19th Sep 2017
Fergus O’Halloran is the Managing Director of The Twelve Hotel in Barna, Co Galway where his passion for wine has culminated in a 500-bin wine cellar and regular Wine Spectator Awards for The Most Outstanding Wine Lists In The World.
A recent wine trip to South Africa’s wine regions was a massive eye opener: I went to Swartland, Stellenbosch, Franshoek and all around the Cape. I tasted all these amazing wines like Paul Cluver’s wines in Elgin or Shiraz by de Trafford. Lately I’ve been enjoying drinking South African Chenin Blanc and Shiraz. South African Chenin Blanc was such an industrial wine many years ago but the quality of what they’re doing now is phenemonal.
This autumn, I’ll be drinking Italian Amarone for its full-bodied intensity and warming effect. There’s nothing nicer than sitting by the fire having a glass of Amarone that’s been brought up to 18C. Come home from work and open up a bottle of Amarone and let it breathe for half an hour and enjoy a glass. That’s just heaven.
A favourite autumnal pairing that we did last year was a squash confit with white sauce on pizza served with Pinot Gris from Alsace. Rioja’s dusty leathery sour cherry flavours pair well with autumnal dishes, or spicy wines like Grenache with mushrooms. We love to add spices to dishes as simple as a Connemara casserole for a little kick, and you could serve that with a Nebbiolo or South African Shiraz.
The thing I love most about my job is sitting together with the two other sommeliers in the kitchen, tasting the chef’s food and deciding on wine matches. We’ll agree and disagree, and we’ll learn from each other. It’s hard to make the time for it but it’s something we look forward to.
My most memorable wine experience was at the end of my first real wine trip – we spent about two weeks doing all of Napa – when we finished up in Oregon in a place called Amity Vineyards. The owner Myron Redford was away for two days and myself and my wife stayed in his house. When he arrived back he opened up his whole wine library and we sat around the pool one day just tasting all these amazing wines going back from years. After that I fell in love with Pinot Noir from Oregon. I’ve picked grapes in Chateau Rothschild, I’ve done tastings in Pichon Longueville, I’ve enjoyed really classy wine dinners – but that one memory really stands out.
For me, the most exciting wine today is being produced in South Africa, but also Italy and Spain. We’ve been importing our own Pecorino from the Marche region for five years and it’s our number one selling wine. I went on this mission to replace the Pinot Grigio we were doing by the glass and discovered a Pecorino with same characteristics but just with so much more flavour: it has this really unique kind of anise behind it. Now we import palettes of it every year from this one producer.
The best value wines today are coming from Italy and Spain – if I look at what we’re pouring by the glass, (when you’ve got to be very conscious of the pricepoint), the vast majority is Italy and Spain. I also rate Lidl and Aldi as stocking really good quality wines.
My dream cellar is right here in Barna. I’m very fortunate. We have 500 different wines on our list and I can taste anything thanks to the Coravin system, which has opened a whole new world for us.
In conversation with: Aoife Carrigy, wine & drinks editor of Image Interiors & Living
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