It’s forty years since I was last inBelfast,Northern Ireland, yet that distinctive, charmingly lyrical accent remains instantly recognisable to me. And so it was when I recently sat down in a Spanish tapas bar for some craic with Kevin McAlindon, one of the few members of La Gran Orden de los Caballeros del Vino!
This august body was established in 1984 to give recognition to those individuals in the UK Wine Trade who had shown exceptional endeavour in promoting the wines ofSpain. Five years later the criteria for the Order were extended to encompass members of the industry inSpainwho have shown similar commitment on a worldwide basis.
Kevin had had this great honour bestowed upon him for his unstinting support of the Spanish Wine Trade in what must have been one of the most difficult, and at times dangerous, markets in the world. Established in 1954, Duncairn Wines Limited, better known as ‘Direct Wine Shipments’, has always been a beacon of light for those in Northern Ireland who enjoyed fine wine, despite the dreadful ‘Troubles’ that raged all around his original small corner shop near the docks which saw the tragic Titanic taking form half a century before.
Indeed the ‘Troubles’ saw Kevin and his staff robbed and threatened with violence, a gun being held to his head, not once but three times! The Northern Irish, however, are nothing if not resolute. Direct Wine Shipments weathered the many storms, gaining year on year, custom, accolades and plaudits with praising comments from the likes of Oz Clarke, Tim Atkin MW, Jane McQuitty and other members of the wine literati, including, more humbly, I admit, myself!
Theirs is a story to encourage anyone thinking of starting a business in difficult times. An acute business sense is a vital ingredient, of course, but its Kevin’s passion for wine which has seen him, and latterly his similarly passionate two sons, who now run the business, through the siege-like conditions of yesteryear’s (we hope) semi-war into and beyond the catastrophic economic conditions that prevail today. No doubt Direct Wine Shipments will take the recent shameful Duty increase on wines with the same fortitude!
Direct Wine Shipments and their trade company McAlindon Wines have supplied wines to a variety of high profile events over the years. Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Royal Family members have tasted wines from this dynamic wine company. They currently supply toHillsboroughCastle, the Ulster Reform Club and theTitanicMuseumbuildings to name but a few!
And of course you might guess, considering the fact that I’m writing about them, they have an outstanding, exemplary I would say, list of Spanish wines, not just included in their impressive portfolio, but in fact heading it!
Not content with listing just Rioja, McAlindon Wines also champion other areas inSpain, several of which are far less well known and include: Priorat, Montsant, Navarra, Cariñena, Toro, Ribera del Duero, Valdepeñas, Ucles, Castilla-Leon, Rueda, Rías Baixas, Monterrei, Bierzo, Campo de Borja, Terra Alta and Pénedes. The company philosophy is to supply a rich array of classic and quirky wines representing famous, as well as niche winemakers, always well researched and always with a keen eye on value for money.
However there is another rather special string to their bow – the clue is on the cover of their list: McAlindon Wines, Importers and Vineyard Owners!
I first tasted Creu Celta, crafted from their own vineyards, several years ago at a memorable tasting in Kevin’s Spanish house, then in Pego. In 2003 a dream of the McAlindon family became a reality when they bought ten hectares of vineyard in the hallowed, if difficult to farm, lands of Priorat, North Eastern Spain, quite close to the Scala Dei Monastery (meaning Ladder to God).
It was here, legend tells us, that a humble shepherd boy beheld a vision of a stairway to heaven. A monastery was built to recognise the holiness of the area and, monks being monks, those who dwelt there obviously did what they were good at – they started making wine. Fast forward to modern times and it is this area that now boasts the equal (with Pingus, Ribera del Duero) most expensive and sought after heavenly wine in Spain (1,000€/bottle!), which you’ll be glad to know is not the far more accessible Creu Celta!
And yet the soils and micro climates are the same, which gives an indication of the sort of quality you can expect from Creu Celta. Add that to the fact that the wine is made by one of the leading Spanish winemakers, Silvia Puig, who has worked with some of the best Spanish wineries, including the legendary Vega Sicilia (another of the top, and most expensive wines in Spain) and it’s clear that this wine is something special.
The name, Creu Celta, means Celtic Cross in Catalan and the symbol on the bottle was inspired by the 15th Century High Cross found onDevenishIsland,County Fermanagh,Northern Ireland. So an obvious connection between the mountainous, oft terraced hills ofEastern Spain and the land of the McAlindons’ birth!
Creu Celta is made with some Merlot and a blend of grapes, indigenous to the area, Garnacha and Samsó (aka Cariñena, though not to be confused with DO Cariñena way over to the West, where, though permitted, they curiously don’t grow much Mazuelo – which is another synonym for Samsó!). The vines supplying the grapes for this super Priorat wine are old, producing perhaps only two kilograms of grapes per vine, but those that do survive the inhospitable growing conditions are the richer for it.
I’m hoping to have another taste of this wine to see how it has developed over the years and should I ever find myself once again inBelfast, it’s a cert that I’ll be beating a path to their door. And, attuned as I am to the Northern Irish accent, I know that Kevin is certainly not the only Northern Irish person now living and/or holidaying along the Costas of Spain. So my advice to you fine people is to do the same when you are next ‘home’ again!
For those wanting to try Creu Celta, a 6bt case can be delivered to any address in theU.K. Just order through the website : wwwdirectwine.co.uk
NB I have a super Bodega and Cultural Visit arranged to Novelda, inland from Alicanteon the 22nd May. There are a limited number of places available for this trip which costs just 45€ and includes lunch and wines, of course. Please call 629 388 159, or e-mail me for more details and to reserve seats.