In this installment of her Eat Ireland column, an Irish fruit wine has Deputy Editor Jocelyn Doyle dreaming of long, lazy afternoons…
Our little island excels at producing many foods, but wine is not one of them. With the exception of David Llewellyn, doggedly producing his Lusca for the past 12 years in spite of our unfavourable climate, the Irish wine industry is practically non-existent. Historically, we’ve focused on those boozy beverages made from the foods we grow best: beers from wheat and barley, ciders from orchard fruits, and mead, a traditional honey wine. By contrast, grapevines are markedly miserable in our wind-whipped realm, known by the Ancient Romans as Hibernia, land of winter; they’re much more productive when they’re growing fat, juicy and sweet in the sunnier Mediterranean climes from which they hail.
Several years ago, partners Pamela Walsh and Brett Stephenson climbed outside of the box and realised that, while vines planted here may wither away from culture shock, there is wine to be made from the fruits we can grow. Having discovered fruit wines in San Francisco, the couple began making their own small-batch versions. Two years ago, they launched their Strawberry Wine — each bottle packed with 150 strawberries — followed by a Blackberry and Wild Elderberry version. Móinéir is Irish for ‘meadows’. “Strawberries, blackberries and elderberries grow wild around the fields and meadows of Ireland; the name links the wine to the natural heritage of the fruits. Most of our fruits are cultivated by Pat Clarke in Lusk, but we pick our elderberries from the Wicklow hills.”
So how is making strawberry wine different to its traditional grape-based cousin? Strawberries are indigenous to Ireland and happy in our soil, so Pamela finds the biggest challenge is having to share them with greedy birds, slugs and snails. I can empathise: my family home has a small thicket of wild strawberries in the back garden, but we never get to enjoy the tiny, bright jewels it produces — our border collie cross is too quick for us, nibbling them delicately from the bush the moment they ripen and blithely savouring their sweetness, taunting us with every wag of his satisfied tail.
This characteristic sweetness is echoed in Móinéir’s aroma. As Pamela explains, “because strawberries naturally smell sweet even after they’ve been fermented, the first impression you get when inhaling the aroma is the sweetness associated with summer berry desserts. But the wine is different, with freshness, acidity and just a hint of sweetness for balance. Most people are very pleasantly surprised by what they taste. The word ‘wow’ has been used on more than one occasion!” I first met Pamela and Brett at Wicklow’s Wild&Slow Festival last November, and I remember being surprised in the same manner: expecting a rush of sugar, instead I found vibrant acidity and a distinctive character, much to my delight. As someone who prioritises buying Irish for almost every other product, I was delighted to welcome another option onto our market, particularly such a natural, sustainable one: Wicklow Way Wines are part of Bord Bia’s Origin Green programme and committed to ongoing sustainable production.
Regular readers will know that I usually include a recipe using the foods featured here. However, this is not a wine for cooking, but rather one for a special occasion or gift. It puts me in mind of sitting outdoors on a long, lazy summer day; the perfect aperitivo for a dinner party or accompaniment to a grown-up picnic. At just 11% ABV with minimal sulphites, Móinéir is even more suitable for afternoon drinking and less likely to cause the dreaded hangover — although, as Pamela observes, moderation is still key!
I ask Pamela which foods she and Brett pair with it. “His favourite is smoked salmon and avocado; mine is a kale salad with a lemon, ginger, garlic and honey dressing. As a special treat it is great with asparagus, and it works well with spicy dishes, while a number of Michelin star restaurants have paired it with strawberry desserts.” Encouraged by the stretch in the evenings and the promise of longer days to come, I opt for a picnic pairing, keeping it elegant but easy. All you need to accompany this crab and leek quiche is a glass (or two!) of chilled Móinéir, a simple salad and some sunshine. We may live in the land of winter, but this beautiful Irish wine is a real taste of summer.