Tag: Italian wine

Wines at Xmas #6 – Jean Smullen [Guest Post]

For winelovers, Christmas is a time when we look forward to drinking – and even sharing – a special bottle or two.  This might be a classic wine with traditional fare or just something different we’ve wanted to try for a while.  I asked some wine loving friends what they were looking forward to and they have kindly agreed to write a blog post for me.

Jean Smullen has been involved in the Irish wine trade for 26 years, including education, organising generic tastings for multitude of bodies, and communications through newspapers, TV and her radio spot on “Movies and Booze”.


This Christmas I will be drinking something fizzy from Italy that isn’t Prosecco! Franciacorta is a DOCG in Lombardy where they use French grapes to make sparkling wine using the traditional method (second fermentation in bottle The region’s reputation has been built on their outstanding bottle fermented sparkling wines. Franciacorta is Italy’s largest producer of metodo classico sparkling wines.

Remontage in Franciacorta.jpg

The different types of Franciacorta are distinguished by different dosages of liqueur de tirage added after disgorging.  For example, Franciacorta Satèn is a style unique to the region.  This blanc de blanc is made from (mostly) Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco.  A Brut dosage of sugar less than 12 g/l is added and the resultant wine has less atmospheric pressure (4.5 vs the standard 6.0 atm); this means that this unique sparking style has less mousse and a softer finish.

Alma Gran Cuveé Brut

 

Bellavista Alma Cuvée Brut RRP €45.99 at: 64 Wine; Donnybrook Fair, Green Man Wines, Jus de Vine, Terroirs, The Corkscrew, Mitchell & Son, The Wine Centre (Kilkenny), Baggot Street Wines, Clontarf Wines, and Searsons Wine Merchants.

This is made from 80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Nero, and is a world class sparkling wine, on a par with Champagne, it simply says quality.  The blending process is the key to this wine and hinges on the quality of the Reserve wines they use.  One of the characteristics I found in sparkling wine from Franciacorta is a lovely floral aroma of white flowers, this has that but on the palate it has a soft subtle finish and a lovely gentle mousse.  Bella Vista means “beautiful view” in this case it also means beautiful wine!

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Wines at Xmas #1 – Sam Logan [Guest post]

For winelovers, Christmas is a time when we look forward to drinking – and even sharing – a special bottle or two.  This might be a classic wine with traditional fare or just something different we’ve wanted to try for a while.  I asked some wine loving friends what they were looking forward to and they have kindly agreed to write a blog post for me.

First up is Sam Logan, Copywriter & Social Media Editor of Wines Direct, a family wine wholesale and retail business in Ireland.


Bera Moscato d'Asti 2015When it comes to Christmas, I’m a bit of a Grinch.

I always feel coerced into taking part in the season. Somehow, I always emerge from the season of carols, crowds, and cards with no more than my normal quota of comfort and joy.

Bah Humbug!

However, something I really love about Christmas is that food and drink take centre stage, and normal standards of restraint and decency are temporarily suspended.

Our modern Christmas holidays have their origins in the Roman winter festival of Saturnalia. And the Romans didn’t mess about when it was time for a party. Saturnalia seems to have been a solid week of feasting, including all the fun of non-stop carnivals, gambling and an inversion of social norms.

I do my best to pay homage to the Romans, and my personal Saturnalia always starts with a special, late breakfast on Christmas morning. To classic scrambled eggs on toast, I add a layer of Alpine cheese (this year it’ll be Schnebelhorn or Neufenen) and top it all with Ed Hick’s Bacon Jam. Christmas comes but once a year after all.

Now, this is all very rich and savoury, so I’m going to enjoy it with a glass of Bera Moscato d’Asti 2015. Moscato d’Asti is a wonderful combination of sweetness and sparkles, with enough crisp acidity and blossom aromatics to keep it from becoming cloying. This Moscato d’Asti is a great example of the style with vibrant stone fruit, honey and citrus flavours. It’s delicate, effervescent and absolutely perfect with salty, savoury food. Conveniently, it’s also very low in alcohol at just 5% ABV.

With the spotlight on Dinner, Christmas Breakfast usually gets neglected. I like to start my festivities as I mean to continue and, for me, Bera Moscato d’Asti 2015 is the perfect start to Saturnalia.

Bera Moscato D’Asti 2015: €18.95 from Winesdirect.ie, Wines Direct Shops in Mullingar and Arnotts, Dublin 1

A Lidl Italian Wine

Flag_of_Italy

If you cast your mind back all the way to February of this year, you may remember that supermarket group Lidl launched a limited release of new French wines in Ireland (here are my posts on the Reds and Whites).

Now they’re going to do the same with a batch of Italian wines, set for release on Monday 13th June, and available while stocks last.  The wines in this batch don’t reach quite as high as the more expensive French ones did, but they are still worth seeking out.

Gavi di Gavi DOCG 2014 (12.5%, €9.99)

202888_Gavi_di_Gavi

Gavi is the town in Piedmont (NW Italy) where this wine is made from the Cortese grape (which I always think sounds like a family from The Godfather) – and the wine is sometimes usefully called Cortese di Gavi, in case you forget.  Wines from the production area closest to the town are called Gavi di Gavi as we have here.

By the way, if that’s all too confusing, feel free to call it “Gavin”.  The wine won’t mind either way.

The wine is clean and unoaked, with pear and stone fruit flavours.  It has some texture too, so it could stand up against seafood and lighter chicken dishes.  Make sure you give it a chance to warm a little if it’s been in the fridge for a while.

Soave Classico DOC 2015 (12.0%, €9.99)

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I suspect I’m not the only person who has been put off “Soave” by the cheap swill on the cheapest supermarket or convenience store shelves – but when it’s done right, it can be a very pleasant drink.  Trademark Italian acidity is still there but with soft citrus, pear and apple fruit.  The perfect drink for sitting in the back garden – especially if someone else is doing the gardening!

Barbera d’Asti DOCG 2015 (12.5%, €7.99)

211240_Barbera DAsti

Barbera is the grape here and Asti is the province in north-west Italy where it’s made – together with Alexandria next door.  As part of Piedmont (or Piemonte to the locals) it tends to fall into the shadow of Nebbiolo, especially Barolo and Barbareseco, the “King and Queen” of the area.  Barbera can make top class wines, but even the more economical end of the market gives some very drinkable examples such as this.  It’s full of soft, juicy red and black fruit, with a slight smokiness.  Remarkable for the price.

Teroldego Rotaliano DOP Superiore Riserva 2012 (12.5%, €8.99)

211104_Teroldego_Rotaliano

Teroldego is the grape in this wine.  Haven’t heard of it?  don’t worry, neither had I!  It’s from the Trentino area of northern Italy, Superiore meaning it’s 12.0% minimum and Riserva meaning it has spent at least 24 months maturing before release.

This wine has lots of character – it’s zippier than a gobshite from Rainbow!  Super fresh acidity makes it mouthwateringly tasty and really food friendly.

Nero d’Avola Terre Siciliane IGP (13.0%, €13.99 – 1.5L)

213221_Nero_dAvola_Terre

At first glance this might appear a bit more expensive than the other wines – but it’s a double sized bottle!  Magnums are great fun at parties, so buy a few for a BBQ and you’re sorted!  Nero d’Avola is a popular grape in Sicily, giving spice, dark berries and chocolate.  It’s very drinkable, just make sure you don’t get carried away on a school night!

Larger format bottles are nearly all named after Biblical figures such as  Methuselah and Salmanazar – the Magnum is the exception as it was named after a Private Investigator*

Salice Salentino DOC Riserva 2013 (13.5%, €9.99)

213357_Salice_Salentino

Now we’re in the heel of Italy’s boot, in Puglia.  Salice Salentino is the staple of Italian restaurants everywhere – for good reason!  It’s made from the Negroamaro grape which translates as “black and bitter”, but if there is any bitterness it is pleasant.  What it does have is spicy black fruit, and it’s so more-ish!  A barbecue wine that you will want to carry on drinking after the food has all disappeared.

Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2011 (13.5%, €9.99)

211313_Chianti_Classico_Riserva

Up to now, all the wines I’ve recommended have been in the easy drinking style.  This is a bit different – not for the uninitiated, unless you are prepared to try something new.  The heart of Tuscan wine is Chianti, particularly the original central area which is now Chianti Classico.

This is a Riserva – aged in barrel for 24 month then 3 further months in bottle.  It has the full on Chianti experience – tobacco, liquorice, cherry and a touch of vanilla.  This should keep for another five years at least, and will soften and mellow over that time.  Who am I kidding?  This is going to be drunk within a week!

 

*this may not be 100% factually accurate.

 

 

Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #05 – Rizzardi Costeggiola Soave 2014

Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #05 – Rizzardi Costeggiola Soave 2014

Soave-Top

Rizzardi Costeggiola Soave 2014 (12.5%, €15.45, O’Briens)

Let’s get the obvious out of the way – most Soave is swill.

Well, to be fair, most is technically drinkable, if fairly simple, but lacking in flavour. It’s what you see on the label of the cheapest whites at your local convenience store. Over 85% of Soave production is made by co-operatives, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when prices are fairly low then production targets are nearly always based on quantity rather than quality.

After a fantastic Amarone masterclass given by Count Guiseppe Rizzardi, we were treated to a glass of Rizzardi’s Soave with the first course of lunch. It is produced from a single vineyard on the hill of Costeggiola in the oldest part of the Soave wine region, just to the east of Verona. The soil is volcanic and the slope of the hill is steep enough to require terracing – add all of this to a southerly aspect and you have the right ingredients for some serious wine.

06WITA014-Rizzardi-Costeggiola-Soave

The blend is 70% Garganega (the minimum stipulated by the DOC regulations) and 30% Chardonnay (with other varieties also permitted). The vines are between 10 and 40 years old, a good indicator of potential quality. As is the norm the wines do not see any oak during fermentation or maturation.  2014 was a cooler vintage in Soave, meaning a longer growing season.

The 2014 is clean, tangy, with appreciable texture. It has citrus, tropical and stone fruit notes – it’s a complex, versatile, enjoyable wine.

Suffice it to say that I popped to my local O’Briens store and cleaned them out of this wine!

 

 

Frankly Wines Top 10 Sweet Wines of 2015

Frankly Wines Top 10 Sweet Wines of 2015

I love sweet wines, whether with dessert, instead of dessert, or at any time I fancy them. They can actually pair well with savoury dishes of many types, depending on their prominent flavours, richness, acidity and sugar levels.  For example, late harvest Gewurztraminer from Alsace is amazing with foie gras, and off dry to medium wines often work well with exotic Asian fare.

There are several methods of making sweet wines, the simplest being to leave the grapes on the vine while they continue to produce sugars, and harvest them later.  A further step is to allow noble rot (botrytis cinerea) to attack the grapes and dry them out, thereby concentrating the sugars.  Other traditions involve sun or air drying to reduce water levels.

Whichever way is used, balance is the key, particularly the balance between sugar and acidity.  This means that even lusciously sweet wines can avoid being cloying, which is usually a turn off.

Here are ten of the sweet wines which really impressed me in 2015:

 

10. Berton Riverina Botrytis Semillon 2013 (€9.99 (375ml), Aldi)

Berton_Botrytis_Semillon-500x500

I first tried a Berton wine from Coonawarra, my favourite red wine region of the world.  It was perhaps a little less fruit forward than some from the area but had the most pronounced spearmint aromas that I’ve ever encountered in a wine (for the avoidance of doubt this is a positive for me!)

The Riverina area in the middle of New South Wales is an irrigated bulk wine producing region, and is where many of Australia’s inexpensive bottles (and boxes!) are produced. Due to humidity close to the major rivers it is also a source for excellent botrytis style stickies (as the locals call them), including the fabulous De Bortoli Noble One.

Semillon’s thin skins make it particularly susceptible to noble rot – which is why it is so successful in Sauternes and Barsac – and so it proves in Berton’s version.  I’m not going to claim that this has the intensity of Noble One but it does a damned good impression – and at a far lower price.  Amazing value for money!

9. Miguel Torres Vendimia Tardia “Nectaria” Botrytis Riesling 2009 (€19.99 (375ml) Sweeney’s of Glasnevin  and Carry Out Off-Licence in Ongar, Dublin 15)

2015-09-15 18.04.56

Familiarity with Spanish or another romance language reveals that this is a Late Harvest style, with the addition of Botrytis characters.  It was one of the stand out wines of the Chilean Wine Fair – though being different in a sea of Sauvignon, Carmenère and Cabernet probably helped.

As you may or may not know, Miguel Torres wines are the Chilean outpost of the Spanish Torres family’s operations, with quality and value both prominent.  The key to this wine is the streak of acidity cutting through the sweetness – the hallmark of a great Riesling dessert wine.  

8. San Felice Vin Santo 2007 (€19.49 (375ml) O’Briens)

Vin Santo

As someone who generally likes Italian wine and has a soft spot for sweet wines, I’ve nearly always been disappointed by Vin Santos I’ve tried. I don’t think my expectations were too high, it’s just that the oxidative (Sherry-like) notes dominated the other aspects of the wines.

This is different – perfectly balanced with lovely caramel and nut characters.  It’s made from widely grown grapes Trebbiano Toscano (75%) and Malvasia del Chianti (25%) which aren’t generally known for their character, but it’s the wine-making process that makes the difference.  Bunches of grapes are dried on mats to reduce water content then pressed as normal.  After fermentation the wine is aged five years in French barriques then a further year in bottle.   A real treat!

7. Le Must de Landiras Graves Supérieurs 2004 (Direct from Château)

Le Must de Landiras

White Graves – particularly those from the subregion of Pessac-Léognan – are in my opinion the most underappreciated of all Bordeaux wines.  Even less commonly known are the sweeter wines from the area – and to be honest the average wine drinker would be hard pressed to know when there’s often no mention of sweetness on the bottle, they are just “expected to know” that “Graves Supérieures” indicated higher sugar rather than higher quality.

Being close to Sauternes shouldn’t make the production of sweet wines a surprise, but then few people carry a map around in their head when tasting!

Simply put, this is probably the best sweet Graves I’ve ever had.  See this article for more details.

6. Longview Epitome Late Harvest Riesling 2013 (€16.99, O’Briens)

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Riesling in Australia is nearly always bone dry and dessert wines usually use Semillon for late harvest styles or Rhône varieties for fortifieds, but when done well they can be sensational.

This was such a hit at the O’Briens Autumn Press Tasting that two other of my fellow wine writers picked it out for recommendation, namely Richie Magnier writing as The Motley Cru and Suzi Redmond writing for The Taste.  Imagine the softness of honey with the fresh zip of lime at the same time – something of a riddle in your mouth, but so moreish!

5. De Trafford Straw Wine 2006 (€29.50 (375ml), Kinnegar Wines)

de trafford strawwinelabel00-1_m

In its home region of the Loire, Chenin Blanc comes in all different types of sweetness, with and without botrytis.  Its natural acidity makes it a fine grape for producing balanced sweet wines.

David Trafford picks the Chenin grapes for his straw wine at the same time as those for his dry white, but then has the bunches dried outside for three weeks before pressing. After a very long fermentation (the yeast takes a long time to get going in such a high sugar environment) the wine is matured in barriques for two years.

I had the good fortune to try this delicious wine with David Trafford himself over dinner at Stanley’s Restaurant & Wine Bar – for a full report see here.  Apricot and especially honey notes give away the Chenin origins, and layers of sweetness remain framed by fresh acidity.

 

4. Pegasus Bay Waipara “Encore” Noble Riesling 2008 (~£25 (375ml) The Wine Society

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This is the gift that keeps on giving…I bought my wife a six pack of this wine a few years ago, as it was one we really enjoyed on our honeymoon tour of New Zealand, and she is so parsimonious that we haven’t finished them yet!

This is in a similar vein to the Epitome Riesling but has more botrytis character – giving a mushroom edge, which is much nicer than in sounds – and additional bottle age which has allowed more tangy, tropical fruit flavours to develop and resolve.  A truly wonderful wine.

See this article for more details.

3. José Maria da Fonseca “Alambre” ® DO Moscatel de Setúbal 2008 (€6.45, Portugal)

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I had been meaning to try a Moscatel de Setúbal since a former colleague from the area told me about it.  A holiday to the Algarve provided the perfect opportunity, and I found this beauty in the small supermarket attached to the holiday complex we stayed in – at the ridiculous price of €6.45!

Moscatel / Muscat / Moscato is one of the chief grapes used for dessert wine around the Mediterranean – and can make very dull wines.  This is by some margin the best I’ve tasted to date!   I’m sure most people would swear that toffee had been mixed in, the toffee flavours are so demonstrative.

See this article for more details.

2. Chateau Dereszla Tokaji 5 Puttonyos 2006 (€38.95 (500ml) The Corkscrew)

Château Dereszla Tokaji

Tokaji is one of the great sweet wines of the world – in fact it’s one of the great wines of the world full stop.  It’s usually a blend of a normal grapes and botrytised grapes in differing proportions, the actual blend being the main indicator of sweetness.

Apricot and marmalade are the first things which spring to mind on tasting this, though time has added toffee and caramel notes.  This is the sort of wine that I would happily take instead of dessert pretty much any time!

See this article for more details.

 

1. Donnafugata Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria 2013 (Liberty, from good wine merchants)

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I first came across this wine at Ely Wine Bar on my wife’s birthday a few years ago.  After a filling starter and main course neither of us had room for dessert, but fancied something sweet; Ely is a treat for winelovers as it has an unrivaled selection of wines by the glass, so like a kid in a sweetshop I ordered a flight of different sweeties for us to try:

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All four were lovely but it was the Ben Ryé which stood out.

At a later trade event put on by Liberty Wines, I noticed that this was one of their wines open for tasting.  With a room full of hardened trade pros (and myself) it was amusing to notice how many people just dropped by the sweet and fortified for a drop of this!

My mate Paddy Murphy of The Vine Inspiration also covered this wine.

 

Don’t forget to also check out Frankly Wines Top 10 Fizz of 2015 and Top 10 Whites of 2015!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Make Mine A Double #11 – Keep up your pecker with Pecorino!

Offida (Credit: Pizzodisevo)
Offida (Credit: Pizzodisevo)

It’s no secret that I don’t like cheese – in fact I hate the damned stuff – so it should come as no surprise that a wine with the same name as a prominent cheese was waaay down the list of new tipples for me to try.

Thankfully, Pecorino doesn’t taste of its namesake cheese, though there are unconfirmed rumours that they happen to go well together.  I took the plunge a few years ago after I noticed it on the by-the-glass list at West (the restaurant of The Twelve Hotel in Barna, near Galway), which has an excellent list all round, put together by General Manager & Sommelier Fergus O’Halloran.

Since then I’ve tried many Pecorinos? Pecorini? Pecorino-based wines that I’ve liked. The majority come from the Marche region of Italy which doesn’t get as many wine column inches as Tuscany, Piedmont and others, but has its unique charms.  As an interesting alternative to the ubiquitous Pinot Grigio the white wines of the area are popping up in more and more merchants, supermarkets and restaurants.

Here are a couple of contrasting examples that I’ve tried recently:

Umani Ronchi Terre di Chiete IGT Pecorino 2014 (€14.99, Marks and Spencer)

Terre di Chieti Pecorino
Terre di Chieti Pecorino

{Disclosure: sample kindly provided for review on request}

This is a relatively straightforward example of the grape,which sports a modest 12.5% alcohol.  Healthy grapes are cold fermented in stainless steel tanks to retain fresh fruity flavours.  It doesn’t go through “malo” (malolactic fermentation) so keeps zippy acidity, but does spend four to five months on the lees for additional texture and flavour.

Compared to many Italian whites, especially though of the 1990s, this is a well made wine which can still do the main job of accompanying seafood, but has enough about it to be enjoyed on its own.  If you’re having smoked salmon anytime soon (you know the season to which I’m referring) then this would be a perfect partner!

Le Caniette ‘Io Sono Gaia Non Sono Lucrezia’ Pecorino, Offida DOCG 2012 (€29.95, Honest 2 Goodness)

Io Gaia Sono La Canietta
Le Caniette ‘Io Sono Gaia Non Sono Lucrezia’ Pecorino

Recognisably the same grape, but in a different style, this Pecorino is unlike any of the others I’ve tasted.  It’s oaked!  This might seems a strange thing to do to a fresh zippy grape, but then this approach has been followed for Sauvignon Blanc (Cloudy Bay Te Koko, Torres Fransola) and Godello (Rafael Palacios As Sortes) among others.

Whereas the Umani Ronchi above is an IGT, this is a fully classified DOCG.  Ripe grapes are hand-picked and collected in small boxes for minimal bruising under their own weight. The gentle treatment treatment continues in the winery, followed by 12 to 14 months ageing in barriques, plus 4 months bâtonnage.

This wine first came to my attention at an Honest 2 Goodness tasting attended by a large contingent from DNS Wine Club – it was the standout bottle from the whole tasting in my view.  Further reflection with a full bottle reinforced this – the oak is in no way dominant, and adds another dimension to the flavour profile rather than riding roughshod over the tangy citrus fruit.  This DOCG wine’s alcohol is a couple of notches higher than the IGT at 13.5% which matches the texture and mouthfeel well.

So how do the wines compare given their disparity in price?  Both are great wines, and great value for money.  For me it just depends on my mood, and what / who I’m drinking the wine with, which would determine which of them I popped open on any particular day.

 

Further reading: Make Mine a Double Index

Make Mine a Double #08 – Aromatic whites from Marks and Spencer

Make Mine a Double #08 – Aromatic whites from Marks and Spencer

I have to confess I’m not that familiar with the current wine range at Marks and Spencer but I’ve heard good things recently.  When I lived in Paris I would drop in to the food and wine section of one of the large stores there to get my fix of Australian wine and Indian food, though not necessarily together…

The good folks at M&S Ireland recently sent me a few bottles to try, of which I particularly enjoyed the following pair of aromatic whites:

Bidoli Friuli Grave Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (€14.79, Marks and Spencer)

Map of Friuli wine region
Map of Friuli wine region

The far north east corner of Italy was once part of the Venetian Republic, with some sections under the influence of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for some time, and so the wines of the region have noticeable Slavic and Germanic influences. Like many parts of Italy, the mere word “Italian” does not do justice to the culture here.

Bidoli Winery was founded in 1924 by the grandparents of the current owners. The vineyards are situated in a valley that benefits from high diurnal temperature variation (hot days and cool nights) which encourages slightly thicker skins in the grapes and hence deeper flavours in the wine. The soil has lots of stone – similar name and similar soil to the Graves in Bordeaux – which reflects the sun’s rays during the day and releases accumulated heat overnight.

Bidoli Friuli Grave Sauvignon Blanc 2014
Bidoli Friuli Grave Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Even on the nose it is unmistakably a Sauvignon Blanc, though of a completely different style than NZ – more akin to a Quincy or Reuilly from the Loire. There’s attractive citrus and gooseberry – not exotic or tropical fruit – plus fennel and other herbs. I’m not a salad fan but I think this would be the perfect wine to match. A long finish on top means it’s great value.

Argyros Estate Santorini Atlantis 2013 (€15.49, Marks and Spencer)

Santorini
Santorini

Santorini is the name of a wine region, an archipelago north of Crete and the main island within it.  In ancient times it was known as Theira, and was a reasonably large volcanic island before one of the biggest recorded eruptions shattered it around 3,600 BCE.  The resulting tsunami is thought to have brought down the Minoan civilisation of Crete which is only 110 km due south, and may also have given rise to the myth of Atlantis.

Due to the warm climate, sweet wines were often made – Santorini is alleged to have given its name to Vin Santo which is made in Tuscany.  The main grape here is of course Assyrtiko, which makes fresh zingy whites or traditional floor cleaner flavoured Retsina.  It fares particularly well on Santorini as the volcanic soil helps it maintain its acidity, even when fully ripe.

Argyros Estate Atlantis Santorini
Argyros Estate Atlantis Santorini

This white blend consists of 90% Assyrtiko, 5% Athiri (lemony, used for Retsina on Rhodes) and 5% Aidani (floral, mainly grown in Santorini) [no I hadn’t heard of the other two before, either!]  The Argyros Estate was established in 1903 and is situated in Episkopi, where it encompasses some of the island’s oldest vines – another reason for the concentration of flavour.  If you’ve read through the notes above you will see where the name Atlantis comes from!

It’s a racy, refreshing wine, but has lots of lemon and floral character – very enjoyable on its own, but would pair with seafood or other lighter dishes.  Moreish!