IT’S been a trying time of biblical proportions for L’Atitude 51, the characterful Cork wine bar run by Beverley Matthews on Union Quay.
Fire, pandemic, and successive lockdowns saw the doors close for nearly 18 months from March, 2019, to their reopening in November, 2020, for three short, busy weeks of the all too brief festive period.
Since January, L’Atitude 51 has been open as a wine shop with a weekly Wine and Tastes Box inspired by a different wine region each week, available as a pre-order click and collect service. It sets the scene for what wine lovers can expect when Beverley once again welcomes customers in to wine and dine in her continental inspired wine bar.
“Redesigning L’Atitude 51 after the fire, I looked at the experience of being a wine bar for eight years and what worked really well and what could be done better,” she says,
“One of the things I wanted to implement was a cave-à-manger style of dining, giving people the option of picking up a bottle to take home or have that bottle in house, pay a corkage fee, and have some small bites to go with it.
“That allows us to increase the number of wines and the range we carry to around 200 wines, and all available either for drink-in or as take home.
“The whole point of L’Atitude 51 is to bring people on a journey through wines from all over world. The styles I love are French, Italian, some Spanish — more European in style, and some really good wine makers from New World regions too which we also carry.
“Recently, I’m fascinated with wines from Georgia in Eastern Europe — we have a massive selection! It has an amazing wine history, incredible cuisine, but it’s hard to find good Georgian wines in Ireland. I thought, here’s an opportunity to introduce people to something different.
“Georgia has 8,000 vintages (years) of wine making. During the Soviet occupation, many of the traditional Georgian grape varieties were replanted with more international varieties and made very commercial wine, almost destroying the traditional wine-making practice.
“But a movement to resurrect the old wine making techniques is underway which utilises large, old earthenware amphora known as Qvevri (or Kvevri), that are buried in the ground. More and more wine-makers are producing wines in this traditional way and these are the wines we carry — they’re fascinating!
“Putting the Qvevri in the ground links to the natural rhythms of the earth, and over time the lees and dead yeast cells drop to the bottle of the Qvevri. When it’s time to extract the wine, the juice is clear because the sediment has all naturally fallen to the bottom, so no need to use the clarifying agents used in conventional wine making.
“It’s a very gentle process, and instead of using oak they age white wine in the Qvevri for six to 12 months, emerging a deep amber orange colour. These wines drink particularly well when eaten with pickled and fermented foods.”
Some of Beverley’s customers have decided to take the opportunity during lockdown to learn more about wine.
“Every week, customers pop in and say: take me on a journey!
"They want to try something different and it’s fantastic — people are being more adventurous, and I suppose there’s not much else to be spending your money on so you may as well spend it on something nice that you’ll get a bit of enjoyment out of and learn a little!”
As it seems to still be a way off before we can hope to be wined and dined in the surrounds of bars like L’Atitude 51, and with the warmer season well underway, Beverley gives us her top wine picks for springtime wine sups.
Her picks are defined by juicy, lighter wines — including a unique sparkling Irish cider from County Meath, and a sophisticated Vermouth from Spain. And yes, there is an incredible Georgian wine in the mix too.
L’ATITUDE 51’s TOP SPRING WINE PICKS
Vora la Mar, Wine is Social, Barcelona, 2019, 12%
Made with Xarel-Lo grapes, most usually associated as the backbone of Cava wine, it’s rare to find them used in a still wine. This has a freshness and acidity underscored by saline notes from the coastal sea breezes that blow in just 10 minutes away from the vineyard.
Neutral in flavour with a slight oily texture that gives a lovely mouth-feel, a wine that pairs well with salty cheeses like Pecorino or Manchego, or a creamy, tangy, goats cheese.
Cockagee Irish Sparking Cider, Slane, 4%
Challenging any preconceptions about Irish cider, Cockagee Keeved Irish Cider is as close as we can get to an Irish champagne. Between keeving (an ancient method of separating impurities from fresh apple juice) and fermentation, this sparkling cider can take close to a year to be ready for drinking.
This is a gentle cider with low intervention and has a slightly honeyed flavour perfect for sipping. Served chilled in a champagne flute, it would be a great alternative served with Afternoon Tea, or with a young Coolea cheese.
Vino di Anna, Palmento Vino Rosso, Sicily, 12.5%
Light coloured, the result of foot-trodden grapes, the gentlest method for pressing grapes, makes this Sicilian a light and joyful red wine. Full of juicy flavours, it is perfect when served slightly chilled.
Despite vines growing in a hot climate, usually resulting in high alcohol, here the grapes are grown at much higher altitude, offsetting the heaviness usually associated with wines from this region. It has bright, juicy acidity with a minerality from the volcanic soils around Mount Etna attributing a greater depth of flavour without harsh tannins.
John Okro, Mtsvane, Georgia, 12%
The shape of the Qvevri enables natural, minimal intervention wine-making as the yeasts and sediments naturally sink to the bottom. No further filtration happens, and the wine is aged in the Qvevri to produce unique colourisation, flavour, and texture in the wine.
Mtsvane is a white grape variety grown in John Okro’s winery in Eastern Georgia. This spends two months on its skins in the Qvevri and comes out with a burnished amber colour and gives incredible tastes of piquant spices, charred pineapple, and honeyed walnut.
The wine pairs well with pickles, ferments, and Khachapuri — a traditional Georgian recipe of bread filled with a mix of melted cheeses. Try making your own Khachapuri filled with Macroom Buffalo Ricotta and Mozzarella and Hegarty Mature Cheddar.
Angiolino Maule, Garg’n’Go, Frizzante, Veneto, 11%
Pet-Nat wine (an abbreviation of the French term ‘pétillant naturel’, which translates as ‘natural sparkling’) are all the rage with more and more coming onto the market all the time. This white sparkling wine is sealed with a crown cap, same as bottled beer, after dried grape must is added for a second fermentation that continues in the bottle.
The wine is unfiltered and has the appearance of cloudy apple juice as the yeasts remain in contact with the wine, providing a lovely texture in the mouth. It is opulent and flavoursome and pairs excellently with Japanese food — especially dishes that contain pickled ginger, soy, miso or dashi.
Partida Creus “MUZ”, Catalunya, 13%
Made in Catalunya, Spain, by an Italian couple making natural wines, this Vermouth is made using wine from organic grapes and a blend of young red wine, aged red wine and oxidised red wine together with a staggering 51 different botanicals including citrus, herbs, flowers and roots. Perfect as an Aperitif or over ice with a slice of orange and a dash of soda water; it would also make a great Digestif in lieu of opening another bottle of wine. Comes in a 1 litre bottle —but don’t expect it to last long!
Judith Beck, OUT, Austria, 12%
This wine is named after Judith Beck’s brave and bold decision to come out of appellation —the system of processes and standards that govern a particular wine making region — to continue making wine in a method and style she preferred. Beck’s wine focuses on indigenous Austrian grape varieties and lets the fruit do the talking.
The wine has lighter tannins, lower ABV and bursts with refreshing red berry fruits and, when eaten with a traditional Austrian Sachertort, unleashes an explosion of bitter cherry, sour cherry, and almond butter. On the savoury side, it is delicious with Goulash with Spaetzle, or even a rich Mac ‘N’ Cheese made with lashings of nutty alpine Emmental.
Kate’s Pick: Kinsale Mead
Woth a history on this island older even than whiskey, Mead is the original wine of Ireland! Kinsale Mead sourced the Irish honey for this limited edition bottling from local beekeeper and renowned musician, Paul Kelly of Chanting Bee Apiaries in Ring, Clonakilty in August last year, and their special 2020 Irish Wildflower Mead is just released.
Mixing the honey with water in autumn and fermented slowly to mature over winter, by spring the Mead flavours had melded into an evocative expression of the aromas and flavours of the West Cork countryside: nectar from hawthorn, wild clover, and white blackberry blossom. A semi-sweet finish, it will transport you with one sip to the summer hedgerows. Each order of Wildflower Mead includes a free biodegradable pack of Wildflower seeds to sow your own patch of bee friendly paradise. www.kinsalemeadco.ie
L’Atitude 51 Wine Shop is open 24/7 online at www.latitude51.ie for collection only: Wednesday – Friday 11am – 5pm, and Saturday 12:30 – 5pm. A new Wine & Tastes Box is available for pre-order online weekly from Monday with collection on Friday – last orders by Thursday.
Next week in our Wine, Cheese and Bread series: Cheese — Kate talks to the owners of The Lost Valley Dairy and Creamery