Belfast Telegraph

Meet the Winemakers: Wine tasting at the Merchant Hotel

The Merchant Hotel
The Merchant Hotel

By Paula Gracey

There are certain dates in my diary in the run up to Christmas that I simply would not miss, chief among them being James Nicholson’s Meet the Winemakers tasting in the Merchant Hotel.

In fact, we consider it an early Christmas tradition and go as a family to get the festive season properly kicked off.

The annual event is where the renowned JN Wines of Crossgar showcase their fabulous portfolio of Christmas wines with some cracking discounts if you order on the night.

For £20.00 a ticket, (and you need to book early) from 5pm-8pm you can work your way around the room full of tables, laden with some of the most amazing wines, as well as fizz, gin, port and brandy.

You can chat to the winemakers who have flown in from around the world, and find out as much or as little as you want about their wines.  If  you just want to know what foods to pair with their wines, they are there to help.

All you do is grab your tasting glass, tasting booklet and a pencil and off you go.

Now, we always have a plan to start with some fizz, then go on to the white, reds, maybe some gin, port, sherry – you get the idea, but the best laid plans invariably go awry. It never works out like that and we are very easily distracted but we do try.

So, here are just a few stars of the night that stood out for me. JN Sparkling Brut is 100% chenin blanc and at £13.89 (currently on offer for £11.81) this cheery fresh and fruity fizz won’t break the bank when entertaining this Christmas. Or check out the duo gift pack which comes with the JN Sparkling Rose Brut NV, made from Cabernet Franc, again fresh and fruity with lovely strawberry notes – both fabulous aperitifs and together in a gift box they make an impressive pressie.

Table 7 was Jerome Coursodon, from Domaine Coursodon, Rhone, who had two very easy drinking whites. The Etincelle Blanc 2017 (£22.50) has delicate aromas of flowers and white fruits and on the palate you get apple and pear flavours, hints of honey and a rich mouthfeel. This would be fab as an aperitif as well as with seafood or chicken dishes.

Saint Joseph Les Silices Blanc 2017 (£27.95) is a more rich and creamy, intense white made from 100% Marsanne with great length and perfect on its own as well as with seafood.

Table 17’s Luis Nunez, from Dominio de Tares in Spain, served up another treat - the Godello La Sonrisa 2016 (£12.79). Sonrisa means ‘smile’ and it certainly put one on our faces. Godello is the grape, new to me, and its characteristics are aromas of citrus, green apple and stone fruit. It is fresh and fruity on the palate with a hint of minerality and is made to be enjoyed with tapas, snacks, pasta and paella.

Godello 2015 has been barrel fermented and is dry, full-bodied and smooth with aromas of green apple, lemon zest and some toasty almond hints. I loved it and again it is best enjoyed with tapas and don’t serve it too chilled.

Of the reds, again too many to mention, Heredade do Portocorro Tinto 2014 from Portugal (£15.50) stood out. This is a smooth and fruity red while Mathias Korahanis Vignoble Foncalieu featured some of the most reasonably priced, everyday drinking wines, starting at £7.99 - you could not go wrong, La Combe Roche Rouge 2017 is especially  lovely.

I could go on, well  actually, we couldn’t. Finishing at the Quinta de la Rosa Port table, we tried the fabulous White Port and Ten Year Tawny – delish and with Christmas written all over them. We beat a retreat at that point, and went in search of some food as we had worked up quite an appetite with all our hard work in the name of research.

Check out all the wines in store or online at and I expect to see you there next year!


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