Gerry McMahon, the owner of Il Vicolo, has brought a little slice of Italy to Galway.
The restaurant originally opened in 2011, with only 24 seats and Gerry at the helm. Following a change in premises in 2011 that allowed the popular restaurant to expand, Il Vicolo has gone from strength to strength.
The restaurant is known for its bi-monthly 'meet the winemaker' events, which sees a producer from a small vineyard in Italy come to Galway to explain their work and host a five-course tasting menu paired with wine. Inspired by a discussion with one of these winemakers, Il Vicolo launched a series of tours to Italy's winemaking regions in 2017.
Ahead of the most restaurant's most recent wine tour in October, we spoke to Gerry about Italian wine culture, his favourite wines and more.
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Tell us about your favourite wines at Il Vicolo
"I’m blessed that I have 85 Italian wines in the restaurant and next year I reckon we’ll have a hundred. I drink a lot of Italian wines but have a big grá for Spanish wine thanks to working with my brother and his restaurant (JP McMahon at Cava Bodega). I’m spoiled for choice with wine.
This time of year is perfect for heavier ones, like Barone and Amarone. I’ve also found some interesting wines from Montecucco just outside the Brunello wine region. It’s considered one of the top Tuscan wine regions and this is just outside the border, so I think it’s as good as Brunello, just cheaper.
Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Reserva Saint Angelo by Luigi Vellore is another favourite. He's a good friend who has done some winemaker dinners with us and I discovered this wine through him. It's aged for 18 months so it's very robust and goes very well with venison ragu, fillet steak or rib-eye.
Are there any white wines you would recommend?
"We definitely have some nice whites at Il Vicolo too. I love Etna Bianco, it's an oaky Sicilian white from right beside Mount Etna. The grapes are grown in black lava rich soil, so it's packed with stunning volcanic minerals. It's so different from other wines, which is the thing with Italian wines: from the north to south, there is so much variety."
You wine experiences in Italy sound very educational, what can guests expect to learn from these trips?
"These wine trips are not for me to look for new wines, even though I always do. My goal is to bring customers to experience the wine, see Italy off the beaten track and meet small producers.
It's a luxury wine tour, so it's not cheap, but we stick to 14 people so that it's very personal. We get to eat great food and drink great wine, as well as enjoy cooking classes and other exclusive experiences.
It's quite a niche experience as we go to boutique venues, great food places and stay in very nice accommodation. It's a real luxury trip."
What have you got planned going forward?
"We're going to Tuscany this October which is the second trip. The first one was very spur of the moment and I took a gamble, but it was very successful, the tickets sold out in 10 days.
In April 2020, I want to go to Sicily and then Piedmont in November when it's truffle season, which will be an amazing experience.
I don’t see anyone else doing tours like this in Ireland. As time passes, these tours have grown so much. Word of mouth has helped us so it's a great opportunity for me and the restaurant."