It's hard not to like a restaurateur who not only pays more than due attention to the food he serves, but also takes an active and personal interest in his wine list, to the point of hosting free tastings on the premises now and again.
Kevin Crowley at 5 Fenn's Quay in Cork city was our host last week for a scamper through half a dozen Portuguese wines. Bubble Brothers don't have a Portuguese list, and I'm always keen to find out more about what's in demand. We've had a lot of requests lately for wines from Portugal.
I haven't gone to link town on this post. You can have the pleasure of following any interesting paths yourself. Any of the wine merchants mentioned will be delighted to help with enquiries, and you can always ask Kevin at the restaurant, or on twitter at @KevAtFennsQuay.
Here's the scoop, Betty Boop:
I was a bit surprised to find that a 2007 Vinho Verde can retain its zing so long. This water-pale blend of Alvarinho, Loureiro and Trajadura was aromatic, unexpectedly mellow - though clean - on the palate, and had a sherbety, lemon-rind bitterness that made the most of its finish. Very much worth drinking at about €12. Smart-looking bottle, too.
A very different kettle of fish from the Vinho Verde, this is a big white wine along the lines of oaked Chardonnay or white Grenache/Roussanne, with honey and suggestions of oak on the nose and rich, oak-influenced fruit fullness. There wasn't perhaps the length of flavour you might expect for €18+, but this would make a very satisfying dinner wine with food that would show off its complexity and balance.
Here's one that falls into the happy category of wine that you needn't ponder too deeply unless you've a mind to, when it will repay and finally smooth the furrowed brow of the oeno-sleuth. Glorious purple-red colour and tempting sweety-minty nose; then it's soft, light and rounded on the palate with some savoury dryness, a spicy finish and velvety tannins. No wonder this one's on the Fenn's Quay list - it's typical of Kevin's enterprise to find something great and a little unexpected where his competitors might put their feet up and rely on the usual defaults. Try it for yourself and see, next time you're in. Or via Mitchell's for about €13-ish retail.
I'm reluctant to even mention this one, or you'll all belt down to Karwigs and take full advantage of his underpricing this delicious wine, leaving none for the rest of us. Yes, it was a good bottle - the double denomination of VR and DOC suggests, (and Kevin explained the details in this instance, though I've forgotten them) a confident winemaker taking issue with the bureaucracy of classification. Its age showed in a clear rim to the mahogany-plum depths of its colour, and the aromas were dark and complex, with liquorice and meatiness bound up in a spirituous veil. In the mouth, the fruit flavours of cherry and plum were still alive and kicking, before a long, very long finish that refreshed and appetized. We were astonished to learn that you can have this for €16.50 a bottle. I'd have said €20-€25.
Quinta da Infantado DOC Douro 2006, Douro (14 %) - Liberty Wines
It came as no surprise to learn that the great-grandfather of this wine was a port. From the first sniff, the alcoholic, heavy, concentrated aromas suggested ancestry of porty stoutness; and in the mouth, thick, sweet brambly fruit poured down into massively textured deltas of milk chocolate, ginger spice and piny top notes. Big, strong, interesting wine, in other words, for your €18 or so.
Azamor Petit Verdot VR Alentejo 2006, Alentejo (14½ %) - Liberty Wines
Oo missus. Not every day you find Petit Verdot writ large into a wine all of its own, and you could be forgiven for thinking this just another wilfully egregious experiment for the sake of doing something different. On the contrary, we thought, though, on tasting. This one had a ripeness that seemed distinctly European in character: not a jammy, intense punch, but something a little less boastful of its power. Power there was nonetheless, and plenty of it, with a soft, herbal, dusty attack renewed at each sip, but restrained and focused, long and lingering in the mid-palate, never mind the sensitively controlled grip of the finish. We liked this, and it's worth its €20 retail price.