Douglas Blyde visits Ashford Castle on the west coast of Ireland. Once owned by the Guinness family, the “magnificent property” contains all manner of gastronomic delights, including a cellar where guests are invited in to pick a bottle to go with head chef Philippe Farineau’s seasonal menu. Taken from this year’s Wine List Confidential guide, available to buy now.
“Predominantly Irish, sincerely hospitable staff are palpably proud to work for what is regarded by many as the country’s best hotel: I have never encountered such a dedicated team,” wrote John O’Ceallaigh in The Telegraph of Ashford Castle on Ireland’s west coast. Dating back to 1228 and once owned by the Guinness family, who extended it, the magnificent property has been a hotel for the past eight decades and is now in the hands of founders of the Red Carnation collection (of which it is part), the Tollman family, who also own Cape Town winery Bouchard Finlayson.
Previously of the Drimcong House Moycullen, where he worked with Gerry Galvin, “who was the first to get me interested in the world of wine and not just restaurants”, Paul Fogerty oversees the list at the George V Dining Room. With the adjoining Prince of Wales Bar, it was built for the visit of the Prince of Wales who later became Georges V. Lit by Waterford crystal chandeliers, which were once headed for The White House until a deal was struck to keep them, with a harpist or pianist as accompaniment, guests “dine like royalty”, according to the brochure.
The list of the Spanish-born Fogerty features the iconic 1986 Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva white and Montilla- Moriles PX Perez Barquero 1905 from Spain, and collections from Domaine Dujac and Château Lynch-Bages in France – as well as listings from contemporary “Wine Geese”, being Irish winemakers abroad, including Róisín Curley in Burgundy. The wines of Bouchard Finlayson, such as the Sangiovese-led Hannibal and Galpin Peak Tête de Cuvée Pinot Noir, are also celebrated. Fogerty matches the latter with a venison tasting plate by head chef Philippe Farineau.
Guests are encouraged to visit the cellar to pick a bottle for their dinner – a space which has proved an epic setting for private tastings and dinners featuring the likes of Pétrus, Penfolds Grange and Opus One.
Providing a sense of theatre and opulence, an appealing array of trolleys in the dining room include those for Champagne, home-cured salmon, côte de boeuf and flambéed beef cheeks, petits fours and digestifs. “In the morning we have a juice sommelier offering home-made smoothies and kombucha,” adds Fogerty.
Regular “Wine Weekends” at Ashford Castle see guests spend time with four winemakers, including a masterclass and tasting, and casual as well as gourmet dinners, “which certainly allows people to have much more enjoyment than a single dinner”, says Fogerty.
Score: 93.6 Value: 90 Size: 96 Range: 94 Originality: 92 Experience: 96
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