Searching for a Pot of Gold: My Hunt for Irish Wines

Like trying to find a leprechaun hiding in fields of green, Irish wine can be almost impossible to locate. A few years ago, I wrote about the existence of wine from Ireland; curious at the time if there even was such a thing. I hadn’t seen any bottles locally or read very much in wine magazines about them. Each year, as St. Patty’s Day approached, I’d talk to several local wine merchants about trying to find them, and each year I would hear, “If you’d only asked a little earlier, we might’ve been able to find some for you!” Arrrgh! My bad. My timing was always off.

This year, I was determined. I began my quest in mid-January, searching, not only for the wine itself, but how to get a bottle. Short of flying to Ireland to buy it, I was told that because of small shipment sizes, and varied state-to-state legalities/constraints regarding shipping international wine, my request would be incredibly difficult and expensive to fulfill. Dauntless, and into the wee small hours, I searched and found two Irish wineries: Thomas Walk Vineyard, and Lusca Irish Wine.

Be sure to click the embedded video for some more information about the wineries and cool pics of how the vines are grown!


Thomas Walk Vineyard ~

Originating in 1980, Thomas Walk was one of the first wine makers to successfully, and organically, grow red grapes outdoors in Ireland. Hailing from Germany, and enjoying a good challenge, he chose to bring German wine-making techniques to the Emerald Isle and its cool, damp climate. Years of perseverance and research led to the discovery that the ‘Vitis Amurensis’ (Amurensis Walk) or ‘Rondo’ varietal could thrive. Located in the Kinsale region, their vineyards eventually expanded to include south-facing microclimates, planted entirely with Rondo.

Organic and sustainable are key components in the cultivation of this wine, with most of the process done by hand. Minimal pruning ensures that grapes can be harvested from ergonomically safe and comfortable standing positions. The distance travelled to the winery from the vineyard is short, ensuring optimum freshness of the grapes which are de-stemmed and crushed the same day. No sitting around for these berries. All grapes used in the wine are cultivated only from Thomas Walk vineyards. After fermentation, the wine rests with occasional removal of any sediments, without using any additional filtering methods. Occasionally, there may be some sediment in the bottles, but this is normal and shows that the wine was clarified organically, without filters or centrifuge.

Some of the wines produced include:

• Rosé

• Velvet ~ similar to Pinot Noir

• Exubérance Clairet | Exubérance Rosé ~ sparklers made in the méthode traditionnelle’

Lusca Irish Wine ~

Named for the village of Lusk, where it is located, Lusca Irish Wine has been cultivated since 2002. To grow within the challenges of Ireland’s climate, David Llewellyn adapted a way around this: he grows his vines in ‘tunnels’ ~ metal hoops that are assembled up over the rows and draped with a polythene cover. Both fruit and foliage are well-protected from rain, thereby keeping disease and pests at bay without the use of pesticides. As well, temperature inside the cover is raised to help late-ripening fruit mature during typical cool summers. The combined effects of the tunnel and using the disease-resistant Rondo varietal has proven to be most successful.

Their wine grapes consist of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Dunkfelder and Rondo for red wine. Until recently, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurtztraminer were cultivated but have since been pulled to focus on red varietals. Like Thomas Walk, Lusca’s total wine-making process, from vine to bottle, is accomplished entirely on site. And only simple, traditional methods are used; allowing the wine to clear naturally, without complex filtration. The wine is fermented and finished dry in the bottle, without any back-sweetening during bottling. All wine is hand bottled and labelled. Currently, they have a production of around 500 bottles per year, but with the additional plantings of reds, they are hoping to increase production to 2,000 bottles in the future.

As well as making wine, Llewellyn cultivates a functioning orchard producing:

• Apple Juice

• Pear juice

• Vinegar

• Cider

• Mulled Cider

Ah, luck, (with a wee bit of persistence), was on my side. With the kind help of Saileog and Rutherson from Wines on the Green | Celtic Whiskey Shop in Dublin, my bottle of 2015 Lusca Irish Wine Cab | Merlot arrived here in the Cleve, safe and sound, within a week.

But alas! I will not open it this year. When I asked David Llewellyn via email how long I should cellar it, he said, “ I think it should improve over the next 2-3 years or so, and remain very good for a further 2-3 years at least.”

I look forward to it!

With that, I’ll leave you with a wee Irish blessing:

“‘Tis better by far at the rainbows end to find not a pot of gold, but the heart of a friend.”

Tis also better to share a bottle of wine with that friend! 😉

Whatever drinkable you choose to celebrate St. Patty’s Day, please pace yourself, and imbibe safely.


©TheWineStudent, 2018


Dine & Dashe 🍷😊🍷


The perfect ending to a spectacular Monday here in the Cleve (a sunny day right now is always cause for celebrating), my friends, Shelly, Lisa and I attended the February wine dinner at Sarita in Lakewood, OH.

Featuring wines from Dashe Cellars, and presented by Whitney from Vanguard Wines, our evening began with Shrimp Madagascar paired with a 2015 Grenache Blanc. Cool climates and higher elevation help to cultivate this rare varietal. On the nose it made me think of a honey bun; bearing a subtle sweet bread-y scent. The main flavor we tasted was honey but because it was a dry wine, it wasn’t a cloying sweetness. The balanced acidity cut gently into the cream sauce of the shrimp dish.

My favorite wine of the night was the 2016 Chenin Blanc “Black Bart Cuvee”. This wine gets its name, Black Bart, not from the vineyard where it’s grown but the 500 gallon concrete ‘egg’ vessel in which it’s fermented. Concrete helps to highlight the mineral quality of the grapes, and helps to keep the lively freshness. After harvest, the grapes are pressed and fermented four weeks until the desired dryness is realized. This was paired with Scallop Crudo w/ pink grapefruit, avocado and malagueta honey that provided a sweet heat that was incredibly delicious with this wine.

Since 1996, Dashe Cellars, a family-owned winery, has operated in the urban location near Jack London Square in Oakland, CA. Going against convention, and with the conviction that outstanding wines could be found outside the traditional wine route parameter, they use natural winemaking techniques including: small lot fermentation, using indigenous yeasts, and little to no fining/ filtration.

Michael Dashe oversees the harvest and winemaking, and partners with small (including some organic-certified) growers in Mendocino and Sonoma counties to name a few. Working together, they try to achieve a balance of steep hillside vineyards, old vines, and vigor-reduced growing conditions. Steep hillsides force the grapes to struggle a bit and exposes them to better balance of sun, heat and cooling temperatures. Lower yields increase the quality and complexity of the wine. Struggle makes even grapes stronger!

As our evening progressed, we sampled Carignana (similar to Pinot Noir) with braised duck and goat cheese grits; fettuccine, bbq braised ribs (paired with two beloved Zinfandels), and finished it off sampling a selection of dark chocolate truffles and cheeses with a 2014 Late Harvest Zinfandel.

The next wine dinner takes place in April, and I’m really looking forward to experiencing a great selection of different wines, and what Chef Tony Romano will come up with next!



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©The Wine Student, 2018

Getting Bullish About Hungarian Wine!

At the start of the year, I wrote about some of the wine trends for a brave new year. One trend was exploring wine from areas that are from lesser known yet still traditional such as Croatia, Hungary and Bulgaria and Georgia.

On a trip to Budapest, our friends, Alex and Monica brought us a wonderful gift: a bottle of 2013 Tóth Ferenc Egri Bikavér Superior.

Also known as “Bull’s Blood”, Egri Bikavér is a very special blended red wine. Hand harvested, and individually aged twenty-five months before the initial blend, this wine boasts velvety tannins, plum and violet essences; sweet spice and bright cherry flavors. This 2013 Tóth Ferenc vintage took gold at Mindus Vini 2016, silver at Finger Lakes 2016, and gold at 12th Annual Bayer Wine Competition.

Hungarian folklore chronicles that in 1552, the fortress of Eger was under attack, with those defending it badly outnumbered. For courage, and to strengthen themselves, they drank copious amounts of local red wine, spilling it all over themselves as they guzzled. When they launched their counterattack, their foes saw the men running towards them with red liquid all down their chests ~ they believed the locals had been drinking bull’s blood, and in terror they turned and fled (who wouldn’t?). Hence the name Bull’s Blood has stayed with Hungarian wine ever since.

Like many wines in France, Italy and Spain, Egri Bikavér comes from a geographically protected region of origin. Common to all wine regions, this indicates that the area where grapes are grown has a defining influence on the style, quality and flavor of the wine.

Egri Bikavér is a blend of different base wines. The base wines themselves are aged separately in barrels for a minimum of six months, then blended and bottled where they age for an additional six months.

Grape varieties used:

• Kékfrankos

• Pinot Noir

• Merlot

• Cabernet Franc

• Cabernet Sauvignon

• Kadarka

Kékfrankos (Blaufränkisch) ~ is the Hungarian name for the black grape that produces wine with a spice vibe, adding to the essences of blueberry, black pepper and anise. The tannins are relatively smooth and colors are very deep.

Kardarka ~ The original and once favored varietal for Bull’s Blood, it is being replaced by Kékfrankos (Blau) which ripens early and is very resistant to grey rot. If kept in small quantities, and with careful crop management, it produces fuller, tannic wines with essences of sweet spice and black fruit.

Suggested pairings:

• Ox tongue (um….maybe not)

• Fish with mushrooms, tomato, veal stock reduction

Beef Bourguignon

• Roast lamb with garlic and rosemary

• Goat cheese, mild Brie and Camembert

It’s been said that some of the best things in life are free. And a wonderful gift of wine, especially from friends who’ve visited a distant land, makes that even more true.

Cheers! 🍷

©TheWineStudent, 2018

Top Three Valentine’s Themed Wines!

It’s the weekend before the official love day, and whether you’re just celebrating you or love divine with your partner, thoughts ultimately turn to… wine!

Much like at Halloween, I noticed many labels this year sporting a serious Valentine’s vibe.

Here are three that caught my eye.



2014 Queen of Hearts Pinot Noir

Young and fruity, this Pinot has flavors of:

• Red fruit such as: strawberry, cherry and raspberry

• Cola- yes! Like the soft drink, this wine has that bright, effervescent mouthfeel (sans bubbles) that you find in cola. It made this almost refreshing in a way.

• Silky tannins

It pairs well with:

• Pullled pork, seared salmon/tuna

Roasted chicken or duck

• Cherry flan

LO-VE Wines Garnacha

Originating in Spain, but imported and bottled in Napa, this is a 95% Grenach, 5%Tempranillo. What makes this wine unique:

  • Essences of lavender
  • Strawberry, raspberry
  • Liquorice with a hint of leather

It pairs nicely with:

  • Rich, lusty stews featuring pork or lamb
  • British pub classics such as shepherds pie, bangers and mash
  • Favorite winter go-to’s like mac and cheese

2016 Finca Pasion MiAmor Malbec Ihaven’t profiled this on my Malbec Monday posts so this was nice to find! As with most Malbecs, this features darker fruit characters with some spice and:

• Essences of plum, and a little strawberry

• Blackberry

• Clove and pepper for a little caliente

It’s dinner companions include:

• Beef or venison

• Chili con carne, fajitas, beef burritos

• Pasta bolognese or with meatballs

There are many great choices out there to help set the mood but remember this: If you can’t be with the wine you love, love the wine you’re with!

Have a fun and safe Valentine’s Day! ❤️🍷❤️

©TheWine Student, 2018

Malbec Monday!


It’s been a while for Malbec Mondays! But with it being a particularly snowy Monday here in the Cleve, I thought I’d check my cellar and to my surprise discovered a pristine 2012 Peninsula Ridge McNally Vineyards Proprietor’s Reserve Malbec. Most Malbec I’ve enjoyed is cultivated within the warmer climates of Mendoza, Argentina.  So I was surprised to find that a more northern winery was including this varietal in its reprtoire.

Peninsula Ridge is located in Southern Ontario, specifically the Niagara escarpment, snuggled within what’s known as the Beamsville Bench region. The Beamsville Bench is a somewhat small but excellent appellation that provides continuous air circulation ~ cooler breezes move in off of Lake Ontario, and circulate just around the foot of the escarpment. This works to keep temperatures moderate and leads to consistent growing conditions. Its slopes are mostly north and east-facing, with smaller streams running off the escarpment that serve as a dependable water source. The soil is a complex variety of gravel, sand, shale, sandstone and limestone, which you might think would give a heavy mineral vibe, and I have noticed that in some other varietals from this region. But this wine was very fruit forward with a low mineral taste.

Malbec is typically noted for flavors of:

  • black berry
  • black plum
  • clove
  • pepper

This Malbec is a terrific example of the above flavor profile. I noticed that it had medium tannins, and a nice creaminess. It is aged in new/ one-year-old American Oak, which gives an overall stronger flavor with increased vanilla and coconut. And it tends to give a creamier texture to the wine. Over time, tannins have a tendency to dissipate which might account for moderate tannin feel in this Pen Ridge offering.

So tonight, I’m staying inside in my pj’s, a good book, a glowing fire and a nice glass of Malbec. Not a bad way to start the week.

Cheers! 🍷💋

©The Wine Student, 2018



Holly Jolly

The holidays are the perfect time to spend with the ones you love, and that might even include some people. Ho ho ho!

I know, that was naughty but it stands to reason that especially during this time of year, we all like to add some new and special wines to our collections.

This year, we enjoyed a 2013 Goldeneye Pinot Noir. A gorgeous medium body Pinot, it had lush, full flavors of cherry, blackberry and pomegranate, while remaining grounded with an underscore of earthy mineral and leather. It had an enjoyable long finish, which for me is something I crave in a Pinot but don’t always find. It paired beautifully with our Christmas eve supper of steamed crab and traditional Tourtiere.

From their production notes:

“An extremely dry winter was followed by just enough spring rain to carry us through to a successful harvest. With very few frost days, the fruit set was excellent throughout our estate vineyards. To ensure a perfectly sized, well-balanced crop we were very active in fruit dropping. The remaining clusters were compact, with the abundant small berries that are perfect for high-quality wine. We started harvest 10 days earlier than normal, during a period of ideal temperate weather that allowed us to pick at a leisurely pace, while ensuring optimal ripeness. The resulting wines are marked by a complexity only achieved in cooler years with coursing acidity, beautiful high-toned fruit and nuanced minerality.”

Notes like this are always interesting to read; almost like peaking behind the curtain of what the harvest process involves, and why timing is everything, especially in harvesting a top quality Pinot.

I hope you are enjoying the holidays, and taking time to savor those moments with loved ones, both in and out of the bottle!

Next post: wine to ring in a brave new year. 🥂😁✨

Cheers! 🍷🎁🍷🎄