Stitch and Bear

A long-running Irish blog with reviews of the best restaurants in Dublin and throughout Ireland. Some wine and cocktails thrown in for good measure!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

[Wine] Aldi Priorat and Saint-Émilion Grand Cru

Aldi continues to enhance its wine offering, and I recently did a trawl through their French Wine Sale offerings, as well as picking up some other interesting wines from the shelves. My normal preference is for white wine, but these two reds have impressed me. 

Lot 06 Priorat 2014, €13.99
The Lot Series is a new range from Aldi, where each wine has been made by a well-known and well-respected producer of their region. Each bottle is individually numbered and features a beautiful hand-painted label. My bottle was #12,2006 from a batch of 36,000.

Priorat is a Spanish wine region, located close to Barcelona, and is one of only two wine regions in Spain to qualify as DOCa (alongside Rioja). It hasn't been widely known up to recently, but is gaining a strong reputation and producing some of the most expensive Spanish wines. 

This Priorat is made from Grenache with 14.5% ABV. It has lots of red and dark fruit (think cherries) on the nose, which continues on the palate, with some subtle spice. Tannins are firm without being too strong. Very delicious. 

Château Pindefleurs Saint-Émilion Grand Cru 2011, €18.99
A Right Bank Bordeaux, this is dominated by Merlot (90%) with Cabarnet Franc making up the remainder. It's a denser beast than the Priorat, with lots of blackcurrants, dark fruit and chocolate, plus a nice smoky woodiness of cedar and oak, complete with good tannins. There's a slight note of violets and mint to balance out the richness. I think I'll be heading back to buy a few bottles for Christmas drinking. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

[Review] Locks, Windsor Terrace, Dublin 8

The tenet of reincarnation sits at the core of the Hindu religion, where the jiva (soul) will continue through endless cycles of birth, death and rebirth until moksa or the final release is achieved. I sometimes feel that the restaurant trade also believes in reincarnation. Occasionally the rebirth is confined to minor tweaks and a lick of paint. Other times, the changes are more substantial; a new chef or a whole reboot.

Sitting in one of the prettiest locations in Dublin, Locks on Windsor Terrace has had an interesting history. As Locks Brasserie, it achieved the highest accolade of a Michelin star in 2012 under Rory Carville, only to lose it the following year following his departure in 2013. It closed in the summer of 2015, and reopened in September as Locks Restaurant, complete with a whimsical swan motif and under the command of head chefs Conor O'Dowd and Keelan Higgs. Higgs had previously worked as head chef in Locks Brasserie and grabbed the opportunity to reinvigorate the venue.

The dining room hasn't changed much, but has been freshened up and finished with lovely little touches. I really liked the warm blood orange bread plates which bought an instant touch of comfort to the table. Incredibly crusty and perfect bread rolls, served with cultured butter were bought to the table, followed by two perfect Kelly's oysters, served in the shell with a small drizzle of shallot vinaigrette (€1.50 each). Potato "crisps" were flat, compressed fried potato slices, served with a divine aioli (€3.50).  
Crusty loaves and cultured butter

Monday, October 12, 2015

[Events] Dublin Cocktail Festival 2015

I'm literally just home from the launch event for the 2nd Dublin Cocktail Fest, courtesy of Great Irish Beverages, and I'm really enthused about some of the very tasty drinks that I've sampled. The whole event is a wonderful recognition of the fantastic cocktail scene in Dublin and the wonderful flourishing Irish distilling industry. 
La Voyage, featuring Shortcross gin, from Koh restaurant


[Events] Upcoming wine tastings

Wine tastings are a great way to sample many different wines in one session, and they often come with the benefit of being able to meet the winemaker or distributor. This gives the true wine enthusiasts a chance to ask questions, while the more "dedicated" drinkers can simply get on with the job of tasting. 

The Irish wine calendar is pretty packed at the moment, but here are the details of three upcoming tastings to which I am particularly looking forward. And with the dreaded C-word (Christmas!) starting to loom, these tastings also represent a great opportunity to pick out your Christmas wines or presents.
1. SPIT Wine Festival
About: SPIT is both a professional and consumer tasting event. If you love wines and are interested in something a little out of the ordinary, meeting winemakers and tasting wines made with less intervention at the winery, then SPIT is the wine tasting for you. SPIT is a door to find wines with a strong and unique sense of identity and discover more about wine culture in Ireland. Wines will be presented by Grapecircus, Nomad Wines, Tyrrell and Co, Vinostito and WineMason

When: Thursday, October 29th. 18:30 - 21:00
Location: Smock Alley, Dublin 2
Cost: €25

2. Ely - The BIG Rhone Tasting
About: Rhone Wine Week returns this November and will be bigger and better than ever. Similar to the hugely popular "ely Big Tasting", there will be a host of winemakers on hand to talk you through a fantastic selection of wines such as Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Cote-Rotie, Gigondas, Vacqeuyras, St. Joseph, Crozes Hermitage, Cornas, Beaumes de Venise, Condrieu and of course, Cotes du Rhone. The Big Rhone Tasting will offer a huge selection of wines from the most diverse of all the French wine regions, if not the world. From price to style, from people to "terroirs", the Rhone delivers.  

When: Wednesday, November 4th. 18:00
Location: Ely CHQ, IFSC, Dublin 1
Cost: €15

3. JN Wines – Meet the Winemakers
About: This is an informal and relaxed walk-around tasting from established wine merchants James Nicholson, where you can chat to the winemakers, taste the wines that interest you and tailor the experience to suit you. You don't need to be a wine expert to enjoy it; interest and a bit of enthusiasm will suffice! It is the perfect opportunity to broaden your wine drinking horizons as well as your wine knowledge while you familiarise yourself with the JN Wines range. Come by yourself, in twos or as a part of a group. The JN team will be on hand to guide you around and answer any queries. With over 20 winemakers and 100+ wines to try, be sure to give yourself enough time to get around.
When: Friday, November 6th.
Location: Smock Alley, Dublin 2
Cost: €15

4. Spain Uncorked!
About:  Wines of Ribera del Duero and Rueda invite you to join them for an evening of Spanish wine discovery! Renowned Irish wine writer, Liam Campbell, will host a series of wine walks taking you through the wines of each region. There will be plenty of wine to sample from both Ribera del Duero wine regions as well as a Spanish music performance to bring some Olé! to the party.

When: Wednesday, November 11th. 18:30 – 21:00
Location: Smock Alley, Dublin 2
Cost: €20
Link: Eventbrite

5. Cases Wine Warehouse Winter Wine Fair
About:  We head west for the 9th annual Winter Wine Fair from Cases Wine Warehouse, which will showcase over 100 of the wonderful wines stocked by Cases. All proceeds from the evening will go to a local beneficiary, the development of a sports hall at Scoil Mhuire National School in Clarinbridge. The many wines open on the night will be from a diverse range of countries, regions and grapes, while also featuring many old favourites. There will be live music, a raffle and the annual Cases Blind Tasting Competition for anyone who fancies testing their palate.

When: Friday, November 13th. 18:30 – 21:00
Location: Cases Wine Warehouse, Tuam Road, Galway
Cost: €20, available from Cases Wine Warehouse and local shops.

6. O'Briens Winter Wine Fair
About:  The O'Briens twice yearly wine fairs are hugely popular and this year, there will be a Cork wine fair for the first time ever. The Cork event will have 140 wines to taste from 25 winemakers, while the Dublin event will feature 250 wines from 50 winemakers. 

When: Thursday, November 12th. 18:00 – 21:00 (Cork), Friday & Saturday, November 13th-14th (Dublin)
Location: Clarion Hotel, Lapps Quay, Cork and The Mansion House, Dublin
Cost: €15 (Cork) and €20 (Dublin)  with early bird tickets available for the Dublin event. Tickets

Sunday, October 11, 2015

[Review] Featherblade, Dawson Street, Dublin 2

Eating out is something I really enjoy, and it's something I do a lot. Until recently, I wasn't paying much attention to pricing, but I've started to notice that once again eating out is gradually getting more expensive. Depending on where you go, you might be damn lucky to see change from €100 for two people. I recently updated my Dublin Top 10 Early Birds listing and I found that early birds were no longer as readily available or had increased in price. Walk around town on a Friday night, and the sense of party time is creeping back on the streets, resulting in busier restaurants and bars. Boom,  baby, boom.

So in the middle of all this gradual upwards pressure, I was excited to learn of a new restaurant which was selling steaks for €13. How could this be? Featherblade is a small steak taken from the shoulder blade of the cow. It likes to be cooked rare, or else it toughens and best of all, it's relatively inexpensive. Just like its namesake, newly opened restaurant Featherblade aims to stay true to the principle of simple and affordable.

Here the menu is pared back to the barest essentials, with a handful of starters,  steak for mains and a simple selection of sides. This short menu is presented on a  simple small stand on each table, or via suspended blackboards over the entrance.  In a similar manner to the menu, the interior is likewise pared back. The colour scheme is wood with black and while (white walls, black-topped tables and black thick padded cushions). 


Sunday, October 4, 2015

[Travel] Wine Tour in Bordeaux

Early this year, we chose Bordeaux as a destination for a long weekend. Thanks to Aer Lingus, we got good value flights, with flight times at sensible hours and we sorted a lovely apartment in the old town through Airbnb. The only thing left to think about was which vineyards we would visit. I thought briefly about renting a car, but instead I booked a "Best of Wine Tourism" day trip via the Bordeaux Tourism website. The Tourism office offers a good selection of half-day and day-long tours in the various appellations surrounding Bordeaux, making it the perfect way for us first-time visitors to see Bordeaux. The "Best of" tour visits 3 different châteaux, selected from the 16 châteaux who won "Best of Wine Tourism" awards in 2015. The destinations rotate for every trip, meaning that we would not know which vineyards we would be visiting until we set out. 

On a bright Saturday morning, we joined our tour group outside the Bordeaux Tourism office and boarded our coach for the days' fun. The first stop was relatively close by in Pessac-Léognan, where we would be visiting the winery at Château Couhins. Most of the estate is owned by the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) who use it for viniculture research while still also producing a white grand cru classé.

In fact, this would be the only white wine we would taste on the day, not surprising given the predominance of red wines in the Bordeaux region. Made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc and full of crisp fresh fruit such as grapefruit and gooseberries, accompanied by good acidity and balance, this wine would give the top New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs quite a run for their money.
Chateaux Couhins-Lurton
Vines at Château Couhins
On the tour at Château Couhins
The cellar at Château Couhins
Tasting the wines
Our second stop of the day would be in the appellation of Fronsac, where we were visiting the beautiful Château de La Dauphine. Once hailed throughout the word for their quality, the wines of Fronsac fell out of popularity after phylloxera hit. Dating back to 1670, the struggling château was purchased by Jean Halley in 2000, who set out on a program of modernisation and revitalisation. The property is now being farmed organically and boasts a state-of-the-art vinification cellar with concrete and steel tanks designed to match each of the 14 plot sizes. 

Following a walk through the vineyards and the vinification cellar, we entered the château itself for lunch. Here we were treated to a superb 4 course meal, served by black-jacketed French waiters and  accompanied by lashings of wine from the estate. We started with the second label Delphis de La Dauphine (90% Merlot, 10% Cabarnet Franc), before moving to the first label Château de La Dauphine (also 90% Merlot and 10% Cabarnet Franc). I enjoyed both wines but the main wine was a very classy affair with fine tannins, dark red fruit and blackcurrants and good length.

After a very lengthy lunch, and lots of chat with our dining companions, it was time to board the bus for the last château. To be honest, given the free-flowing wine at lunch, I was a little surprised that we all made it back to the bus safely without losing any companions to the land of nod. 
The vines at Château de La Dauphine
The picturesque village of Fronsac
More grapes, nearing ripeness
The modern vinification cellar at Château de La Dauphine
The cellar at Château de La Dauphine
The beautiful Château de La Dauphine
The final stop was Château de Candale, a Saint-Émillion Grand Cru vineyard, set amongst field after field of beautifully maintained vines. The château is famous for its restaurant which, along with an outdoor terrace, is located on a gentle slope, affording us a chance to sit in the evening sun with a glass of fine wine. Following a tour of the winemaking facilities, we tasted two wines from the château. We started with the house rosé, S off Scandal, a light and fresh Bordeaux rosé, made especially for easy drinking. Next was the second label Roc de Candale, a nicely silky wine with lots of peppery notes. Disappointingly, we didn't get to taste any of the first label wine.
The gateway at Château de Candale in Saint-Émillion
The Saint-Émillion countryside
Getting the tour at Château de Candale
S off Scandale rosé from Château de Candale
Our tour guide had hoped that we could visit the village of Saint-Émillon itself, but due to time constraints, we were limited to a quick drive-past, which also took in a stop outside the gates of the  (disappointingly restrained) world famous Pétrus estate. 

Having set out at 09.30, we arrived back in Bordeaux at 18.30. I must admit to being a little surprised at how quickly the day had passed. Tickets for the tour cost €105 per person, but I thought it was excellent value for the trip, considering it had 3 private guided tours, lashings of wine and a delicious, boozy lunch. Plus, there was no need to worry about drink-driving or being over the limit. 

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