expensive – and here I’m hazarding a guess – the iconic Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino ‘Annata’ 2013 (item 226 in a selection of close to 250, if you include Port, Vermouth and Saké)  might leave you enough change out of €180  for a pint of plain and a pack of Tayto. 

Fraternity? Well, this is the annual Dublin tasting of Liberty Wines, a company that originally gained credence on account of the perceptive palate of its founder, David Gleave, incidentally one of the nicest people in the business. A  wine scribe can go to this tasting secure in the knowledge that the palate wont be assaulted  by any universal nasties – although there will be wines in the extensive line up you might not like, it’s almost a given that someone else will.  Liberty’s is the tasting that the motley shower of old comrades, the dad’s army of Irish wine writing, hate to miss. As well as a chance to sample wines one couldn’t possibly ever afford to buy, the day represents a reunion of the heroes who’ve stood shoulder to shoulder, bravely sampling eighty sauvignon blancs in a single day; toiled under a Sicilian sun during a route march around umpteen hectares of vines; or starred in faked wonderment as yet another bottling line is put through its paces by a proud owner who tells you “It cost even more than my wedding.”

So I retrieve my nose from a snifter of Bordeaux Supérieur in order to greet Mary, Raymond, John, Leslie, Tomas or whoever; indulge in a smidge of bibulous and football football banter with high street wine merchants; and (a major bonus) chat with a few of the delightful young folk, currently reviving the art of the sommelier with their knowledge and passion. In between, though, there’s work to be done. This year, I divided the day into two sessions. I essayed the hard yards in the morning, starting at 10am when nose and palate are awake. At 11.45 I called a halt and went for a haircut, a spot of lunch and to clatter the keys in order to earn a crust. Late in the afternoon, I returned to Fallon & Byrne where the tasting was being conducted and gave myself an hour of unalloyed pleasure. I shall reveal that, among other delights  I lingered over glasses of David Morey’s magical Meursault, sublime white burgundy, truly a gift from the gods and also got well reacquainted with a perennial favourite, Bruno Rocca’s brilliant Barbaresco, a masterpiece that, year on year, manages to squeeze every possible nuance out of my beloved Nebbiolo grape.

Anyhow, impossible to mention all the wines I tasted, but here are a few that impressed.


Couple of favourites here. The Bellavista ‘Alma’ Franciacorta Gran Cuvée Brut continues to excite as well as kick the butt of more than a few low-to-middle Champagnes. Nyetimber Classic Cuvée Multi-vintage still has that spare elegance, although a few hard heads are beginning to ask if, like many English fizzers, it’s overpriced. Not sure, but I like it anyway. Going upscale, at the around  €75 mark, Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve is still, for my money, in pole position.


Sauvignon-Chardonnay blends don’t usually do it for me but I must say I found the Sebastien Vaillant Valençay 2108 (€20) rather endearing (plenty of people disagreed, so maybe a ‘Marmite’ wine. The Dreissigacker Organic Rheinhessen Riesling 2017 (€24) was a right little charmer as was the Axel Pauly ‘Purist’ Mosel Riesling Kabinnett Trocken 2018  (€24). A lot of effort is going into reducing alcohol levels, especially in whites. The Château du Rouët ‘Estérelle’ Côtes de Provence 2018 (€23) was quite a smart little number, destined, I’d say, to be featuring on quite a few restaurant lists.

Upscale, Greywackie confirmed to me that the 2019 version of their Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (€28), delicious as ever, is the benchmark for NZSB. Rich, rounded, not a trace of methoxypyrazine (the bell pepper aroma) or other nasties, Greywackie is, no doubt about it, the one to emulate, if not to beat. Space says “got to call a halt somewhere” so maybe no better place than the Domaine Corrine Perchaud Chablis 2017 (€32), clean, lean, nicely ‘old style’ and one of my favourite wines on the day.


If you eat out quite a bit I’m sure you would be familiar with a  number of the reds on show – the Willunga 100 Maclaren Vale Shiraz/Viognier, the a Mano Primitivo di Puglia, the Izadi Rioja Reserva. The Vetus ‘Flor de Vetus’ from Toro in particular always seem to turn up as “well-priced go-to’s”. One that’s snuck largely under the radar is the 2018 Nero de Troia ‘Lama di Pietra’ from Cantina Diomede (€18). As I type, I’m drenched in sunshine in Puglia, getting plenty of this wonderful grape down my neck. When (if) I come back I might do a piece on why Nero de Troia is the Southern Italian equivalent of the Golden Wonder potato. A wine that really impressed me is the Boulevard Napoléon ‘Laberadou’ Pur Cinsault de Schistes IGP Pays d’Hérault 2016 (€24), big, soft, cuddly and – a special bonus – that lovely man restaurateur Fergus Henderson is one of the owners  of the estate. Going up in the elevator, there’s a full-on and fruity Spanish red ‘L’espressió de Priorat’  (€29) that gave me genuine surprise when I found it was 15% ABV. Not for the faint-hearted but the fruit manages to subsume the alcohol burn good style.

Up country, Steve Pannell’s ‘The Vale’ McLaren Vale Shiraz 2016 (€39) showed what can be done with this great grape in the way of civilised, plummy, bang-in-style wine. Donnafugata ‘Sul Volcano’ Etna Rosso 2016 (€40), Nerello Mascalese – pretty sure you’ve never tasted this Sicilian grape – shows to perfection the strengths of what’s currently Italy’s sexiest wine region.

I could go on. In fact I could produce another list, equally seductive, maybe two or three. Keep an eye on this site, in particular my tasting notes. Over the year many of these wines are sure to feature.

Scroll to top