Reviving a column title that he first penned while working for FOOD&WINE (a few moons ago), we're delighted to welcome back former F&W editor Ernie Whalley as a contributor with a monthly column on liquid assets.

As the presumed wine savant,  I am invariably asked to choose wine for the table when dining out in company. Here’s a typical scenario. The guests include Jack and Jane Spratt, a husband and wife straight out of the nursery rhyme. He will only drink red, she white. There’s Miss Conceived, who hates chardonnay but loves Chablis, thinks all Riesling is sweet and reckons every Chilean wine is bugged with sulphite. Tommy Tightwad says, “The house wine will do” but one glance at the list screams “it won’t”. Mick Hostile is sulking because thinks he should have been given the task. His girlfriend, Imelda Tycoon, occupation spoilt bitch, avows she only drinks posh Burgundy and only then in a good year. 

How do you keep this motley crew happy? 

The answer is, “with great difficulty”. But if you are ever asked to do it here’s seven tips that will lighten the load.

1. First off, how much wine is needed? Allow 5-6 glasses per bottle. As a rule of thumb, an average number of glasses drunk is likely to be three per person. So four bottles will get you through at a pinch, five with a margin that allows for the thirsty or greedy. 

2. Get a pre-consensus as to the ‘per bottle’ spend. That way neither Mr.Tightwad or Ms.Tycoon can give you grief afterwards. One theory you frequently hear is that the wine two steps up from the house offering offers the best bang for your buck, the wine immediately above, the worst. There’s not much hard evidence but going two rungs up the ladder does give you a “Well, at least I tried” card to play. 

3. Matching wine to food? Don’t bother unduly, someone will always quibble about your choice. Don’t court controversy, though. Plumping for some off-piste coupling is gambling with other folks’ money. And gambling is a mugs’ game.

4. Unless money is no object, steer clear of Bordeaux and Burgundy where it’s hard to find bang for your buck. 

5. Be adventurous. Choosing commonplaces like New Zealand sauvignon blanc will never earn you more than a “6/10, could try harder” rating.

6. For quality at sensible prices, safe options are REDS Côtes du Rhône; Languedoc; southern Italy; Portugal; Argentina and Spain (beyond Rioja). WHITES: the Loire; Germany - the word ‘Trocken’ on the label indicates a dry wine; Austria; northwest Spain and South Africa.

7. Your final option, of course, is to delegate. Turn the whole grisly business of accommodating these picky people over to the sommelier, if the restaurant has one. That’s what they are paid for.

Do this, you are off the hook. At least till next time.


Aldi Clare Valley Reisling

Aldi Clare Valley Reisling

The most alcoholic beverage is bought on a Friday evening or an Saturday. If it’s wine or beer 90% of it is consumed within 24 hours. Spirits may last a little longer unless you hang around with serious cocktail heads like our Oisin Davis.

Asked, recently, to recommend a quaffable white wine for €10 or under I didn’t have to think twice. From a reputable producer, dry, with good ‘presence’ but not as austere or mineral as the classic Clare style, Aldi’s Clare Valley Riesling is as good as it gets for your tenner. Unimpressed with pinot grigio? Bored with sauvignon blanc? Then I think you’ll like this.

Aldi Clare Valley Reisling, €9.99  Aldi stores. 

Power's John Lane

Power's John Lane

A recent trip to the Midleton Distillery reacquainted me with Power’s John’s Lane,  a whiskey I’d previously liked but not loved. Sampled in an aristocratic line up of Irish whiskeys (including Redbreast 12, Green Spot and the latest edition of Midleton Very Rare), John’s Lane really impressed for its fragrant nose, honeyed mouthfeel and lingering finish. It now has a place in my heart and my drinks cabinet.

Powers John’s Lane, around €45.95, Celtic Whiskey Shop, Dawson Street, Dublin and many independents.

Wicklow Wolf IPA

Wicklow Wolf IPA

IPA is everywhere but not every IPA is the same. This beer style has got so diversified it’s arguable that IPA has lost all meaning. One Irish brewer whose products seldom fail to impress is Wicklow Wolf who numbers no less than three in their portfolio. Lobo is described as a ‘session’ ale. It clocks in at 5.3% ABV (alcohol by volume). Curious, back in the days before craft brewing took-off, a beer of this strength would have been sold with a caveat along the lines of “Not too many of these.”  The others are Elevation, becoming increasingly available in Dublin pubs and the simply-badged IPA. This last, whistle-clean, generously malted and precisely-hopped, masking its 6.3% ABV, has become my DIS (Desert Island Scoop) when watching football on TV or accompanying simple, hearty food. Great with fish-and-chips or a heroic fry.

Wicklow Wolf IPA €4.20 (500ML), Drinkstore Stoneybatter, Dublin 7; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, Co Dublin; O’Brien’s and many independents.

Author: Ernie Whalley