AS a nation, we’ve come a long way from ordering the house white or house red. We’ve even gone beyond asking for wine with a single grape variety to recognising what our preferences are for style, or what pairs best with what food.
Now there are pet-nats, organic, biodynamic and low intervention wines to learn about, as well as orange wines and the wonderful rediscovery of rosé that came close to saving us during lockdown.
There’s a long history of wine in Cork because of its standing as a major trading port. Out from Cork would go butter, barrelled beef, salted fish; in arrived spices, wine, sugar.
The Wine Geese fled to continental Europe after the Williamite Wars, establishing wineries in Bordeaux where vineyards still bear their names today, such as Chateau MacCarthy.
There is a strong culture for wine in Cork, reflected in the many excellent wine bars dotted across city and county.
Meade’s Bar 126, Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork City
Something of a Cork institution tucked away on OPS, Meade’s is a local’s-local kind of place where bemused visitors stumble in and find themselves unable to leave. It’s a warren where all the architectural features have been left to shine unvarnished: the fireplaces, ornate windows, wide staircases, bare floors.
There are old pianos, a couple of bars, and a courtyard. I believe there are wine lists, though I’ve never seen one, yet I always seem to get just what I want all the same. I remember during a visit being persuaded to try a cherry mead; it was very good indeed.
It’s the kind of place I could imagine a local chapter of some group huddled together, academic types musing the works of Plato, or rugby heads talking about whatever rugby heads talk about.
At the same time, groups of ladies are having a rare aul girls’ night out, there’s a vintage market on or an exhibition of homegrown artists. All are happy, and that’s why Meade’s is here to stay!
L’Atitude 51, Union Quay, Cork City
Since reopening post-renovation, proprietor Beverly Matthews has transformed L’Atitude 51 into a cave-a-mánger serving wine and thoughtful bites to compliment as much of the huge range of natural wines as possible for sipping or purchasing.
Beverly’s insatiable curiosity and enthusiasm for wine ensure that, even if you’re a seasoned regular, there is always something new pouring or some new bit of wine knowledge to learn about. The casual surroundings exude a French charm and an utter commitmentto serving the best, whether that’s wine or a platter of Irish cheeses. Perfect for that post work/retail therapy/pre-dinner sup, especially if you can grab a seat at one of the Leeside tables. www.latitude51.ie
MacCurtain Wine Cellar, MacCurtain Street, Cork city
Etto, The Winding Stair, The Legal Eagle – three beloved Dublin restaurants where Trudy Ahern and Seán Gargano honed their hospitality chops before returning to Trudy’s home city and opening MacCurtain Wine Cellar.
Located on the bustling and buzzy MacCurtain Street, also known as Cork’s Victorian Quarter, this is a wine shop for imbibing and nibbling on tasty things. Small plates are de rigueur, nice morsels that pair well with refreshing wines. Seán is a sommelier and eager to share his knowledge with customers, which is good news for anyone who is eager to explore wines more, but don’t know enough to choose from a wine list confidently.
We’ll all be afficionados in no time!
Nell’s Wine Bar, MacCurtain Street, Cork City
Cork couple Aine and Gavin Conaghan opened Nell’s in April this year, further enhancing MacCurtain Street’s current rep’ as the hottest place to be seen in Cork for food and drink enthusiasts.
Nell’s is pouring from a book of nearly 50 different wines from across the spectrum, with a few genuinely Irish connections in the mix too. As ever, when such variety is on offer, there is a friendly hand to guide you to choose something new, something trusted, or something completely different.
There are more food options here as well, a small but nicely curated mix of produce from some well-known names in Cork. For bites from further afield, sourcing is based on how well things pair with wines. Nell’s is a vote of confidence for Corkonians’ openness to explore the wonderful world of wine.
The Raven, South Main Street, Cork city
The Raven has been a bar since 1862 and is one of Cork’s most historic hostelries and favourite haunts. In recent years, an interior spruce up, a slick new rebrand and an enticingly delicious rethink of its food offering has brought the old bird right up to date for a new generation.
In the hospitality world, Mondays are slow. To counter that, The Raven hosts ‘Screw It Mondays’ where all wines on their drinks list are treated as equals and sold for the same price as a bottle of the house wine. It means you can get a €40+ Garnacha for the price of a €24 house red, or a €40 Chablis for the price of a €24 house white. It’s a great way to try new wines without breaking the bank, better still if it’s shared with friends.
Nash 19, Princes Street, Cork city
Thirty years in business, Claire Nash and her team know a thing or two about Cork hospitality and that includes offering a great selection of wines for her customers.
Over the past two years, the wine list has been overhauled after extensive tasting and research to find the best range that offer interest, value and quality. No dedicated sommelier here, but Claire’s team are on the pulse to offer up suggestions and pairings.
Expect classic style wines to sit beside new rambunctious wine makers who are pushing viticulture boundaries. Most of the wines are now organic, natural and biodynamic to chime in step with Claire’s commitment to the same level of quality of the food served. No point in serving up a beautiful salad of organic everything if the wine has been flooded with chemicals now, is there?
The Black Pig, Kinsale
The city doesn’t hold all the spoils when it comes to great wine. Down the road in Ireland’s self-proclaimed Gourmet Capital, Kinsale is host to The Black Pig, which made waves and raves from the moment it swung open the doors to its cellars and the some 200 wines on offer within – half of them by the glass.
Wines are broken down into impressive libraries of sparkling and champagne wines, sherry, port and madeira, red and whites. For anyone with a serious wine budget, or looking for something extra, extra special, the list of Sunken Treasures is for you.
The glorious thing about half of the wine selection (including some of those Sunken Treasure wines), being available by the glass, is the ability to explore a wide range and variety of wine over time without it becoming a big financial investment.
The sommeliers are there to help and guide, maybe even challenge you, and if you don’t like something simply move onto the next. Slainte! www.theblackpigwinebar.com
Wine Shed, Timoleague
It’s billed as “a shed in West Cork where wine happens among the bench saws and timber,” and as an attendee several times at a Wine Shed wine tasting event, I can tell you that this is exactly what it is!
It may sound as mad as a box of nails, but sommelier Fionnuala Harkin works her magic, weaving together wonderous tales with magnificent wines, cheese and charcuterie.
The events seat just six to eight people around the bench in the shed and sell out fast, or book it as a private party, which is great for small gatherings. Fionnuala’s day job is as an agent for the merchant Wines Direct, where she sources her wines and where (online) converted imbibers can purchase their favourite wines of the evening.
The policy of Wines Direct is to regularly visit every single wine-maker on their book, wherever in the world they may be. All are typically small producers - family vineyards, rebel wine-makers, or producers who have been making wine for generations.
It all adds a sense of connectedness to a place and people far away from the little shed in Timoleague! Well worth the adventure.
Molly’s Wine Bar, Recorder’s Alley, Clonakilty
Tucked in along Recorder’s Alley, just off the main drag in Clonakilty, is Molly’s Café. A cute, cosy little wine and cocktail bar serving up tapas and live music, Molly’s is owned by the O’Donovan’s family who also own and run the historic O’Donovan’s Hotel, Alley Bar & Bistro and An Teach Beag, the adorable tin-roofed traditional music bar.
What makes Molly’s unique is that it is situated behind the town’s off licence, so whatever it stocks is available to drink inside Molly’s. That includes hundreds of different wines, craft beers and ciders, as well as a full spirits and cocktail offering too. It’s a wine lovers paradise for sure! www.facebook.com/mollyscafeandwinebar
Manning’s Emporium, Ballylickey
Operating as a café, wine shop and gourmet deli during the day, Manning’s fires up the pizza oven int the evenings on Friday and Saturday offering wood-fired pizza, cheese and charcuterie boards of the finest West Cork produce, and a carefully curated wine selection to hang it all together with.
The name Manning’s carries serious weight with it. When Val Manning took it over in the 1970s, it was at the cusp of the new West Cork food movement gathering momentum, and jumping all over the opportunity to showcase them. Since then, this boutique establishment at the side of the N71 has been a mecca for foodies from all over the world.
Andrew Manning is the in-house chef and sommelier, selecting inspiring wines that are all about continuing the Manning’s tradition of quality and flavour. And as the sun goes down across Ballylickey Bay, there’s no better place in the world to enjoy one of life’s best and simple pleasures.