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

Kiss My Glass!



Filling my goblet is relatively easy to do: a big fishbowl for red, a larger tulip shape for white, flute for sparklers and maybe a smaller glass for ice wine. Simple, right? Nope, these days it’s anything but.

We can all agree that wine glasses are both functional and pleasing to the eye. But does the shape really make a difference? And how much of it is marketing? Does a crystal goblet actually make the wine taste better, or is it just our perception of it that makes it a different experience?

The Shape of Things

While the choice of glass is really up to the individual, wine glass shape and design have evolved over time to help showcase the unique qualities of each varietal group.

  • Red wine ~ best served in larger-sized glasses. And not just because I like to drink it in large amounts; a larger glass allows more air to come in contact with a large wine surface and develop the robust aromas and flavors. But not all wine glasses are created equal: Different shapes for different varietals are key. For example, the design of the Pinot Noir glass has a wider bowl and narrower tulip-shaped opening that works to provide a larger surface area to swirl while concentrating the essences towards the nose at the opening. Since Pinots tend to be more delicate in their bouquet and flavors, the design of the glass focuses the bouquet directly to the nose, and the wider bowl allows for better aeration on the swirl to fully coax out its subtle flavors. In contrast, the Cabernet/Bordeaux glass has a less wide bowl with wider opening. Since Cabs tend to have a more robust bouquet and flavor, they generally don’t need as much surface area to bring out the buzz; it’s already there. The Syrah glass is similar to the Cab in the bowl shape but the opening is narrow, concentrating those high notes up toward your nose.
  • White wine ~ medium-sized, tulip-shaped glass is better due to the fresher fruit characteristics that are gathered and then directed towards the top of the glass… and your nose. As with the reds, there are a variety of shapes to showcase white wine. The Oaked Chardonnay glass has a wide bowl and wider opening to allow for maximum swirlage (not a real word). Oaked Chard tends to be a hearty and is best experienced after some A&S (aeration and swirl). Unoaked Chard/ Voignier and Riesling, like Pinot Noir, needs more delicate aeration and the glass reflects this: The bowl is not as wide but the opening is. And the Riesling glass is a little narrower still, emphasizing the fruit aspects, not the alcohol, on the nose and palate.
  • Rosé ~ The Rosé design is s a little smaller but similar in shape to the white glass but with a little curve at the lip. This is to better direct the sweetness of the rosé towards the front of the tongue, which detects sweet.
  • Sparkling ~ best served in flute glasses. This shape enhances the effect of the bubbles (and the aroma), allowing them to travel through the larger volume of the wine before bursting at the top of the glass. The classic, saucer-shaped version doesn’t work as well since the bubbles are quickly lost with the wider opening, and there is less surface area to pass through.While this style paid homage to Marie Antoinette, it doesn’t serve the wine as well, especially when you want to savour an older, expensive sparkler. Some flutes are designed with small cuts in the bottom to enhance the pearl swirl effect as the bubbles ascend to the top of the glass, which is half the fun of sparkling wines.
  • Fortified wines ~ these are wines such as Port, Sherry and should be served in small glasses to emphasize the fruit qualities rather than the alcohol.
  • Ice wine ~ I’m gong out on a limb here, but I would choose a glass similar to the Rosé; smaller to emphasize the beautiful fruit but tulip shaped with a lip to direct the aromas and sweetness to your nose and then to the sweet spot of your tongue.

The common element of all glasses is that they should have enough room for swirling and nosing. When you put your nose into the glass, you want all the essences directed up to our nose.

Glass vs Crystal ~ Glass is typically how most of us in our early days begin serving wine, and we may not even graduate to crystal until we get a set as a gift. Nowadays, the two can look very similar but the difference is clear:


  • Much heavier than glass, yet more fragile than glass.
  • Will capture light in a prism and create a rainbow.
  • Has a more melodic musical tone when you tap it or run a finger along the rim.
  • Is made thinner, and can eliminate the edge of the lip that glass can have. Little or no edge to the lip of the glass directs the flow of the wine to certain areas of the tongue, which is better to fully experience the nuances of the wine.
  • No longer contains lead oxide which was discovered to be a carcinogen ~ now lead-free crystal is standard, so no worries about ingesting harmful chemicals as you sip.
  • Hand washing is preferable.


  • Used for centuries longer than crystal.
  • Resurged popularity when lead in crystal was discovered to be toxic.
  • Easier care, more durable, excellent for every day use, can be placed in dishwasher. More cost effective ~ prices range to suit every budget and style.

Schott-Zweisel makes a virtually break-resistant wine glass. Their Forte line is constructed using the Tritan technology where each glass is constructed with a hard, clear titanium material that reinforces the vulnerable zones at the rim, the joint of the bowl and stem, and the joint of the stem and the foot of the glass. This added strength gives the glasses increased durability (especially in my clumsy hands) and longer life.

Which has the bigger influence on your wine experience?

Crystal has more of a ‘stubbly’ texture than regular glass, allowing for more aromas to be released when you swirl. The thin rim of crystal also allows for wine to flow into the mouth hitting the most sensory areas of the tongue. The thick rim of the standard wine glass can distract from the taste of the wine and, according to, may emphasize bitterness and flaws.

Keep It Clean ~ No, blowing the dust out of the glass, and saying, “ta dah” is not really recommended for keeping your wine glasses pristine. Unless you’re at my house. Wine’s delicate flavors can be ruined by even the slightest tinge in the glass. That goes for glasses fresh out of the dishwasher. Detergents and salts can leave residue in the glass that’ll kill the beauty of your wine, both in flavor and sparkle. The best way to prepare your glasses is to polish them with a soft, lint-free cloth (linen) before each use, and right out of the dishwasher. It also helps to get rid of the pesky lipstick marks that never really come off in the wash.You’ve seen the old movies where the bartender is polishing the glasses; it’s not just to find something to do before the trouble starts.

In the End, Do What You Like 

If you do even a quick search for wine glasses, you’ll find an abundance designed to suit every varietal, style, and price point. You can get a little lost in all the choices. But I like to think finding the right wine glass is a little like finding the right companion, the key is finding one you really love, and one that feels so good to hold.


©TheWineStudent, 2018.

Wines for a Brave New Year!



As an icy wind howls and grips most of the Mid-West (and parts of Canada) this weekend, we need to be brave. Part of being brave is keeping an eye on the horizon, and the sunnier skies that will emerge once the storm has done its worst.

When a new year begins, we all have a tendency to want to move beyond the old habits and embrace something new. And that means occasionally moving from the safe, tried-and-true wines we know, towards those we maybe have overlooked.

According to, the biggest trends for 2018 include:

  • Increase in wines from “lesser known but traditional wine regions” including Hungary, Croatia, Bulgaria, and Georgia.
  • Red blends, especially from Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur.
  • Big bottles ie magnums in both wine shops and restaurants.
  • Increases in premium wine sales ~ no more three buck Chuck at the table.
  • Wine with a conscience : organic, sustainably farmed, natural, and biodynamic wines will be on the rise.
  • In keeping with purposeful wines, experts predict a surge in wine purchases to support the California winemakers rebuilding from the devastating fires in ’17, especially from Napa and Sonoma regions.
  • Revisiting Chilean wines especially Pinot Noir from Casablanca and cool mountain Syrah.
  • Expect to see more rule breaking: drinking whites, sparklers and rosé in the winter, and bold, full-bodied reds in the summer.
  • Wine in cans ~ more and more producers are selling canned wine with the advent of Can Van Mobile, a canning line that can be assembled within a small or large winery within an hour. And let’s be honest, canned wines are easier to take in your backpack on your picnic than glass bottles.

Vivino’s take on the upcoming 2018 trends is just a little bit different:

  • Sweet, or dessert wine ~ in their 2018 Wine Style Awards, Sauternes took the number one spot, which is surprising since many will eschew sweeter wines for dry.
  •  Zero-sugar movement ~ in stark contrast to sweet wines upswing, wines such as Brut Nature (zero sugar) are also gaining in popularity. More and more health conscious wine drinkers want to cut out the sugar in their choices. Look for Brut NatureZero Dosage, or Sauvage on the label, which indicates that sugar is fermented to a level of ‘zero’.
  • Prosecco, Cava and Cremant ~ consumers want to continue the New Year’s party by enjoying sparkling wines all year! Prosecco leads the way, but also opens up the field for Cava (Spanish) and Cremant (sparkling French wine from outside the Champagne region).
  • Uruguayan wine ~ especially Tannat, a concentrated, full-bodied wine that comes in many forms: robust red, spicy rosé, and even sparkling red.
  • Small Production Wines ~ smaller, not as well known wineries in regions like Oregon (Vivino saw increases of 10 percent), and Washington, especially Gramercy Cellars are gaining in popularity by keeping their production small and quality high. Sometimes these wines are difficult to find, because many in the know buy them up quickly and quietly, but they are worth looking for.

And in North East Ohio, one wine tops the forecast:

  • Rosé ~ Shaun Hardon, Certified Specialist of Wine for Heidelberg Distributing Company in Independence, Ohio said via email that he sees rosé’s star continuing to rise. “I started seeing a growing popularity for rosé about six years ago but last year was eye opening! Based on what I’ve seen and heard, it looks like the popularity will continue to grow this season. And it is no longer just the bone dry Provence style anymore. I’ve noticed restaurants looking for something a little different from countries other than France.”

It looks like 2018 is going to be very bright indeed. With so many wines, regions and styles to explore, it’s a good thing there are 353 days left!

If you have to venture out this weekend, please be safe!

Cheers! 🍷

©TheWineStudent, 2018

Freezer Burn

I wish I could say it was a science experiment but it was really just an accident. I’d done what many of us do when a guest asks for a glass of white wine and you have none chilled: throw it in the freezer for a few minutes.

When I went to retrieve it, the wine had pretty much solidified, and thawing it out was going to take some time. Winesicles, anyone??

So what happens to the wine if, say, it’s left in the freezer for a few hours? Or worse. Overnight?!

Cold Snap

During the process of winemaking, a phenomenon takes place called tartrate or cold stabilization ~ where the wine is purposefully chilled down freezing for a short amount of time during fermentation. This is done to prevent the formation of tartaric acid crystals – wine ‘diamonds’ – after bottling. If cold stabilization doesn’t happen, the chances increase that crystals will form as soon as you place the bottle in the refrigerator or if it’s stored for long periods of time. Sometimes the crystals can look like tiny shards of glass in the bottle or when your pour it in your glass. It doesn’t mean that anything is wrong with the wine if you notice these crystals in the bottle or on the cork; tartaric acid is a naturally occurring function in wine making. After fermentation, some wines have an excess saturation of tartaric acid which solidifies and forms crystals. Chilling it out prevents this from occurring.

Pretty ice crystals... and crunchy, too!

Better Safe Than Sorry

So if wine in the bottle freezes does it go bad? Before we talk about the wine inside, there are some safety issues to consider:

• If your bottle has a cork, freezing might push it out. As the water content of the wine begins to freeze, it can expand and push out the cork especially if there isn’t much space in the bottle.

• Your bottle may burst. As the air surrounding the bottle rapidly cools, the liquid inside rapidly expands and Ka-BOOM! A bottle rocket in your freezer.

NEVER, ever freeze any sparkling wine! The contents are under pressure as it is and freezing will increase the odds of it exploding.

Spin the Bottle

If you want to quick-chill any wine quickly, Somm Brian Smith recommends: “filling a bucket with 50 | 50 mix of ice and water, a little salt, and then take a spoon and spin it around and around the bottle.” The centrifugal force will move the rapidly chilling water around the bottle allowing more of the contents to come in contact with the cold glass. Cool!

Keep in mind that wine that has been frozen doesn’t miraculously become… Ice Wine. Sorry, I know you’re thinking, “It’s iced up, and it’s wine so…” but nope. And honestly, it’s really not worth the risk of popped corks or exploding bottles.

The good news is: for the most part, the wine inside will not be damaged. While freezing can separate the water from other components of the wine, and this has the potential alter the flavor somewhat, it’s generally so subtle that no one will notice.

So chill! That frozen bottle you forgot about might be a little crunchy at first, but as it thaws, it should taste the same as it ever was. Just really, really cold.

Cheers! 🍷

Malbec Monday: Amancaya Gran Reserva 

If I hurry I can get it in under the wire! I’m definitely tardy today– busy days mean that sometimes I can’t get my wine homework done.
Rushing to find my weekly pick, I discovered a 2013 Amancaya Gran Reserva Malbec | Cabernet Sauvignon.

A collaboration between Nicolás Catena an Domaines Baron de Rothschild (Lafite), this wine was clear, garnet colored, full body offering with medium-hi tannin. It had a delicate nose of cherry and rose and tasted of  bold blackberry, black plum with just a hint of bell pepper. While it was 2013, it began to open up to reveal a bit more complexity; it was a nicely balanced 50/50 blended vintage.

Putting the Grand in Gran Reserva 

Gran Reserva  is a frequent term used on the labels throughout Spain to define both quality and style. In Spanish law there are labelling terms that indicate the minimum periods of ageing the barrel and the bottle. It is traditional practice to age wines for long periods of time in oak barrels and then in the bottle before it’s released. Therefore, Spanish produced vintages are usually older  than those from other countries.

On the label you’ll find one of four terms that indicate the levels of age. In order of increasing age:

  •  Joven~ wines bottled the year following the vintage for immediate release, and indicate wines that haven’t  been aged in oak for the minimum of time to be considered Crianza. $10-15
  • Crianza~ one year in oak– one year in the bottle. $15-20
  • Reserva~  one year in oak– two years in the bottle. $25+
  • Gran Reserva~ two years in oak– three years in the bottle. $35+                             Gran Reserva wines are produced in only exceptional vintages, and the best of these are beautifully complex.

So now when you look for Malbec, you’ll know what to look for on the label to get the most complex and flavourful offering. After all, age ain’t always just a number; it’s time spent in the barrel and bottle.

Cheers! 🍷