Despite their own terroir, the Irish do not dry their malts over peat hence sweetness rather than smokiness

White wine of the week

1996 Domaine du Bois, Viognier, Vin de Pays d'Oc, Maurel Vedeau, pounds 4.99,

Somerfield. A well-made southern French dry white, made from the fashionable

grape variety which goes into the northern Rhone's pricey Condrieu, this

exhibits the hallmark apricot aromas of the Viognier. Rich, full-bodied,

peachy and refreshingly dry on the palate. It looks rather stylish, too,

in its tall, slimline bottle.

Red wine of the week

35 Sur, Cabernet Sauvignon, Vina San Pedro, pounds 4.49, Safeway. 35 Sur (35

south) is a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, made by the globetrotting Frenchman

Jacques Lurton at Vina San Pedro, which has seen a surge in quality since

his arrival. As you might expect from a Bordeaux winemaker, it's an attractively

soft, claret-like red, with capsicum-like Cabernet aromas moderated by

sweet oak and youthful, blackcurrant fruitiness on the palate.

Irish whiskey of the week

Tuesday being Paddy's Day, today would be a good day to invest in the

toast to the good saint. For the first time in years, it is relatively

easy to find a pure pot-still Irish whiskey: with all the oily, 'fresh

leather' and cedar aromas and

creamy, fruity, orange-zest flavours of the style. The rare Redbreast

is on song again, nesting in back-bars on this

side of the water. Current bottlings, at a little over 12 years, have

just the right balance of freshness and maturity.

As with many spirits, the magic in great Irish whiskey

is in the style of the stills. The traditional type, shaped like

a cooking pot, or perhaps a kettle, distils in batches and

is delightfully inefficient. Because of that, it leaves all sorts

of interesting aromas and flavours in the spirit.

The Irish, who may have been the first whiskey-makers (and still spell

it with an 'e'), once dominated the British market, but they stuck with

the pot-still after the Scots began to make blends with lighter, column-

still whiskies

in the early part of this century. Arguments over the

two methods led to an historic trading standards case in Islington, London,

in 1905 and 37 sittings of a Royal Commission over the definition of whisk(e)y.

The Scots finally won their point, and their lighter, easier-to drink

blends captured the market.

For decades, the Irish have fought back by concentrating on blends of

pot and column, and emphasising 'smoothness' rather than character. And

now they have realised a new generation of connoisseurs is eschewing blends

in favour of flavoursome, pot-distilled malt whiskies from Scotland.

A pot-distilled Irish has special character. While it

does include barley that has been malted, there is traditionally also

a high proportion of the same

grain in its raw form. This may, in the first place, have been done for

reasons of economy, but it does

impart a lovely, linseed-ish, spiciness. Also, despite

their own terroir, the Irish do not dry their malts over peat, hence

sweetness rather than smokiness.

Which is best, Irish or Scotch (or Canadian, rye, Bourbon or Tennessee)?

That depends upon

the mood, moment and sometimes the day of the

year. For lubricating wit, Irish seems to have the

smooth edge. Apart

from Redbreast, the pure pot-still Irish reasonably available in Britain

is

big, spicy, minty, Green Spot. I shall be raising

one of the two

on Tuesday. I may

have a shot of each. Michael Jackson

Redbreast can be

found nationally,

pounds 19-pounds 24, at Oddbins

(and sampled there this weekend), or at

specialist retailers,

from Brighton

(Malt House, 1 North

Road) to Belfast

(The Vineyard, 375

Ormeau Road)

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