with special guest star 'French Mediterranean Wine'.
Richard Mark James' blog: wine, travel, food, BYO restaurants, craft beer, stuff like that...

14 November 2019

Irish Craft beer: Kinnegar Brewing, Donegal

Originally set up in a farmhouse in Rathmullan Co. Donegal, the Kinnegar (named after a nearby beach apparently) operation moved into a new 'state-of-the-art' brewery in Letterkenny in 2017. The 'core range' comprises six beers (plus an intriguingly wide variety of seasonal 'specials'): pictured above is the absolutely delicious Rustbucket Rye Ale (5.1 % abv), very fruity and tangy and rather different; and below their equally tasty Devil's Backbone Amber Ale (4.9% abv) with characteristic chocolate notes. These two cost €2.99 a bottle in Supervalu stores (might have been a '2 for x' type offer at the time). There's also Limeburner Pale Ale, Scraggy Bay IPA, Yannaroddy Porter and Crossroads American style IPA. You can book a tour and tasting at Kinnegar brewery too: more info @

By the way, another recent Irish brewery discovery is Franciscan Well from Cork, although probably less crafty as such since it comes on draught and can be found in many pubs. The IPA is aromatic and citrus fruity with quite full and creamy yet crisp finish; and the Red Ale much maltier with red fruits and molasses but refreshing bite too. £2.50-ish for a half in Belfast.

07 November 2019

New York State, Finger Lakes: Seneca and Cayuga

The cool-climate Finger Lakes wine region, although summers can be very warm for sure, is named after this series of eleven beautiful glacial lakes found in central-northern New York State, which dramatically mark the landscape like long deep cuts running north-south(ish) about 50 miles inland from the southern (US) side of Lake Ontario. It's about a four and a half hour drive from New York City and two and a half hours from Niagara Falls (extremely touristy but unmissable by the way). Seneca and Cayuga lakes are the longest of them, and Seneca the deepest, which is where the greatest concentration of vineyards are planted along and around their sloping edges since the corresponding microclimate is much less severe in winter here. Not surprisingly then, there are two well-organised wine routes - in fact Cayuga Lake wine folk claim to have 'America's first wine trail' - linking up wineries, accommodation, restaurants, events and attractions.
Check out: and

The Finger Lakes region boasts New York's 'biggest' wine production - and NY state ranks as no. 3 or 4 in the US depending on whether you count volume or number of wineries* - although there are less than 10,000 acres / 4000 hectares under vine, and only 10% of it Riesling, just to add a little context. As this doesn't amount to a great deal of wine, the prices reflect this but you can definitely find some very good quality. There's a little more geeky info and stats on this site if you like: (* There's plenty of slightly misleading info out there about American wine production: it depends how up-to-date as things have presumably changed a lot in recent years.)
There are also several pretty State Parks worth visiting such as Watkins Glen at the southern tip of Seneca with its sliced gorges, splashy waterfalls and serene forest walking trails. Watkins Glen itself and surrounding area would make a good base for a wine trip (can be very busy with tourists though), as is the laid-back town of Seneca Falls on the north-west side of Cayuga or the historic small city of Ithaca lying at the southern end of that lake. Back in Seneca Falls, the Gould Hotel is an appealing 1920s-style option for a couple of nights' stay; and this attractive wee town, set on a canal connecting the two lakes, offers a decent selection of diners, restaurants and stores alongside important social history too (a landmark in the women's rights' movement).

Boundary Breaks Vineyard - Lodi, Seneca Lake, NY 14860.
Tucked away in an isolated spot right on the eastern shore of Seneca a couple of miles from the village of Lodi, Boundary Breaks was established in 2008 and has become something of a Riesling specialist, although they make some good red wines too. There's an interesting point on their website basically citing Riesling as a red wine drinker's first choice for white wine in terms of depth of flavour and potential development, and I can see what they mean. The winery is owned by Bruce Murray and Diana Lyttle with Kees Stapel as Vineyard Manager aided by Jesse Kovnat and John Swick. These wines were sampled in the tasting room in situ in early October (you get 20% discount off these prices if you become a wine club member):

2018 #356 Bubbly Dry Riesling - Refreshing and crisp with nice oily and yeasty notes with underlying citrus. $19.95
2017 #90 Extra Dry Riesling - Hints of 'mineral' complexity, fairly rounded mouth-feel actually yet with long crisp finish. Good. $18.95
2018 #198 Reserve Riesling - Later picked and more medium in style, this is a bit sweeter obviously but more concentrated too with elegant 'chalky' palate (and only 8% abv). Tasty. $22.95
2018 Gewurztraminer - Floral and spicy lychee on the nose, quite dry and elegant with crisp floral finish. Nice style.
2018 Dry Rosé (DeChaunac grape variety) - Deep-coloured with super fruity nose, strawberry/raspberry and chocolate flavours even on the palate but with attractive crisp finish. $14.95
2018 Cabernet Franc - Aromatic red fruits with leafy edges, subtle oak and tannins on the palate, very good actually. $19.95
2017 Harmonic Red (56% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Cabernet Franc) - More tannic mouth-feel at first but has some nice fruit with cedary notes, fair depth and a smoother finish in the end with a hint of oak. $27.95

Sheldrake Point Winery - Ovid, Cayuga Lake, NY 14521.
Another not-so-easy-to-find winery, this time lost on the western side of Cayuga near a little promontory on the lake called Sheldrake Point, it doesn't appear to be part of the 'official' wine trail but is worth seeking out. This former orchard and dairy farm was bought and planted in 1997 by the 'principle' (sic) owners Chuck Tauck and Fran Littin, and over time was transformed into a now 60 acre vineyard (25 ha) show-casing ten vitis vinifera varieties (imported from Europe). Sheldrake specialises in keeping back stocks of what they call library wines (older vintages obviously going back to the beginning originally) as well as making some rather good ice wines from Riesling. Dave Breeden and Greg Dlubac are the winemaking team, working alongside vineyard manager Dave Wiemann and assistant José Aguilera. More about the people behind the scenes at Sheldrake Point, the wines, club membership and where to find them:
2017 Dry Riesling - Aromatic with 'mineral' oily tones, nice balance of quite rich mouth-feel and crisp acidity, pretty intense and dry finish. Good Riesling. $16
2017 Chardonnay - Yeast-leesy 'Chablis' style, a bit lean and unexciting. $18
2017 Pinot Gris - More full-bodied to start with underlying slender nutty palate, attractively crisp finish; different style and it works. $16
2016 Gewurztraminer - Fairly full-on lychee, Turkish delight and pineapple notes poised by fresh/bitter twist to compensate, this has lots of maturing flavours. Very nice Gewurz. $16 / $14 on offer at the moment.
2018 Riesling Ice Wine - Picked at temperatures of 14 to 17 Fahrenheit (-8 to -10 C) over three days to freeze-concentrate the grapes, the final wine has 8.4% abv and 230 grams per litre residual sugar. Rich honeyed nose with lovely developing Riesling character, lots of oily 'mineral' flavours and textures plus layered with honeysuckle aromas and underlining zippy acidity. Delicious dessert wine. $60.
Sheldrake also makes two styles of sweet wine from red grapes (Cab Franc) and from iced apples; as well as dry Pinot Noir, Gamay and Muscat Ottonel among others.

Another winery based in Ovid that caught my attention with their tasty fruity dry 2018 Cabernet Franc Rosé was Hosmer, which dates back to 1985 so they must have some of the oldest vines planted in this AVA* area, and is run by the fourth generation who has owned the farm since the 1930s.
(*American Viticultural Area.)

There are clearly many good craft breweries in the US too judging by the quality of some of the beers tried on this trip. The evocatively named Fat Tire Amber Ale from the New Belgium Brewing Company in Colorado was one of the stand-out bottles consumed in moderation with a classic burger and sweet potato fries dinner one evening.

16 October 2019

Wine Education Service Belfast wine workshops, tastings and courses winter-spring 2020

You can now book these Wine Education Service NI wine workshops, tastings and courses online, scheduled to run from February to May 2020. All delivered with enthusiasm, insight and a sense of humour by wine tutor and blogger Richard Mark James, and held in Belfast city centre. Also available to buy as gift vouchers. Go to the WES Belfast web page for more details and online booking:

Saturday 1 February - French wine workshop £90.
Spend an intensive yet relaxed Saturday on this one-day course exploring the very diverse regions and wines of France, where we'll taste and talk about up to fifteen classic examples from north to south and west to east. Featuring high-quality wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, the Loire Valley, Alsace, the Languedoc & Roussillon and the Rhone Valley, each carefully selected from a variety of local and online retail outlets. Price includes all wine tasting samples, lunch with wine and tuition. Timing: 10:30-11.00 meet at the venue with tea & coffee, lunch c.13.00-14.00 and finishing 16:30-17.00 (with breaks). Full details and booking HERE.

Saturday 7 March - Italian wine tasting and lunch £49.
A shorter wine tasting session than the Saturday workshop, but the morning will be spent tasting our way around Italy in all its diversity and glory, where there's always something new or unfamiliar to discover! Including eight well-chosen wines representing most of the 'classic' wine regions and a few lesser-known ones too, followed by lunch with, you've guessed it, a glass of Italian wine. Timing: 10.45 for 11.00 start, around two hours wine tasting and talking about Italy (with a break), then lunch at the venue and finishing by 14.30. More details and booking HERE.

'Essential Wine Tasting' five-week course: Wednesday evenings April 29 to May 27 - £125.
This 5-session introductory wine tasting course covers these topics:
1. Tasting technique; 2. Grape-growing & winemaking; 3. Wines of France; 4. Other European wines; 5. Wines from 'New World' countries. About half-a-dozen representative wine samples tasted each evening with your tutor, course booklet provided.
Timing: 18.00 to 20.00 Wednesdays 29th April, and 6th, 13th, 20th and 27th May. Details and booking HERE.

22 September 2019

Belgium and Netherlands: Bruges, Gent, Rotterdam, Haarlem; beer and eating...

Besides being one of the most awesome (and alas touristy) old cities in Europe, Bruges is home to three (according to tasty breweries as well. The Bourgogne des Flandres brewery backs on to the Dijver river on the south side of the old centre. On the website, their beer is described as a 'red-brown ale' (the English translation obviously), although I remember it being fairly dark but not at all heavy - alcohol content is 5% - with a lovely tangy finish to the richer darker malty side. It's made in the traditional Flemish 'lambic' way, where 'young beer (brewed on site) is blended with a little older (aged for a year in barrels) lambic from Timmermans Brewery' (the parent company in Brussels). This process can I think be compared to how 'reserve' wines are added to younger wines in the production of special cuvée or vintage Champagnes, and indeed this kind of quality beer gains its sparkle from second fermentation in bottle or cask (in this case) like any Champagne or 'traditional' method fizz or 'real' ale. The lambic beer portion is also made by spontaneous or wild ferment courtesy of particular indigenous yeasts, not with added cultured yeasts like most other beer.

The photo above was taken in the spacious courtyard outside Gauthierz brasserie, which is found tucked away not far from the Bourgogne des Flandres brewery heading towards the rail station and is a good spot for enjoying flavoursome beer like this, or Liefmans (pictured below) for instance, away from the madding crowds (the simple menu looks reasonable enough too). By the way, you can find some of my other photos taken in and around Bruges on my Face Book page. Also when 'in Bruges', you might bump into Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson in the main square cursing (if you haven't seen the film, then just skip that 'joke' or click on the link to a trailer on You Tube).
Gent (the G pronounced with a clearing of the throat), or Ghent in English I believe or Gant in French, is another must-visit city in Flemish speaking Belgium with a smaller scale of pretty old buildings and canals than Bruges, probably less tourists and a touch rougher around the edges although becoming more gentrified and trendier I suspect. Gent was once home to many breweries apparently, and the craft beer industry is slowly growing again. Gruut is the best known, and for a while the only one, where they use herbs instead of hops I'm told (man); there are a few other beer touring tips on the local tourist site here. Some of my photos taken around the city are here and here too on FB.

Babbels restaurant in Haarlem, a handsome buzzing and surprisingly large town lying west of Amsterdam heading towards the sea, is worth trying for its slightly unusual menu options if you go beyond pasta, pizza, steak etc. I had a tasty duck dish there six months ago (which doesn't now seem to be on the menu on their website), nicely complemented by a delicious bottled dark beer called Imperator made by the Dutch Brand brewery. They produce a wide range of styles from Pilsener, Blond and wheat beer to IPA, Dubbel (kinda like red ale), Porter and the Imperator which is probably somewhere in between style wise. Some inventive fish dishes are served at Babbels too.
Another good dining tip in Haarlem would be the Phang-Nga Bay Thai restaurant (links to info and reviews on Trip Advisor) found a short walk from the town's huge main square. Good value food and portions, and prawns the size of aforementioned square. Can't remember what beer we had with this meal, probably Thai!

Affligem is another well-respected Belgian beer that comes in a full-flavoured Dubbel or 'Double' style among others, as photoed here in Blij café restaurant tucked away in a quiet residential area of central Rotterdam. I quaffed this with some rather nice mussels with three sauces, tasty chips (of course) and salad. Another good choice here is a very well-made mushroom and truffle risotto, even if a little light on quantity (why do places do that with veggie dishes, give you less?!). Desserts included a weighty yet gooey chocolate number and a classic example of Dutch apple cake. If you're looking to stay the night in Rotterdam, the very central Days Inn Hotel is good value including an excellent breakfast.

A Liefmans al fresco, as mentioned above in Bruges. Other Belgian beer favourites include Duvel in its two or three styles, Leffe blonde and brune, Tremens, Chimay, Orval and on and on...