Goodbye, hello and thank you

Goodbye…

Mixed feelings  — I got ’em. I’ve wound up my wine, beer and cider columns in the Irish Examiner Weekend and the final ones appeared on Saturday October 20, 2012.

Hello…

More to the point, I hope you will join me in offering a hearty welcome to Leslie Williams (see final bullet point at the end of this post) who begins fresh new drinks columns in the Irish Examiner on Saturday, October 27, 2012. His survey of what’s what on the drinks shelves kicks off with his pick of the best from the National Off-Licence Association Gold Star Awards.

Thank you.

° Thank you to everyone who has read my columns, and to those who have responded with complaints or compliments, tips and suggestions.
° Thank you to the importers, distributors, retailers and PR people for supplying samples, pictures, information – and especially tasting opportunities.
° Thank you to groups as diverse as the Sexual Violence Centre, Cork Skeptics and St Luke’s ICA for hosting me at events where I attempted to help unwind the true qualities of our drinks from the sometimes misleading reputations that surround them.
° Most of all, I am indebted to the Irish Examiner’s editor Tim Vaughan and features editor Vickie Maye – and her predecessor, Fionnuala Quinlan – for giving me the freedom to explore this fascinating topic. It has been a privilege and a pleasure and I hope at least some of that enthusiasm has rubbed off on readers.

The above are the main points but there’s a bit more detail below if you want it. 
Wine tasting

Not only are open-ended ‘silent’ wine tastings vital for any decent wine firm – they can be invaluable to us consumers too. Picture: Blake Creedon.

♦ Earlier this year I decided to bring to an end my regular columns about wine and beer in the Irish Examiner Weekend. It wasn’t a sudden epiphany — I had been coming to the conclusion that it was reaching the end of its usefulness. There’s also a practical purpose. I wanted to scale back, for now at least, my working week: Of the various things I do, these columns were the most neatly discrete component and thus the easiest to excise. And so they had to go.

Beer

It’s only when you shed the values imposed by branding that you get a feel for how good your beer really is.

♦ So here ends my affection for wine and beer? Eh… Hardly! I am hoping to continue doing as an amateur one of the things I’d been doing as a pro… I wasn’t joking all those times I recommended readers to go check out open-ended tastings. Seriously. When you begin to actively sniff and taste and compare wines a few dozen at a time, you step into another world. Working your way uninterrupted through a non-tutored tasting is a bit like sending your nose to the movies. As some bloggers will know, for some time I’ve been encouraging bloggers to get themselves invited to such trade & media  tastings, and encouraging wine businesses to invite them – so at least I am being consistent.

♦ I don’t plan to recommence writing in any capacity in the near future. Nor will I be looking for work of any kind with any drinks business. I remain working at various roles in the backroom of the Irish Examiner.

♦ In one way, dropping these columns has been the easy way out for me.  I believe I’ve been most useful as a map, assisting readers get a sense of the lay of the land, rather than as a signpost, directing them towards specific destination bottles. Yes I do believe there is value in the latter, and stand over every bottle I’ve ever highlighted.  But informed scepticism is infinitely more valuable than someone else’s conclusions — no matter how well-placed. That’s true for consumer food and drink, but also with far more serious matters. We are far too eager to hand our sovereignty over to whatever credible-sounding authority figure currently has the mic — with ultimately disastrous results, as will be obvious to anyone observing the Irish economy, abuse cover-ups etc. What’s on your dining room table is hardly as grave an issue as those — but it does entail the same process: credulity versus sovereignty. Feedback suggests I may not have been as successful at nudging readers towards a more sceptical outlook as I’d have liked. If I do go back into the field again, that’s what I’d want to work at.

Finally, I hope you will always have good quality and value-for-money stuff in your glass. Because you’re worth it.


♦ If you have any queries or comments for me, leave a comment below.
If you want the contact details for Leslie and other food & drinks columnists, events listings etc, contact the Irish Examiner Features desk.

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Beer, wine and cider tasting events

Deveney's beer festival

Click for details of Deveney’s festival, one of the events exploring Irish and international beers.

Wine, beer, cider and food are on the menu at all sorts of public events coming up all over Ireland – from highly structured tutored tastings and dinners through to the open wander-aboutery of fairs and festivals..

Many of them are great value, and give us consumers an invaluable opportunity to sample what’s out there. As well as being fun, you could think of it as tastebud gym.

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As of October 2012, I am no longer drinks columnist with the Irish Examiner Weekend. See the home page of this blog for more details. I’m leaving much of the info I posted here in case it might be helpful. Thank you.

 

█ Fri Aug 31 – Italian night in Cork

Curious Wines kick off their incredibly busy season of courses, dinners and tastings with an Italian night from 5pm to 9pm at The Bowery on Tuckey Street in Cork. It’s hosted by Francesco Riccardi of  Borgo Magredo, one of whose proseccos I reckon is one of the best-value bubblies around.

It’s a packed programme so for now here’s just the first month’s worth.

█ Thu Sept 6 – Australian Night with Peter Perrin (Bleasdale) at
Meades 126, Oliver Plunkett St., Cork. 7pm to 10pm. Admission free.
█ Fri Sept 21 – McLaren Vale with Scott Collett (Woodstock) at
Hayfield Manor, Cork. 7.30pm-9.30pm. Tickets €15.
█ Thu Oct 4 – Tapas Night w/ Ivan Acebes García, Castelo de Medina at
Cafe Gusto, Washington St., Cork.  7.30pm-9.00pm. Admission free.
I’ll add the rest and more details later.  And see curiouswines.ie.
 

█ Wed Sept 5 – Winemaker Dinner at Donnybrook Fair

César Morales Navia, the oenological manager of Emiliana in Chile is the latest in a pretty illustrious list of winemakers to host a dinner at The Restaurant at Donnybrook Fair at 89, Morehampton Road, Dublin 4. Emiliana produces some outstanding wines, principally the biodynamic Coyam which I’ve occasionally enjoyed down the years. With a well-established nous for making good wines, including a growing acreage under organic and biodynamic grapes, Emiliana’s reputation has been heading in one direction only. Check them out yourself at stockists including O’Briens and independents, or in pleasant company with a good dinner in Donnybrook, all presented by César.

It takes place on Wednesday September 5 at 7.45pm. Book (€60 a head or €100 for two) on 01-6144849, by email at restaurant@donnybrookfair.ie or online if you click here.

█ Sept 5 to 8 – McGuigan City Vineyard, Dublin

From Wednesday to Saturday, McGuigan Wines present their bold and imaginative City Vineyard project in Dublin. Open daily from noon to 7pm, it consists of dozens of living vines transplanted to a temporary perch in Meeting House Square, Temple Bar, Dublin 2.

Also there will be members of the McGuigan family who will present tastings of quite a wide range of their wines. The family’s been in wine business for decades — first under the Penfold’s marque but more recently under their own name, building to their present status as one of the big brands on the market. They’re imported by Barry & Fitzwilliam who mainly sell their Black Label range into independents, and also by Tesco which sells a more extensive range.

The city vineyard is similar to wine dinners: to wine firms, it’s an opportunity for deep marketing; to us, it’s an unusual (and in this instance, unique) opportunity for wine-related fun. If you haven’t gotten round to visiting real working wine lands, this could be a fun and interesting introduction — I reckon it would be particularly attractive to wine fans and gardeners.

It’s free, and you can just turn up. But make sure you check the conditions beforehand on this website. For one thing, no-one under 18 is allowed in, and that includes babes in arms or in buggies. You might brush the hair too as they may be filming for broadcast, and turning up implies consent to being filmed. Also, such is the persistence of the internet, there’s still some incorrect info around the place – the vineyard has been moved from the site originally mooted, across the river at the IFSC.

█ Aug 30 to Sept 9 – Irish Craft Beer Week
█ Sept 7 to Sept 9 – Irish Craft Beer Festival

After its brief turn around the IFSC, the annual Irish Craft Beer Festival returns to RDS in Dublin from September 7 to 9, 2012.

Beoir Chorca Dhuibhne

Beoir Chorca Dhuibhne, one of the breweries pouring good beers and ciders from cask, keg and bottle at the RDS.

This year, the bash in Dublin is the culmination of the first Craft Beer Week when participating pubs, off-licences and restaurants nationwide will have special offers, tastings and expert talks on Irish craft beer. The website below has details of both the week and the weekend festival.

At the RDS event, more than 20 of our craft breweries and cider producers will be showcasing beers and ciders for you to taste. They’re joined this year for the first time by some guest breweries from out foreign — a brilliant move in my opinion, as I think it’s vital for beer fans and brewers alike to keep comparing notes with the wider beer world as we reinvent the traditions we nearly lost.

The whole effect at the RDS is a bit like an Irish take on a Bierhalle, complete with live music and artisan food stalls. At the time of writing, the Irish contingent comprises O’Hara’s, Dungarvan, White Gypsy, Eight Degrees, Trouble, Franciscan Well, Porter House, Dingle and Beoir Chorca Dhuibhne aka West Kerry Brewery. There may be more.

The festival returns to the RDS again this year.

Guest breweries include Sierra Nevada and Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale. And the night before the festival proper, there will be a beer and food pairing event exploring the character of Irish beers and the food they go best with.
Festival tickets start at €10 per day and you can get them at participating pubs and shops or at Ticketmaster.
Tickets for the beer and food pairing evening on September 6 are available directly from info@IrishCraftBeerFestival.com.
 For more information on both the Irish Craft Beer Festival and Irish Craft Beer Week, see their website at IrishCraftBeerFestival.com.

█ Sun Sept 9 – Clare comes to East Cork

At 6pm on Sunday September 9 at Ballymaloe, Winemaker Dave Palmer, Skillogalee Wines, Clare Valley, South Australia, and Birgitta Curtin, Burren Smokehouse, Co Clare come together to present their respective wine and food under the title ‘It’s a long way from Clare to here – A Taste of Clare in East Cork’.  Get tickets (€18) and more information from 021 4652531,  colm@ballymaloe.ie or www.ballymaloe.ie.  Other events there include…

[] Sun Sept 16, 4.30pm – New Zealand winemakers Larry McKenna, Escarpment Wines, Martinborough & John Hancock, Trinity Hill Wines, Hawkes Bay present a tutored tasting of their wines (€15).
[] Thurs, Sept 27 Margaret River experience – surfing on Shanagarry Strand and cricket with the East Cork Cricket Club, followed by wine tasting and food with Australian winemaker David Hohnen, Ted Berner’s Wildside fire-cooking, and music. €35 all in.

As of October 2012, I am no longer drinks columnist with the Irish Examiner Weekend. See the home page of this blog for more details. I’m leaving much of the info I posted here in case it might be helpful. Thank you.

 

█ Sept 13 to 22* – Oktoberfest Beag, Cork

Kudos to whoever came up with the name. The annual event at the former Beamish & Crawford Brewery on South Main Street in Cork centres on Paulaner, one of the six Munich breweries which host the original Oktoberfest in their home city. And compared to that blow-out, it is small (‘beag’ in Irish). But it’s not to be sneezed at either, being eight days of, well, beer, food and drindl-und-lederhosen-themed entertainment.

It’s €11 in, including booking fee, but you also have the option of reserving seats (which must be taken up by 7pm). For instance, the Gold ticket for €26 gets you in, two drink vouchers, a substantial dish and guaranteed seating. You need a minimum of six people to book a table.

We here in Ireland and Britain tend to associate the great German breweries with just one or two styles (such as hefe and kristall) but they typically make a whole spectrum including seasonal one-off brews. Happily, the choice in off-licences has been flowering. And events like Oktoberfest Beag provide a unique opportunity to try out a wider range. As of now, as well of course as wine and soft drinks, the website only mentions the special Paulaner Oktoberfest Bier, and Paulaner Weissebier. By the latter I presume they mean the one we’re most familiar with, the naturally-cloudy Hefe Weissbier Naturtrüb.  I expect though that Oktoberfest Beag will in fact run out a wider selection of Paulaner’s dozen or so brews. If so, don’t pass up the opportunity!

* The festival runs from Sept 13 to 22 with the exception of Tues and Wed Sept 18 and 19, when it’s closed. Opening hours are 5pm to 10pm each day, apart from both Saturdays when it opens an hour earlier. For more information, phone 0867248284 (9.30am to 5pm), email reservations@oktoberfestbeag.ie and see oktoberfestbeag.ie.

█ Sept 15 – Deveney’s Beer festival

Deveney’s are clearly trying to put me off the scent. Their fourth annual craft beer festival has a new name, new venue and new date – but I’m on to them, the rascals. It takes place this year at Pembroke Square in Dundrum Town Centre on Saturday September 15 from 2.30pm to 10pm. It’s ticket-only and, naturally, over-18s only. But you knew that.

One of the early adopters promoting Irish and world craft beers on a large scale, they promise to have hundreds of craft beers from around the world on offer in the garden marquee, live music, and beer-friendly food from some of the best restaurants in the area including Siam Thai, Harvey Nichols, Cortina’s Mexican, Wagamama and, of course, The Port House. Tickets (€20) include a festival tankard; three beer vouchers and a festival booklet. Book now at www.beerfestival.ie or their blog; by phone on 01-2984288; or in 3-D by dropping into Deveney’s of Dundrum at 31, Main Street, Dundrum, D16.

You can also get tickets at these off-licences and wine shops – Redmond’s of Ranelagh; Deveney’s of Rathmines; Jus de Vin Portmarnock; The Corkscrew; McHugh’s on Malahide Road; The Vintry, Rathgar and Martin’s of Fairview.

█  Fri Sept 21– Beer club in Cork

Paddy Cullen at the No 21 Off-Licence on Coburg Street (at the foot of St Patrick’s Hill) in Cork is still mulling over which beers to sample at the next meeting of the No 21 Beer Club at 7pm on Sept 21.
To give you an idea of what they do, last time round it was a tutored tasting led by Phil Tavey of distributor Four Corners of six beers from the USA (Brooklyn Brewery and Magic Hat) and Scotland (Brewdog).

Get more info and make your own suggestions in store or by emailing Paddy at no21offlicence@gmail.com or on Twitter at @no21cork.

As of October 2012, I am no longer drinks columnist with the Irish Examiner Weekend. See the home page of this blog for more details. I’m leaving much of the info I posted here in case it might be helpful. Thank you.

█ Sat Sept 22 – Wine fundamentals in Cork

L’Atitude 51 wine café is kicking off a series of Wine Fundamentals sessions in its beautiful  upstairs room overlooking the River Lee on four successive Saturday afternoons from September 22 at 3.30pm. The price per session is €25, or book all four for €90. You don’t need any prior knowledge to take part. Full details are in a PDF on their new website at  www.latitude51.ie, phone 021-2390219, email them at info@latitude51.ie or just drop in to l’Atitude 51, 1 Union Quay, Cork.

█ Wed Sept 26 – Glassware comparative tasting

The size and shape of your glass has an enormous influence on your wine. Really. There’s more about that over on this post including the reasons I’m more than happy with one range of glasses costing only a fiver a go. But if you can stretch to €60, I think you’ll enjoy and benefit from a glassware comparative tasting hosted by Riedel from 6.30pm at The Miele Gallery, Citywest, Dublin 24. The ticket price (€60 from Mitchells on 01 6125540 or www.mitchellandson.com) includes a Riedel Vinum tasting set which normally costs about €96 apparently. 

█ Weekend beer fest

This weekend (Friday to Sunday August 24 to 26, 2012) an Irish Craft Beerfest takes place in Doolin, Co Clare. Participants include Carlow Brewing; Dungarvan; Eight Degrees; Franciscan Well; Stonewell Cider; Trouble Brewing; White Gypsy. Tickets €5 at the door. Larks and antics a-baa. For more, see their website at www.irishcraftbeerfestival.com.

Wine and beer tastings, and online shops

It’s that time of year again, and some interesting and fun wine beer tastings are beginning to be teed-up for the autumn. While still relatively quiet, here are two commendable events. There’ll be more in my column this weekend in the Irish Examiner Weekend.

Beerfest

This weekend (Friday to Sunday August 24 to 26 2012) Irish Craft Beerfest takes place in Doolin, Co Clare.  Participants include Carlow Brewing; Dungarvan; Eight Degrees; Franciscan Well; Stonewell Cider; Trouble Brewing; White Gypsy. Tickets €5 at the door.  See http://www.irishcraftbeerfestival.com/

Meet the Winemaker

l’Atitude 51 on the corner of Anglesea St and Union Quay in Cork.

As part of their Meet the Winemaker  series, L’Atitude 51 on Union Quay in Cork is hosting a tasting on Wednesday August 22 at 6pm. It features wines from Domaine de L’Hortus in the Languedoc, presented by Yves Orliac, and accompanied by bite-sized versions of their French, Italian and Irish influenced cuisine.  Tickets are €12 from L’Atitude 51 on 021 2390219 or at info@latitude51.ie.

The wines are imported by one of Ireland’s longest-established quality online wine shop, Wines Direct. Coincidentally, I’ve been looking at the online presence of wine businesses and have updated a guide to shopping online over here.

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Whipping the herring

The following was added to the tail end of a wine and beer tasting post before Easter this year. I think the subject deserves more attention, so I’m reposting a slightly expanded version on its own. For this weekend’s post about Elbow Lane Angel Stout, click here http://blakecreedon.wordpress.com/2012/06/21/cheers-for-a-cracking-new-stout/.


“Whipping The Herring…” at the Crawford gallery.

ONCE upon a time, the butchers’ apprentices of Cork used to mark Easter Sunday — and the end of a slack month of Lenten no-meat misery — with music, mirth and wild celebrations. The centrepiece involved attaching a herring to a long pole which was paraded around the city walls, affording the town’s urchins an opportunity to flake the bejaysus out of it like some piscine piñata.

The traditional Easter celebration used to take place in various parts of Ireland. It’s depicted in this small but delightful painting, Whipping The Herring Out of Town  (c1760) by Nathanial Grogan, in the collection of the Crawford Art Gallery on Emmet Place in Cork. The painting was featured in the exhibition at the Crawford, A Question of Attribution: The Arcadian Landscapes of Nathaniel Grogan and John Butts which ended on April 7, 2012.

The picture is so vivid you can almost hear the racket. I love the detail. One lad is drawing back his cudgel to take a swipe at the fish. I imagine the child staring at the spectacle is about to burst into tears, terrified by the mad procession bearing down on him. The woman at the lower left who seems to have been upended by a runaway dog (and is that a pig running alongside?) is pure Beryl Cook.

By the way, the arched building you see in the background is an accurate representation of the city’s south gate, which survives only in the name of South Gate Bridge. The first picture of the bridge on that Cork City Library link is Nat Grogan’s more sober daytime illustration, complete with one of his signature flourishes, a romantic John Hinde-style overhanging tree, on the right hand side.

Apart from the river and the bridge, it doesn’t look much like today’s view. To orient yourself in that picture, you’re looking East from the intersection of Proby’s Quay, Crosse’s Green and French’s Quay — with St Fin Barre’s Cathedral behind you, and the Quay Co-Op on the right, further along the river. Yes, I will post a pic.

The Irish tradition depicted by Grogan reminds me of a Spanish custom which still takes place each year at the start of Lent. Around 1810, Goya recorded on canvas the Burial Of The Sardine parade in Madrid. The Wikipedia entry here includes a photo of the painting.  Well worth a look.

And for good measure you can find out more about Grogan and his picture of Cork’s whipping the herring tradition here on www.crawfordartgallery.ie. ♦

Cheers for a cracking new stout

My beer of the week over in the Irish Examiner today (Saturday June 23 — print edition only) is Elbow Lane Angel Stout. It joins a growing band of fine Irish stouts and porters from the likes of Porterhouse, Beoir Chorca Dhuibhne and Carlow Brewing Company.

There’s another novelty about Angel: it’s a cleanskin. That is, the label doesn’t name the brewery in which it was made. It does say it was brewed in Cork though, so that narrows it down a bit and I can only think of one likely candidate.  While many cleanskins are own-label (where an existing product is rebranded in new packaging) Angel Stout seems to have been commissioned and made specifically for the people behind Elbow Lane.

It’s being marketed by two restaurants in Cork — the Castle Café at Blackrock Castle and Market Lane on Oliver Plunkett Street. At first I thought it was only going to be available in those places, but it turns out it’s also stocked by Bradley’s on North Main Street, which is apt as that shop is one of Cork’s two astonishingly comprehensive beer collections, the other being The Abbot’s Ale House on Devonshire Street North across the river from the Opera House. I’m not sure if the latter will also stock Angel. If they and further stockists are added, I’ll add that info here.

We’re more used to the cleanskin concept from the wine world, which is where the word comes from. For instance, once upon a time M&S didn’t disclose where their wines were made. Nowadays they do — to their advantage, I’d imagine, as there are some great names in tiny writing on back labels on their shelves. If I recall correctly, Aldi’s cracking O’Sheas Stout is also a clearskin – made by the aforementioned Carlow Brewing (aka O’Haras), a fact which I think isn’t disclosed on the label. Must check next time.

♦ Also today in The Irish Examiner Weekend, I’m picking out my highlights from a tasting through 50 or thereabouts wines at O’Briens. It was a pretty impressive tasting, and I’ll have to come back at a later date to a few more of those wines, as well as two interesting themes I just didn’t have room for in the column — namely ‘natural’ wines, and a whole lotta rosés. The latter requires a summer so that  might be on hold for quite a while. ♦

Wine and beer – June, 2012

This morning in The Irish Examiner I’m looking at a new summer seasonal bitter, Dungarvan Brewing Company’s Comeragh Challenger. (Paper edition only, as the beer column doesn’t go online). So. What’s this bitter thing all about then?

The beer styles native to these islands are absolutely crucial to the Irish microbrewery boom. Yes, the types of beer which evolved on the mainland are certainly an important part of the mix — after all, the Franciscan Well, one of Ireland’s oldest brewpubs, made its name with a weissbier. But along with oh, you know, making a living, our small breweries are doing a great and barely celebrated service to our national cuisine by reviving and reinvigorating the beers characteristic of this corner of Europe. Mainly they’ve been exploring ales and stouts — but in this instance, a lovely bright, light little bitter.

Comeragh Challenger is also a moderate 3.8% alcohol so you can enjoy a few bottles — the perfect accompaniment to the surprise outburst of sunshine around some parts of the country. Hurrah for both, and hope it’s shining where you are. Pop over to Dungarvan Brewing Company’s website for a map and list of stockists nationwide. [Saturday, June 9, 2012]

Wine tastings and dinners – June 2012

Sadly I sometimes get information too late for inclusion over in the column in the Irish Examiner. If you’re hosting a beer tasting, wine dinner etc, please drop a line to blake.creedon@examiner.ie as soon as you confirm the date. Please put ‘events’ in the subject line. There’s no need to send menus, graphics etc – just an idea of what customers might expect, especially date and price, and perhaps also who’s involved, the number of courses etc.

[June 14] Italian class in Dublin

Liberty Wines, who are helping host the celebration at Fenn’s Quay above, are also behind this event on June 14 – a wine dinner with Giovanni Manetti of Tenuta Fontodi (Chianti Classico) at Ely Wine Bar, Ely Place, Dublin 2. Beginning at 6.45pm, it costs €65 per head and booking is open on 01-6768986. See http://www.elywinebar.ie/about/wine-apreciation/ely-wine-tastings/ for more.

[June 26] Spanish wine dinner in Donnybrook

Donnybrook Fair on the Morehampton Road, Dublin 2, is hosting a wine dinner on Tuesday June 26 7.30pm when Daniel Castano will present his wines from the Yecla denominación. It costs €60 per head or €100 per couple. Book now on 01-6144849 or email restaurant@donnybrookfair.ie.


[May 30] New Zealand wine dinner in Cork

Despite the warning at the end of investment adverts, I reckon past performance can sometimes be a useful indication of what to expect.

I’m not up to date on New Zealand’s Forrest Estate (imported by James Nicholson www.jnwine.com) – but my experience with their range prompts me to sit up and take notice any time they’re being poured. On Wednesday May 30 at 7pm, Annie’s Bar on Sunday’s Well in Cork, is hosting a New Zealand Wine & Dine Evening — a three-course dinner accompanied by wines made by Forrest Estate. (I believe the wines will be presented by someone from the winery, but I’m not sure who). The evening is a bargain at only €45 all told. Early booking, on 021-4398384, is essential.

The last time I tasted Forrest Estate’s wines, back in early 2009 – at the annual New Zealand wine tasting – I highlighted a remarkable three of their wines, along with other stars from the likes of Staete Landt, Glazebrook and Paddy Borthwick. To put it in context, that’s three out of what I reckoned to be the best dozen, having tasted perhaps 140 or 150 wines. (For the record, the ones I highlighted then were the Forrest Dry Riesling Marlborough 2006; Forrest Pinot Gris Marlborough 2007; Forrest Pinot Noir Marlborough 2005). But never mind them. History. Get along to an event in Cork this week to see what they’re pouring now.

[May 31] Celebrate a restaurant’s new wine list in Cork

On May 31 there will be a five-course wine dinner to launch the new wine list at Fenn’s Quay Restaurant, Cork. It promises to be a cracker as importers Liberty Wines, whose range is often featured in my column, are involved. Starting with an introductory wine tasting at 7.30 it’s only €45 per head. Book now on 021 427 9527.

Beaujolias in Cork

L’Atitude 51 is on the corner of Union Quay and Anglesea Street in Cork (the venue’s previous occupants range from Heaphy’s pub via The Lobby Bar to An Crúibín). The new occupants have been making quite a name for themselves. They’re making great use of the Vacuvin nitrogen system which permits any bar interested in doing so to maintain a significant wine list. As well as serving an extensive menu of interesting wines in varying sizes (so you can try a little of a few rather than a full glass of one) they’ve also introduced a dedicated wine tasting room upstairs.

l’Atitude 51 on the corner of Anglesea St and Union Quay in Cork.

Having already hosted events focused on New Zealand and the Rhône valley, they’re continuing with two further regions well worth exploring. On Thursday, May 10 (note the date, as some info in circulation about this event may be incorrect) they are hosting a Beaujolais tasting in association with Karwig’s Wines. Loic Teymond of Chateau de Chatelard which produces wines in the Fleurie, Moulin à Vent and Brouilly appellations, will present a tutored tasting of four of his wines

It takes place on Thursday May 10 from 7pm to 8.30pm. Tickets are €10 per person. Phone 021-2390219, mail them on info@latitude51.ie or click through to their website here www.latitude51.ie.

If you’re hosting a tasting event wine dinner, food festival etc open to the
public, please drop me an email about it as soon as you have the details.

Lebanese wine dinner at Star Anise in Cork

Star Anise on Bridge Street in Cork (www.staranise.ie; 021-4551635) is celebrating its 10th birthday this year and one of the events to mark it is a visit by Sami Ghosn from Massaya Wines in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley on Wednesday May 16. I can all but guarantee this will be a treat. Star Anise is top class in any circumstances. And while I need to catch up on their current vintages, Massaya has proved to be an outstanding producer: the menu on the night will include wines from the top ‘silver’ and ‘gold’ tiers of their range. After a sparkling wine reception, Sami will present a five-course dinner with matching wines for €65.

Many are surprised that wine is made in Lebanon at all. Well, that’s because we’ve very short memories: The Phoenicians – the forebears of the Lebanese people – introduced winemaking, probably from around Georgia and Turkey, to the region some 2,500 years ago, and went on to introduce this new-fangled technology to the Greeks and Romans. I’ve heard Sami speak about this ancient tradition, and about living and working in the recent past in that country, and it promises to be memorable evening.

The Riesling Revolution

The Grain Store at Ballymaloe, Co Cork from 7pm on Thursday May 17, 2012.
The world’s three great riesling regions are brought together for a unique tutored tasting. Join Carl Ehrhard (Rheingau, Germany) Tim Adams (Clare Valley, Australia) and Séverine Schlumberger (Alsace, France) for a tutored tasting exploring this great wine varietal. Book tickets (€25) on res@ballymaloe.ie or 021 4652531. For more information, contact Colm@Ballymaloe.ie or Ireland@wineaustralia.com.

Frankland River in Cork

On Wednesday May 23 (note the date as info circulated about this event earlier was incorrect) L’Atitude 51 will host a tasting of wines from the the Frankland River region of Western Australia in association with Wines Direct. Sandy and Rod Hallett of Alkoomi Wines will tutored tasting of six of their wines from 6.30pm to 8pm, and tickets cost €15 per person. Phone 021-2390219, mail them on info@latitude51.ie or click on their website here http://www.latitude51.ie. See the Beaujolias event above for more about the venue.

[June 7] Tasting the good life in East Cork

Today’s newspaper [Saturday May 29] comes with instructions as follows. Drive to nearest beach. Open the driver’s door and stick one leg out. Place newspaper over your head and nod off accompanied by the sports programme on the radio.

When you’re done with that, you might like to take a look at some of the delicious food and drink in the Weekend section. There’s a special feature by Joe McNamee on foraging for food; Darina Allen is championing offal such as liver and sweetbreads; Pól Ó Conghaile is dining out at The Copper Hen in Fenor, Co Waterford; Michelle Darmody is putting together a week’s worth of delicious meals from a single shopping trip; and, out in the garden, Donal Skehan is tending the vegetable plot.

As ever, I’m to be found hovering over by the drinks cabinet wondering if it’s wine o’clock yet, and kick things off by wishing a happy birthday to the Quay Co-Op on Sullivan’s Quay in Cork (www.quaycoop.com). Established in 1982, the worker’s co-operative has been providing resources and campaigning in a host of fields including feminist and LGBT issues. But it’s perhaps best known and loved by the people of Cork as a friendly wholefood shop and restaurant stuffed with all sorts of deliciousness. Many years ago when ‘local-and-in-season’ was neither popular nor profitable [© Flann O’Brien] diners at the Co-Op were tucking into delicious ice-cream made with milk from their own cow. That’s what I call traceability.

I picked up three of today’s featured wines at the Co-Op – all of them distributed in Ireland by Kenmare-based Mary Pawle Wines.

Mary is also behind a wine tasting event at the Grain Store, Ballymaloe, Co Cork on Thursday, Jun 7, at 7pm. Sunday Business Post wine columnist Tomás Clancy will be telling the tale of the ‘Wine Geese’, as featured in Ted Murphy’s book of the same name, the past and present generations of Irish people involved in winemaking around the world. Better again, his co-host will be winemaker and author Caroline Feely who, with her husband Sean, moved from Dublin seven years ago to Saussignac, a short hop from Bordeaux. That’s where they make highly-regarded organic and biodynamic wines at Chateau Haut-Garrigue. (www.hautgarrigue.com). The event costs €10, and there are special rates on accommodation. Contact Ballymaloe (021-4652531 or colm@ballymaloe.ie) to book or to get more information.

Buy directly from Mary Pawle Wines, Kenmare, Co Kerry (064-6641443) or online at www.marypawlewines.com.
Or buy from stockists she supplies including the following. Clare The Grainey, Scarriff. Cork O’Donovans; Quay Co-Op; Ballymaloe; Fields, Skibbereen; The Olive Branch, Clonakilty; Roaring Water, Schull; Organico, Bantry; Taste, Castletownbere; Manning’s, Ballylickey. Dublin Lilac Wines, Fairview; Liston’s, Camden St. Galway Morton’s; Connemara Hamper, Clifden. Limerick Nature’s Hand. Kerry Mannings, Killarney.

http://www.winefoodbeer.com/

Lamb and tempranillo

IN this week’s Irish Examiner Weekend (April 28, 2012), I’m suggesting some fragrant Spanish reds as a great pair for roast lamb. While I have a relaxed attitude to matching (really, most wines will be okay with most dishes) I do believe you can optimise both wine and food with a little thought. And the first thought about lamb is not to lump it in with beef under the heading ‘red meat’. That category is far too broad.

An oak barrel is fired at a cooperage in Ribera Del Duero, Spain. Picture: Blake Creedon

The flavour of lamb is really quite delicate, often augmented with savoury, sweet and bitter herbs and spices. Unlike beef, it doesn’t really beckon the astringent tannins you might find in a well-made cabernet merlot such as a Bordeaux. Take inspiration from the delicacy of the meat and its fragrance, and pair lamb with an elegant red. And one of the best quick one-stop-shops – good Spanish red. Generally it’ll be a tempranillo, often blended with other indigenous grapes such a graciano and mazuelo – and indeed sometimes with ‘international’ grapes, especially cabernet.

As I mention in the column, the character of tempranillo plus ageing in barrel and in bottle add up to one of the wonders of the wine world. While many countries in the new world permit their wine industries to throw around words like ‘reserva’ willy-nilly, this is serious business in Spain. There, the term really does mean something. The different Denominación de Origen (DO) regions of Spain have different rules but the broad outline of the ageing is as follows.

Joven (young) or Cosecha (literally ‘harvest’) wines are relatively rarely seen in Ireland — young, fresh, generally unwooded and unassuming. Roble (oak) is sometimes put on the label to signify that a young wine has spent some time in oak – but that it hasn’t spent sufficient time to qualify it for  the ageing system as follows…
Crianza literally means upbringing or breeding, and this is the rank at which you really see Spain’s super quality/value ratio. The wine will have spent at least six months in oak (or a year in the case of the Rioja and Ribera del Duero DOs. Be aware though that Sin Crianza means without such ageing.
Reserva is the next step up the scale. In the case of reds, the term means that the wine has spent at least three years ageing, at least one of which must have been in oak, imparting increasing complexity and colour to a wine. Rosado (rosé) and white reservas spend a shorter six months in a barrel and two years in a bottle.
Gran Reserva wines tend to be the top of a winery’s range, and only produced when they regard the vintage as particularly good. A red gran reserva will spend two years in wood with a further three long slow years maturing in the bottle. Whites and rosés get six months in barrels and four years in bottle.

While the longer-aged reds will often be luxuriantly complex, don’t presume a gran reserva will always be better than reserva or a crianza. In my experience tasting hundreds of Spanish wines side-by-side, the younger grades often achieve remarkable degree of subtlety.

One of the wines I recommend (a reserva at M&S) is a perfect example, being the middle tier of its range. At Lidl also, I’ve tasted a cheap-as-chips Joven which prejudice might suggest wouldn’t be worth looking at, but which my senses of smell, sight and taste suggest would be well worth putting on the dinner table.

Bear in mind personal taste. And shelf-life. While the longer-aged bottles are designed to be bought and enjoyed years or even decades after vintage, their lease isn’t limitless. Just like ourselves, they too will fade past their peak. And at any one time a less preposessing grade such as a crianza may outshine its posh gran reserva stablemate.


In-store tastings today in Carrigaline and Midleton

♦ Today (April 28, 2012) there are in-store tastings of Nugan Estate wines (including the super McLaren Parish Shiraz 2008 which I think is good enough value at its regular price of €17 but which is reduced now to €12) at the following venues.
SuperValu Midleton from noon to 3pm;
SuperValu Carrigaline from 3.30pm to 6pm.

♦  Also today (Saturday April 28) Chris Pfeiffer will introduce some of his wines, including a tremendous rich, sweet muscat that I love all day in Karwigs, Carrigaline.

Beer and curry in Lismore

On Friday April 27  O’Briens Chop House in Lismore, Co Waterford  is again presenting a four-course beer and curry feast in association with Green Saffron spices, and the Dungarvan and Eight Degrees breweries. It begins at 7:30pm and is topped and tailed by “homemade mango, chilli and ginger Bellini” (oh my) and chai to finish. €42.50 per person. Phone them on  058-53810 and see  obrienchophouse.ie.

Beerfest in Galway

The third annual Brewers On The Bay festival takes place in Oslo, Galway, on May 5 and 6.If you’ve visited this or similar events you’ll know the drill already – barbecue, music and the delicious beers being made by some of Ireland’s fine microbreweries. And if you haven’t dipped into such events yet, it’s about time you did. I’m shocked, shocked I tell ya, by the many people I meet who appreciate good food and wine but who are as yet oblivious to the revolution that’s been happening under our noses, solely because by habit they don’t associate beer with taste. Beer and cider are the wine of Ireland. And it’s time to take a hint from the url www.winefoodbeer.com and wake up and smell the hops.


Let’s get fizzical

In last Saturday’s Weekend section of The Irish Examiner (April 21, 2012) I took a look at a recent tasting through some 80 wines at Marks & Spencer.  I mentioned in the column that one of the wines I’d wholeheartedly recommend, Organic Okhre Natur Brut Cava NV (€9.29), comes with a caveat – that the style won’t please everyone – and promised to expand on that here. So here goes.

At blind tastings, many consumers (the majority, I reckon) express a preference for crisp, fruity bubbly uncluttered, shall we say, by a certain yeasty breadiness commonly found in Champagne-style sparkling wines. Caused by the second fermentation in bottle, it’s prized by sommeliers and other wine aficionados who are used to tasting expensive sparklers.

But many of the rest of us find the flavour a bit intrusive. In part, this may be because many drinkers won’t have sensed it in any still wines, and it won’t be particularly pronounced in most good, approachably-priced sparklers. Indeed I believe many people actually misdiagnose it as a fault, linking it to not-entirely-dissimilar musty odours.

So consumers are wrong and must learn to like the bready style, spend more money ideally switch to expensive Champagne.  While the foregoing line is clearly a parody, it is not far from the way some people seem to think.  It is nonsense of course. Who’s in charge? You are, not some buff. Chacun à son goût. I don’t see why one person’s habituation (to bready styles) should trump another person’s (to clearer styles). And anyway, some people who do occasionally taste upmarket, bready, yeasty Champagnes prefer the less breadier styles. Me, for instance.

Arthur Mayne

Mayne's is a new bar in a former chemist's shop

However, in small doses, I do find the effect delicious, offering a contrasting backbeat of grainy breadth to the acidity, adding an engaging and appetising extra dimension to your glass of bubbly. And that is a fair description of what I found in the Okhre Cava at last week’s tasting. I think it’s a terrific sparkling wine by any standards, and great value – but suggest you try one bottle before backing the car up to M&S and filling the boot. By the way, it turns out the branch nearest me (Merchant’s Quay in Cork) didn’t have this particular sparkler in stock on Friday. I expect they’ll have it back in again soon, and will amend this post when I know it’s back.

For now though, over here is a post about Arthur Mayne Pharmacist, a new wine bar in Cork with not one but two twists. And over here are the latest wine and beer tastings and dinners open to all.

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Moveable Feast at Brown Thomas

Searsons, one of Ireland’s old-skool family wine merchants has brilliantly made the transition into the 21st century. They’re hosting a smart wine dinner on Monday April 23 with not one but four chefs at Brown Thomas Dublin. Domini Kemp (The Restaurant at Brown Thomas), Ross Lewis (Chapter One), Paul Flynn (The Tannery) and Graham Neville (The Residence) is the all-star team preparing the five courses, each accompanied by wines from Searsons’ terrific list, presented by the highly entertaining Charles Searson. It kicks off with bubbly and canapés. At €120 per person it’s not cheap, but I reckon it’s really good value for what you’re getting. Book now on moveablefeast@brownthomas.ie.

If you’re involved in events related to beer, wine or cider, please email brief details to me as soon as you have them confirmed.  In general I get all of them onto this blog and /or my drinks columns in the Irish Examiner.  Thank you.

The Loire in Donnybrook

On Wednesday April 25, The Restaurant at Donnybrook Fair at 89 Morehampton Road, Dublin 4 presents a Loire evening in association with Tindal Wine Merchants. Paul-Henry Pelle will present his wines from the Sancerre and Menetou Salon appellations.  Book now (€60 per person / €100 for 2 people) on  01 614 4849 or at http://www.donnybrookfair.ie/therestaurant/winedinners

In-store tastings in Dublin, Carrigaline, Fermoy and Midleton

♦ On Thursday, April 26 from 6.30pm to 8.30pm at Baggot Street Wines (formerly Oddbins at 17 Upper Baggot St, Dublin 4, which was taken over and revived last year by a get-up-and-go team of former staff), Chris Pfeiffer will introduce some of his wines, including a tremendous rich, sweet muscat that I love. It’s free. Just turn up. Baggot Street Wines 17 Upr Baggot St Dublin 4. Phone 01-667-3033.
♦ And on Saturday April 28, Chris will be presenting his wines all day in Karwigs, Carrigaline.

♦ There are in-store tastings of Nugan Estate wines (including the super McLaren Parish Shiraz 2008 which I think is good enough value at its regular price of €17 but which is reduced now to €12) at the following venues.

Friday, April 27 – SuperValu Fermoy from 4pm to 7pm
Saturday April 28 –
SuperValu Midleton from noon to 3pm;
SuperValu Carrigaline from 3.30pm to 6pm.

Riesling in the years

 As of October 2012, I am no longer a drinks columnist with the Irish Examiner Weekend. CLICK HERE for details. I’m leaving up most of the info I posted then in case it might be helpful. Thank You.


WINE fans in my parish (Cork) may have noticed a few interesting changes for the better recently in that twilight zone somewhere between a few drinks and casual dining. Quite a few places are providing new and improved fun. I’ll return to some others later but because it combines two of my enthusiasms – wine and retro stuff – the last shall be first: a venue that opened three days ago.

Arthur Mayne Pharmacist

Muted tones and shadows in Maynes on Pembroke St, Cork.

Arthur Mayne

7, Pembroke Street, Cork
Telegrams: “Mayne Pharmacist”

You know those time capsule buildings? For instance thisTube station sealed off in 1959 and only reopened in 2010 still festooned with original posters advertising the latest works of Deborah Kerr, Rita Hayworth and Alec Guinness? Yeah, that kind of thing.  That’s what you need to bear in mind when you go in to Arthur Mayne Pharmacy & Wine Garden.

A bar serving mainly wine, coffees and simple plates of food, it is stuffed to the gunwhales with the stock, fittings and equipment you might find in an Irish pharmacy from the recent to the distant past. Everywhere you look, there are many decades worth of jars and phials, essences and unguents. Registers, ledgers and till rolls. When done well, collections of memorabilia can strike an atmospheric chord in a restaurant or bar. But there’s something special about this particular immersive retro 3D collection – because every scrap you see around you is the day-to-day stock in trade and equipment of the chemists shop that traded from this same building until recently. I mean everything – from the prescription ledgers under glass on the counter, down to the cardboard rolls of coppers (change as packaged and issued by the bank some time before decimalisation) among other ephemera in the front window.

The big difference between the example of the Tube station above and Arthur Mayne premises is that there’s nothing abandoned about the latter. Far from it. It was a going concern until recently (voluntarily ceding its pharmacist’s permit only in February 2011) and the pharmacist and leaseholder since the 1940s, Jim Byrne, has handed over the whole thing – lock, stock and Hai Karate – to Benny McCabe who has made only such changes and renovation as were necessary to turn it into a stylish wine bar. Benny is well known in Cork for the diverse collection of venues he has gradually developed over the years. There are the pubs (The Oval, South Main Street, The Mutton Lane Inn off St Patrick’s Street and Sin É on Coburg Street); a pub and restaurant, The Bodega on the Coal Quay; and the pub /night club, The Crane Lane on Phoenix Street, onto which Arthur Mayne connects.

Each is atmospheric and idiosyncratic: cosy memorabilia-stuffed Sin É ringing with traditional and folk music; family-friendly Sunday lunches amid the bevelled glass and polished wood of the Bodega.

Just before the new bar opened, Tommy Barker talked to Benny and other people behind the transition. As he points out, the chemists shop was a major photo processing lab, once the biggest in Munster it seems. The new venue will be a magnet for photographers, not only because its so photogenic, but because the stock in the display cabinets includes quite an arc of picture-making, from Box Brownies to Polaroid and Instamatics – all technologies which have been eclipsed in living memory. Cameras, projectors, photos and slides. Agfa. Fuji. And as a wistful reminder of relentless change, Kodak, which was folding and fading as Maynes was being renovated, is here too.

You can buy retro stuff by the yard. This, though, is palpably different – not only because its so specific to the site, but also because of the way its been curated. Alongside the dusty aphothecary jars, each with traces of its original contents, are brands of hairspray, razor blades, bath salts and condoms dating close to the present day.  1960s, 1970s, 1980s… Its like a 3D Reeling In The Years. You may betray your age by which brands you recognise. Or even used. Elastoplast, Silvikrin, Rave.

The menu is simple and inexpensive

Theyve all been accorded similar space and the same respect as those ancient generic glass jars, each bearing the dust it has earned down the decades. Theres something lovely about this brand archaeology. It would be a mistake to fetishise the items themselves – theyre only things after all, and wallowing in such sentimentality is surely an abandonment of the real world. But they are tangible mementoes, a dip into a world just as real as ours is, to the people who milled about the location youre sitting in. We live in the present, but can dream of other times.

Unsurprisingly, given the riches in the cabinets, the decor is visually stripped back, all muted tones and shadows. Even the doors on the fridges behind the counter are opaque so we’re spared the glare of fluorescent light bouncing off a platoon of beer bottles: what you can see is the company you’re in, set against a century’s worth of memorabilia bearing the shadows of other people who have passed this way before you.

So. Anyone for a glass of wine?

The enomatic dispencer at Mayne's

The enomatic dispensers at Mayne’s.

Oddly, given its emphasis on the passage of time, Maynes has an up-to-the-minute system designed to press the pause button on time. I’ve long been a fan of the enowine dispenser system and am delighted to see it used in a bar in my hometown. This and other nitrogen-fed systems provide a way to keep wine in the same condition as the moment it was opened. You may be familiar with it from Eno Wine’s shop at the IFSC in Dublin, or at Bubble Brothers in the Marina in Cork. I’ve also seen it at pro tastings such as London Wine Fair. It allows a bar to greatly expand the number and variety of wines it can feasibly offer – after all, a barkeep can’t reliably expect to sell out every left-field minority interest wine every two days – but in a less labour-initensive way than the open-and-reseal systems many wine bars use.

Bottles are lined up in glass-fronted temperature-controlled cabinets. Each has a tube leading from the bottom of the bottle to a nozzle at the front. And as each serving of wine is dispensed, the volume displaced is replaced by a shot of inert gas (nitrogen). No air in there at any stage. It’s as if you’d just opened the bottle each time.

Repeat prescription: Maynes debit card.

But arguably the bigger innovation with the system as seen in Maynes is that it’s self-service, and paid for with a debit card. You charge up your card with a tenner or whatever over the counter and off you go, brandishing your glass, to the wall of enowine cabinets. A little display over each bottle shows the price for each of the three different size measures it will dispense. (Here I have to lapse into uncustomary vagueness: unlike the tastings I attend, which are like a mashup of sensory lab and trade fair, I have absolutely no intention of milling about in a bar wth a notebook and pen. It would be a bit intrusive I think and Id feel like a right gowl doing it. Hence I have neither the precise names of the wines, nor tasting notes, nor the volumes of wine in each measure. I might add them later).

In the absence of numbers Ive named the three measures as follows.

The taoscán Nowhere near what wed sit down to sip, this is a similar measure to what you might pour at a tasting session. Because, crucially, it provides more than enough to judge the colour, smell and taste of the wine in hand. And indeed enjoy a sensory journey. You could really have fun working your way through the cabinets trying each wine one after another, pausing to properly swirl and sniff each. If youve never done it, please do: Anyone whos done so will tell you what a revelation it can be, that it will change the way you view wine for the better. Even wines you dont like the look of: try them. Given that this bar has made it so easy for you, itd be a shame to pass up the chance. And thats the way to choose a wine to settle down with, not the diktat of any expert or me.  Hurrah!
Oh thats a daycent glass This is what I would call a glass of wine. It’s the size I’d choose to pour at home or out and about, and its the size Id drink at Maynes when Id settled on one bottle after dallying with the small taoscáns above. This size also has the benefit of leaving plenty of room in the glass for air – which you should really regard as a component of your glass of wine. To me, this middle size is the Goldilocks serving – neither too big nor too small. Just right.
Ah lads, steady on All right, I confess I havent actually seen this measure. But really I see no point in pouring any more than the middle size. But sure don’t mind me. Suit yourself, you rascal.

In my brief look around I particularly enjoyed some wines from Rioja and Ribera del Duero as well as an outstanding spicy torrontés. It’s fitting that Maynes happens to have a torrontés on offer and that it turned out to be so pleasing to at least one punter (me). Because that’s a perfect example of the system in action and the benefits it brings – to bar owners certainly, but also to any of us consumers who get over our reticence and use the opportunity to taste widely (L’Atitude 51 also serves a choice of measures from its extensive list).

I love the  torrontés grape  and coincidentally, I’m recommending one in my column in tomorrow’s Irish Examiner. But it’s a bit of an unknown. I can’t envisage too many people committing to a whole glassful from a standing start. And if they did, many of them wouldn’t like its honeyish apparent sweetness.

But made available for convenient tasting as one of a series, each costing you little over a euro, delightful left-field minority-interest wines like this will find the people who don’t yet realise they love them. And that’s a win as far as I’m concerned.

 
This is all new to me. You won’t find any pub or wine bar antics in the columns I used to write for The Irish Examiner which were almost entirely about home entertaining – off-trade wines, beers and ciders. But a sense that something was stirring prompted me to lunge for the first time into a few posts about bars. A good handful of decent beer specialists have been emerging. From the international powerhouse Porterhouse which opened its Cork outpost on Sheare’s Street in February,  to The Hub (aka The Market Tavern) on Anglesea Street. Remind me to tell you a story about the building it’s in. Plus of course the three old dogs for the long road along the north channel of the river — The Franciscan Well brewpub on North Mall, Bierhaus on Pope’s Quay and The Abbot’s Ale House on Devonshire Street North. Other recent revelations (to me) include L’Atitude 51, where An Crúibín used to be, The Pav on Careys Lane and Le Chateau on Pana. Each has gone a long way to catering for people who have switched to home entertaining and want to emulate that comfort and quality on their increasingly rare forays into town.

Although I have quit writing those columns Long story — see here I might return to this topic.  Broadly in keeping with the way I did those newspaper columns, I won’t be accepting complimentary drinks etc, and if I have any connection with a venue I mention, I will declare that interest. ♦

Rieslings to be cheerful

Phew. Been a bit busy recently so had to temporarily suspend the blogging til now.

But the fun and flavour have continued as usual on the food and drink pages in the Irish Examiner Weekend. I might put up further details on some of the stuff  in the column over the last few weeks. But for now there’s just one link – about a remarkable eye-opener of a tasting that I covered on March 10.  I’d urge you to check it out as you might save yourself a bundle on good quality wine.

Speaking of tastings, below are some details of a few public events that may interest you.

+   Rieslings to be cheerful – April 7  +

In today’s column in the Irish Examiner I’m looking forward to a unique tutored tasting. An initiative of Wine Australia, it brings together winemakers from the three most important sources of quality Riesling wines.

The Riesling Revolution
The Grain Store at Ballymaloe
7pm on Thursday May 17, 2012.
Join Carl Ehrhard (Rheingau, Germany)  Tim Adams (Clare Valley, Australia) and Séverine Schlumberger (Alsace, France) for a tutored tasting exploring this great wine varietal.  Book tickets (€25) on res@ballymaloe.ie or 021 4652531. For more information, contact Colm@Ballymaloe.ie or Ireland@wineaustralia.com.

I’m also looking at a handful of terrific accessibly-priced rieslings I’d recommend.

You really do need Riesling in your wine repertoire. While we love many big kitchen-sink styles of reds and whites, there is nothing like the rifle-shot pinpoint accuracy of an elegant white, and Riesling is widely regarded as the chief among them. (Although in my view there are other contenders such as pinot blanc and chenin blanc).

Riesling is hardly ever oaked (but I have tasted commendable ones which were) nor blended (and again there are exceptions – sparklers mainly – on our shelves particularly from Chile and Australia). While wine fans should neither fear nor regret the way wines are manipulated in the winery (it’s all about human intervention after all) good riesling really is made on the vine, much of the winemaker’s attention being paid to the degrees of natural ripeness the grapes achieve.

Carl Ehrhard riesling - back labels

The two rieslings by Carl Ehrhard featured in today’s Irish Examiner

This is reflected  in one of the treasures of the wine world, the German tradition which ranks wines first by the ripeness of grapes at harvest, and then by dryness caused by the way it’s fermented.

If you’re seeking wine as we know it, dryish, one of the key words to look out for is Trocken meaning dry (with Feinherb or Halbtrocken meaning off-dry).

The higher QmP standard stipulates one of six ascending order of grape ripeness, and ascending order of rarity, as winemakers can’t depend every year on achieving the conditions for making the latter three. The six, well worth getting familiar with, are as follows.

Kabinett means that the wine has been made from fully ripened grapes. Usually fresh and low in alcohol.
Spätlese: made from riper late-harvest grapes. Again, these wines are more intense in flavour and concentration, and are usually but not necessarily sweet. For instance, the back label on the left above, indicates the wine is made with late harvest grapes but crucially, spells out that it’s been fermented “Trocken” or dry.
Auslese: made from very ripe bunches of selected grapes. Makes intense, usually sweet wine.
Beerenauslese: wines made from individually-selected, overripe grapes — and usually infected by noble rot, Botrytis cinerea. One of the effects of this is in drawing water out of the berries, thus concentrating sugars and the flavours. Made only in exceptional years when the weather has favoured ripeness and rot, such wines tend to be rich and very sweet.
Eiswein: What the rot does for Beerenauslese, freezing conditions do for the grapes used in Eiswein — they have to be harvested and pressed while frozen on the vine. A unique process which has been much emulated by winemakers in Canada (and, yes, they do). It tends to produce highly concentrated sweet wines.
Trockenbeerenauslese means that individual overripe grapes have been hand-picked — they will also usually be infected by noble rot.

By the way, Germany isn’t unique in having a strong tradition of slightly sweet wines. You might notice New Zealand rieslings on wine shop shelves described on the label as ‘dry riesling’. Why would they specify that when dry’s what we’d expect anyway? Because, perhaps surprisingly, the traditional default setting for aromatic whites in New Zealand is in fact off-dry, and they need to spell out which ones are at the more commonly anticipated level of dryness.

Franciscan Well microbrewery 2012 Easter Beerfest

Beerfest, Cork 

Today and tomorrow, April 7 and 8, the Franciscan Well microbrewery on North Mall in Cork is playing host again to its legendary Easter Beerfest, featuring some of the finest brews being made in this country today.

Galway Food Festival

Galway Food Festival continues until Monday April 9 featuring open-air markets promoting local produce and producers, restaurant trails, cookery demonstrations, food tours to local artisan producers, foraging workshops, tastings, wine workshops, a meet-the-producers forum and more. See www.galwayfoodfestival.com  for more details.

Blindfold tasting dinners – free event

Cork, April 4 / Galway, April 19 / Waterford, April 26

There’s a very special event coming up in Cork, Galway and Waterford over the next few weeks. Jacob’s Creek is inviting 50 guests free of charge to their See Beyond The Label roadshow at pop-up restaurants in atmospheric venues in each of those cities. At each, a highly-regarded chef will be putting together a dinner, each course of which will be accompanied by matching wines — and even better, a fascinating sensory exercise presented by TV3’s wine expert David Whelehan.

Blindfold tastings could help hone your senses….

As well as hints and tips about wine tasting, David will help diners focus properly on their senses, firstly with a simple comparison test in which each diner is presented with a pair of wines — for instance a chardonnay and a sauvignon blanc; or a merlot and a cabernet sauvignon if opting for red — and will try to identify which wine is which.

Later in the evening another dimension will be introduced with a second, more specific, test — not with wines but bottles essences of aromas — when a volunteer from each table will try to identify the various scents. The exercises sound simple, and they are. But we are so used to allowing other factors cloud our senses that being compelled to listen to what your nose and palate says can offer a radically new insight into both what we’re tasting and how our own senses work.

The chefs and venues are as follows. Apr 4: Cork City Gaol (Canice Sharkey, Isaacs). Apr 19: Galway City Museum (JP McManus, Cava & Aniar Restaurant). Apr 26: Greyfriars Gallery, Waterford (Robbie Krawczyk, O’Brien’s Chophouse).

To enter the draw for a reservation at one of these special events, see facebook.com/jacobscreekireland or email jacobscreek@idl.ie (with Jacob’s Creek ‘Wine & Dine Experience’ in the subject line) naming which venue you’d like to attend, your name, date of birth (as drinks will be served) and contact details for you and one guest.

Whipping The Herring Out Of Town

Cork, Easter Sunday

“Whipping The Herring…” at the Crawford gallery.

Again this Sunday the butchers’ apprentices of Cork will mark Easter Sunday — and the end of a slack month of Lenten no-meat misery — with music, mirth and wild celebrations, the centrepiece of which involves attaching a herring to a long pole which is then paraded around the city walls affording the town’s urchins an opportunity to flake the bejaysus out of it like some piscine piñata….

Okay this event isn’t actually happening. But it should. It’s a traditional Easter celebration which used to take place in various parts of Ireland.

It’s depicted in this small but wonderful painting, Whipping The Herring Out of Town by Nathanial Grogan (c1760) which is in the collection of the Crawford Art Gallery on Emmet Place in Cork. The painting is featured in the current exhibition, A Question of Attribution: The Arcadian Landscapes of Nathaniel Grogan and John Butts which ends on April 7, 2012.

The picture is so vivid you can almost hear the racket. I love the detail. One lad is drawing back his cudgel to take a swipe at the poor fish. I imagine the child staring at the spectacle is about to burst into tears, terrified by the mad procession bearing down on him. The woman at the lower left who seems to have been upended by a runaway dog (and is that a pig running alongside?) is pure Beryl Cook.

Digression: By the way, the arched building you see in the background is an accurate representation of the city’s south gate, which survives only in the name of South Gate Bridge. The first picture of the bridge on that Cork City Library link is Nat Grogan’s more sober daytime illustration, complete with one of his signature flourishes, a romantic John Hinde-style overhanging tree, on the right hand side. Apart from the river and the bridge, it doesn’t look much like today’s view. To orient yourself in that picture, you’re looking East from the intersection of Proby’s Quay, Crosse’s Green and French’s Quay — with St Fin Barre’s Cathedral behind you, and the Quay Co-Op on the right, further along the river. Yes, I will post a pic.

The Irish tradition depicted by Grogan reminds me of a Spanish custom which still takes place each year at the start of the Easter season. Around 1810, Goya recorded on canvas the Burial Of The Sardine parade in Madrid. The Wikipedia entry here includes a photo of the painting.  Well worth a look.

And for good measure you can find out more about Grogan and his picture of Cork’s whipping the herring tradition here on www.crawfordartgallery.ie. ♦

http://www.corkpastandpresent.ie/mapsimages/corkphotographs/michaelolearyphotos/southgatebridge/

Food and drinks events

HERE are some delicious food and drinks events you might enjoy, while over here on this post I’m following up on my column in the Irish Examiner about last week’s New Zealand Wine Fair with further Kiwi whites I’d recommend.

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Feb 10 to 12 — Cask-conditioned beers in Cork

The Franciscan Well pub and brewery is celebrating the revival of a lost tradition with a weekend showcase of cask-conditioned winter beers. Nowadays, the industry standard is for draught beers that are all but inert, pumped by gas into your pint glass.  In contrast, these are ‘live’ beers which undergo fermentation in cask.
You can’t turn back time but, side-by-side with their more obviously commercial and popular bottled or kegged beers,  our best and most forward-looking small breweries  in Ireland and the UK are championing hand-pumped cask beers. This weekend, the Franciscan Well is showcasing 15 of them, all dispensed according to the standards specified by CAMRA. I haven’t seen the line-up of brews and breweries yet but, being a selection of winter beers, you can expect pints from the darker, deeper end of the spectrum.  Think of it as a last hurrah of wintertime as we hurtle towards spring.

♦ The Franciscan Well Brewery & Brew Pub, North Mall, Cork (021-4393434;  www.franciscanwellbrewery.com) is open daily at 3pm, closing at 11.30pm daily except Saturdays (12.30am) and Sundays (11 pm).

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IF you’re involved in public beer or wine events anywhere in Ireland, and would like them flagged here and in the Irish Examiner, please email me the info.  My contact details are here. Don’t bother with pictures, PDFs etc — just the basic info, ideally three weeks in advance to get in ahead of print deadlines.

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Feb 14 — Love and romance in the English Market, Cork 

Valentine's Night Threshold fundraiser at the Farm Gate in the English Market, Cork.

St Valentine’s night is all about dinner à deux whether at home or, unburdened by kitchen anxiety, in a restaurant. And here’s to more of that.

But many people feel excluded by the whole two-by-two thing. Whether you’re in the tentative connected-but-uncommitted early days, or settled into a well-worn relationship, it can all be a bit much. Let alone the many people single by chance or by choice. Plus, many couples grabbing a rare night out (I’m particularly thinking of parents here) who’d love to dine out together — but in the company of their friends.

Which is where Threshold and the Farm Gate Café come in.

They’re hosting a fundraising dinner and celebration from 7pm on Valentine’s night that ought to appeal to everyone — couples, singles or whatever. The award-winning restaurant will serve up top-class food, drinks (the latter supported by Irish Distillers, whose wine list included the likes of Brancott Estate and Campo Viejo) and entertainment — and all for only €50 a head.

Threshold is a national organisation providing free, confidential advice and advocacy in relation to housing and tenancy. The registered charity also campaigns on the issues, and — as a glance at their site at www.threshold.ie will tell you — is an invaluable source of practical, sensible information

The restaurant is of course normally open only 9am to 5pm during the market’s working day, so it’s a rare opportunity to dine at nighttime in the atmospheric market building. See corkenglishmarket.ie for more about the restaurant and the market. Couples will be accommodated of course but much of the seating will be at shared big tables. It sounds like a lot of fun and, who knows, new romance could bloom on the night!

For tickets, drop into the Farm Gate, email advicecork@threshold.ie or call Threshold on 021-4278848.

Feb 14Valentine’s night at On The Pig’s Back Café

On The Pig’s Back, market neighbours of the Farm Gate – are decamping to their Douglas venue for a night of love and – intriguingly – murder. Greenshine (Noel Shine, Mary Greene and Ellie Shine) will present a night of love songs and murder ballads on Tues  Feb 14 from 8pm at On the Pig’s Back Café Deli in St Patrick’s Mills, Douglas, Cork. Booking (€10 from either of the On The Pig’s Back outlets or on 021-4617832) is essential. And a menu of bubbles, wines & chocolates is available too.

Feb 17 – Big tasting at ely, Dublin

Try out more than 80 wines in a big open tasting at ely bar & brasserie, IFSC. Tickets are €20 and choose either 6pm or 8pm.

Feb 23 — Wine dinner at Hayfield Manor, Cork

The next date in the dairy for Hayfield Manor Wine Society is on Thursday, February 23 with a dinner paired with wines from the Santa Sofia winery in Italy. Executive chef Graeme Campbell and sommelière Sandra Biret-Crowley have matched each of the five courses to five wines. It begins with aperitifs at 7pm, and dinner is served from 7.30pm. The event costs  €79 per person. Book on 021-4845909 or at events@hayfieldmanor.ie.

Feb 29 to Mar 2 — Pop-up dinners in three cities

From Vineyards Direct is hosting a series of ‘pop-up ‘ dinners (that is, in locations that aren’t normally restaurants) featuring the wines of the Castello di Potentino vineyards at Monte Amiata near Brunello in Tuscany as follows.
February 29 – Cork City Gaol – 6.30pm to 9pm
March 1 – Limerick City Gallery – 6.30pm to 9pm
March 2 – Dublin, Science Gallery – 6.30pm to 8pm
The latter event is part of the Science Gallery’s Edible exhibit which apparently examines relationships among food, wine, science and nature. Ooh. Interesting. All three events sound attractive especially (to me) the Science Gallery bit. I’ll be looking into this and popping more information up here as I get it.

March 5 — Rhone wine tasting and dinner in Cork

On Monday, March 5 from 7.30pm, the Wine Store – aka Simon and Emma Tyrrell – is taking a road trip to Cork’s L’Atitude 51, the new wine café in what used to be The Lobby, as outlined at the top of this page.

There are two parts to the evening. First, Simon will talk guests through six wines (mainly from the Rhône Valley) accompanied by tasty morsels of tapas from L’Atitude’s kitchen.  €15 per person. There will also be the option to stay on for a set menu dinner for just another €15. To book a place for either or both, call L’Atitude 51 on 021 2390219. And see http://thewinestoreireland.wordpress.com/ for more details.   ♦

Reeling in the years 2012

IF you haven’t already seen it, I’d recommend you download and read The misuse of alcohol and other drugs, a report released this week by the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children.

As the name suggests, it has a wide focus. Among its recommendations are stricter controls on prescription drugs, and funding for drug and alcohol rehabilitation schemes. But as you’d expect from a wine blogger, my main focus is on the parts of the report dealing with alcohol.

Alcohol consumption in Ireland has gone up by 231% since 1960. Source: http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx

Some of the recommendations have hit the headlines but it’s really worth reading the full report as it delivers a more rounded sense of the submissions the committee heard, lays out some key evidence, provides useful graphics which can help our understanding of the issues, and contains comprehensive references/links to further relevant stats, audio etc.

Retailers

One of the most controversial recommendations (11) suggests the government should consider an “outright ban on the sale of alcohol in certain outlets”.

But the more specific proposal in this regard is (10) for legislation to “ban the presentation and sale of alcoholic products alongside groceries, confectionary and fuel”.

This is the ‘garages-and-supermarkets’ bit you may have heard about in the news.

While on the face of it, this may look like an enormously radical change, it’s little more than a reversion to the situation that prevailed a few decades ago. The recommendation doesn’t suggest firms operating supermarkets shouldn’t run off-licences, and in practical terms it could mean little more than alcohol being hived off into an area separate from the groceries in supermarkets. This is pretty reasonable really, giving alcohol its proper place as a speciality rather than normalised as a shopping trolley staple.

However I think the 12th recommendation — “that the Government prohibit the practice of retail deliveries of alcoholic products directly to consumers’ homes” — may be a mistake. I believe it’s inspired at least in part by the shocking images from a sting operation in August 2010 on RTÉ’s Prime Time.

That film showed how four off-licences and two supermarkets had sent round alcohol to people who certainly looked like under-18s without checking for identification. The practice is also being targeted by Garda undercover sting operations.

However it’s important to distinguish between such a dial-up booze taxi and the activities of online stores occasionally mentioned in this column which take orders by credit or debit card and deliver wine and beer days later. I see little connection between the online wine stores mentioned on this blog and the booze taxi scandal. Is this because those online wine shops appeal to middle-class folk like me? Captured by the posh? Moi? Don’t think so. No, really. No, it’s because factors including price and the time lag between order and delivery are likely to make them far less appealing to underage drinkers. I’m not convinced anything would be achieved by banning them that wouldn’t be done better by ensuring they’re regulated.

A majority of the committee commended the government’s plan to indroduce minimum pricing, with a minority proposing tax increases, the proceeds to be ring-fenced for alcohol addiction services. The committee also backed a recommendation by the chairman Jerry Buttimer TD to end VAT refunds on below-cost sales. It came as a surprise to many including me that the state was, I presume unintentionally, subsidising some retailers’ sales.

The Nanny State

Inevitably, some of the committee’s recommendations, and the outlook expressed here, will be ridiculed as advocating ‘the nanny state’: folks being coddled and controlled by big brother. Well fine. Let’s look at the world from that perspective…

The Nanny Sector

Instead of the nanny state we have the nanny sector. The retail and drinks lobbies have persuaded the state to privatise much of its policy on how alcohol is advertised and sold, along with winning concessions on matters such as store size and opening hours. And then there’s the advertising and sponsorship. The ‘nannying’ we get from state bodies such as safefood.ie shrinks to infinitesimal dimensions when compared with the wall of communication funded by the powerful, largely self-regulated, alcohol industry. It’s been building its brands by advertising to impressionable young people. For many children and teens, some of the most exciting, engaging experiences are coming to them with alcohol stapled on.  The afternoon movies over Christmas on UTV were sponsored by an alcoholic cider. Matches at the most recent soccer World Cup were bookended by comedy sketches advertising a beer. The very name of Europe’s premier rugby competition is a brand of beer.

Here’s the committee’s recommendation (4)

that the Government explore the option of a ban on all retail advertising relating to the discounting of alcoholic products, a ban on the advertisement of alcoholic products on television before 9PM, and any advertisement of alcohol products on social networking websites (these bans to be given legislative standing).

In what way is this nannying? What will be missing from your life if you see fewer advertisements for drink?

If such advertising weren’t so powerful, they wouldn’t be spending so much money on it. Young people also can’t help but notice the ubiquitous availability of alcohol as part of the weekly shop — which helps normalise drink as a somehow inevitable part of grown-up life.

What happens next?

The report is now being considered by junior Health Minister Roisin Shortall. But she doesn’t get to sit on the couch and just read the report. Not by a long chalk. Don’t forget that various interested parties will be lobbying hard right now, now that change is in the air. The obvious lobbying battle line (alcohol-industry-versus-regulation) is likely to be blurred, and the hardest skirmishes may well be fought by the various sectors of that industry trying to ensure they don’t lose advantage to the others. From their persepective, it’s all about access to markets. The one justification you won’t hear for such opposition is ‘because we profit from it’.

If I knew how, I’d add a countdown clock to this blog. It’d be interesting to see, starting from the publicaton date of the committee’s report, how many days til we read press reports about the disastrous impact alcohol regulation would have on employment.

If I do get round to it, my countdown clock will be accompanied by a wry visual metaphor- a picture of a telegraph operator protesting against the advent of fax, email, SMS and social media and their effect on jobs in that now obsolete medium. 

Here’s an idea: Public policy in areas fundamental to our wellbeing such as health, education, crime, justice and welfare – should never depend how many jobs are in it.

To anyone workng in the alcohol or retail fields who feels I am being glib about the prospects for your business or your job, please be assured that is not the case. Take it from someone working in the print media: things change. It may even be for the better. And anyway, the liberalised regime of retailing and promoting alcohol in this country right now is an recent invention. I don’t recall anyone in the 1990s protesting that their sons or daughters (perhaps you) couldn’t get a job in the alcohol industry just because the local garage wasn’t allowed stock it, or your local sports club wasn’t allowed promote it. One day soon we will regard the ubiquitous alcohol policy as a flash in the pan – as brief and unwise as prohibition.  

Read the industry submissions included in the report and you’ll get a sense of the lobbying. For instance, the National Off-Licence Association is promoting measures which will make it more difficult for supermarkets to mop up market share. The supermarkets in turn — who need no lessons in lobbying from anyone — will be fighting to water down any proposals which impact on their business. I presume  other interest groups such as online wine traders are getting together right now to contact the minister. And on it goes. And it’s in that melee that policy will be formed.

Reeling In The Years

I’m hardly alone in suffering occasional pangs of embarrassment-by-proxy while watching Reeling In The Years on TV. You get that sharp pain when you spot among the video clips from yesteryear the often bizarre clothing, regrettable haircuts, ashtrays in the maternity wards, and members of our ruling class in mullets and kipper ties talking up the property bubble. The blithe reassurances that, yes, it was a good idea to hand our power to churches and companies and forego democratic oversight and regulation of them. And there’s us voting for them. What the hell were we thinking?

Well here’s a handy hint. If you’re wondering about the wisdom of anything from a political policy to a haircut — now, today — just cast your mind forward and imagine how it would look featured ten or twenty years hence on Reeling In The Years 2012.

With regard to alcohol, I figure there’s a good chance we’ll be pretty embarrassed. The way we drink, and especially the way we allow the industry to behave in 2012, will look wildly inappropriate when we look back at it a decade hence. With the lucidity of hindsight, we’ll look back in wonder at the way we handed over power to a small few stakeholders in the alcohol and retail industries, and it’ll all look utterly mad. Here’s a snippet of what we’re likely to say…

“Self-regulation? Given the lessons we’d already learnt from what that kind of power did to the financial industry? What the hell were we thinking?”

We ought to commend this Oireachteas committee, and any governement with the courage to drive on with the broad thrust of its report. As I mentioned above, there will be powerful groups who make their money from alcohol lobbying the minister. So who’s missing from her table? Most of us, really — disenfranchised by our silence, left reading page after page of court reports about alcohol-related violence and accidents. Because right now. whether we like it or not, that’s what’s ‘normal’.

The advertising, availability and display of alcohol aren’t the only factors contributing to the abuse of alcohol. But they are among the few in our direct political control. That’s our power which, for a generaton, we’ve ceded to private firms for profit. If you welcome the partial rolling back of ubiquitous alcohol and alcohol advertising, and taking power back from sectoral interests, you might consider contacting your TD or the minister to give them your backing.  ♦

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Wine unplugged

The Wine Trials

This post is part of a collection of related links here, The Skeptical Wine Lover.

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IT should go without saying but… When you’re at the dinner table tonight, you and your companions are all alone with the wine in your glasses.
Reputation, history, packaging, advertising, back label blurb, descriptions, reviews, ratings and even language itself all vanish – boof! – leaving just you and your company with the sight, smell and taste of the wine nestling in the bottom of your glass.

It’s pretty wonderful. Like music, enjoying food and drink is an entirely sensual escapade. However, we’re forever interpreting, judging, and imposing language on what we experience. And that’s okay too. As humans it’s what we’re wired to do.

But ideally, we should all be assessing the quality of any wine based entirely on its colour, aroma and taste. And so too should any wine columnist or blogger. With certain limitations, I attempt to do this, thereafter factoring in other key criteria, most notably price and availability, when deciding to recommend wines.

Recommend? What’s that about? Isn’t that just a second-hand experience? Well like many another, half of my weekly column in the Irish Examiner is essentially me nudging your elbow saying, “here, try these wines, I think you might like them.” I’m not shy, and not reluctant to recommend wines I think offer both an interesting experience and good value. And (especially when taken cumulatively) I believe such commendations may be of value to the reader. Wouldn’t do it otherwise.

However, I believe many readers presume those recommendations are what I’m at, that I view them as the most useful end of the column. I don’t. To me, the lump of narrative accompanying the recommendations is actually where it’s at. It’s where I do my bit to debunk wine myths, encourage readers to delve into the experience, plead with them to make use of open, public wine tastings. Because it’s not about me, nor about wineries or retailers or anything else. It’s all about you on a Saturday night and the bundle of sensations nestling in the bottom of your wine glass. Sometimes I say this overtly and sometimes I hint at it: Among the phrases I most frequently use are “suck it and see” and “trust your tastebuds”.

So it was with delight that I plunged last week into one of the delightful, radical books about wine I’ve had the pleasure to read, namely The Wine Trials 2011 (Workman Publishing, NY, 2011) You can buy it online (at Amazon for Kindle) or order it at good bookshops including Waterstones and Eason.

The book is the latest edition of a project that grew out of “Do More Expensive Wines Taste Better?” an academic paper published in May, 2008 by Robin Goldstein which in turn was based on a battery of blind taste-tests. In essence, some 500 volunteers assessed wines they tasted blind. And not only was a disparity between price and quality, in general they preferred cheaper wine to more expensive wine.  This, some further double-blind tastings, and a host of references to peer-reviewed academic research make up the business end of the book. Part II of the book is its list, complete with tasting notes, of the ‘winners’ selected by the blind tastings at the inexpensive end of the market.

I was delighted to see many wines there I’d recommended – some of them modest numbers priced well below €10 here in Ireland which I’d suggest offer far more than their price point would suggest. But the most significant deja-vu I experienced was reading Goldstein plead with readers to invest more of their attention in Part I. Suck it and see.

Importantly, the book is rigorous and disciplined. While Goldstein and his contributors do engage in some pretty interesting editorialising, the authors provide clear evidence for every significant claim they make, and delineate carefully between those evidence-based findings, and broader notions they put forward or use to illustrate the science.

I’m coming late to all this. I’m not alone. Despite its direct and immediate application anywhere in the world, The Wine Trials has had scant attention on this side of the Atlantic. The whole economy, let alone the wine market, of the US differs significantly from Ireland’s, But the most interesting and most important aspects of the book are entirely transferable.

I was alerted to the book by Eric Asimov, the New York Times’ wine guy whose columns and blogs are always worth a browse.
Over the last three years or so, Eric has been having a dialogue in print with the authors of The Wine Trials, and his critique may add a further dimension to your understanding of what the book is all about. But, while Asimov is as fair and respectful an interlocutor as one would expect, I’d recommend you don’t read one without the other. Goldstein continues the conversation in this latest edition of The Wine Trials. For an unparalelled insight into us, and how we view our food and drink, I recommend you buy it and read it.  ♦

The skeptical wine lover

See below for a link to Tim Minchin's White Wine In The Sun.

I WAS delighted to raise a glass recently in honour of Cork Skeptics‘ first birthday. Part of the worldwide skeptics (or sceptics) movement promoting critical thinking, they meet monthly at Blackrock Castle Observatory and kindly invited me to their December event to present a talk, ‘Suck It And See’.

That title is intended to suggest that our best understanding of wine comes from our own senses, unmediated by a host of other voices from advertising through to the opinions of independent wine columnists and bloggers like me. The subheading, ‘everything we think we know about wine is wrong’ is a deliberately provocative overstatement…  But it can be a useful motto to adopt, leaving you refreshed, open-minded, and prepared for a delightful new journey into wonderful wine.

I said then I’d post links to some of the key issues I covered that evening. Here they are. Yes it’s a very long post (and it’s likely to get longer). But firstly, this isn’t a hurrah-here’s-a-wine-you-might-like kind of post and many of the points do need all that background and context. Secondly, this (plus the posts I link to) really comprise a compliation albubm plus extended remixes. I’ve mentioned almost all of the points, in one form or another, in my column in the Irish Examiner and on this blog.

Comments, questions and challenges are of course always welcome —but particularly to this post, and to the links on it.

Some background

The psychology and physiology of misunderstanding is a rich field, ranging from Richard Dawkins pointing out our difficulty in grasping evolutionary time, through to the exploration of the issues on Dr Brian Hughes’ blog. I don’t think anyone’s suggesting we should (or could) shake off our all-too-human perceptual shortcomings which seem to be a hardwired component of our makeup. But we can acknowledge and understand, and thereby work around, them. The components of misunderstanding — such as unwarranted or unquestioning faith in authority figures; misattribution; mistaking coincidence for causality — these are lenses which can interrupt or distort our understanding of the world around us. And, specifically in relation to wine, they can distort our perception of quality and value.

Poster by Alan Barrett

Cork Skeptics

There’s a second chapter to all this: the sometimes well-meaning and mistaken, but often deliberate, manipulation of our wobbly perception by others. Some newspapers profitably agitate readers with nonsensical stories which you could broadly divide into yay (something will improve your health) and boo (something will damage your health). Such stories are often entirely incorrect, or at least so misreported and decontextualised as to be even worse than lies — true-but-misleading. The same media also often presents specious made-up stuff from press releases as fact when reason suggests they know better.

And it’s not just the media. Among the matters previously covered on this blog are, for instance, the way retailers’ sales can distort our perception of value; how heavy, carefully-positioned marketing spend keeps upmarket wines such as Champagne high in our affections; and research suggesting we’re positively influenced by higher prices; a refreshing dose of reality from an unexpected source acknowledging the glut on world markets which suggests that broadly speaking the price of many wines may be artificially high. And here is an occasionally-updated post you may find useful for reference purposes — a list of the most common wine myths you may encounter regarding the likes of organic wine, sulphites and more.

The foregoing plus the following new links set out to illustrate some of our perceptual limitations and how they can be manipulated. And the underlying point of all this? I adore wine and want to help clear away some of the guff that surrounds it so we can drink better, and better value, in 2012. Happy New Year!

Start here

Dr Ben Goldacre is one of the most prominent debunkers of media pseudoscience. On August 7, 2009, in the wake of the swine flu panic, he appeared on BBC Radio 4′s satirical news/comedy programme The Now Show. In less than six minutes – along with the show’s anchors, Laura Shavin, Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis – he delivers a tour de force of what you could call fact-based comedy, filleting the travesty that is much of popular media science reporting.

Dr Ben Goldacre

Click to hear Dr Ben Goldacre's tour de force on a BBC Radio 4 comedy show.

It’s not all fun and games, and you may be angered by some of the evidence he provides of borderline psychotic media irresponsibility. Ultimately, the clip is an excellent piece of public service focusing well-deserved derision on the crap we let the media get away with.

The audio clip here on YouTube doesn’t even mention wine. But go on. It really is the best place to start. Follow that link and rejoin me here when you’re done.

Roll up! Roll up! Getcha magic beans!

Everyone from Sense About Science to the National Consumer Agency keeps reminding us that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t. True that is. Given that it’s panto season I might add that anyone who’s been to see Jack And The Beanstalk will know magic beans don’t work or, at best, are an expensive rip-off.
Click here to read my post on a palpably ridiculous comedy spoof dead-serious articles in two newspapers about a magic bean machine that will make your wine better. Really. It’s tempting to comment that ‘you couldn’t make this stuff up’. But they do.

Those wines are rubbish. But ours are fab. And good for you.

The belief that there is some kind of class system of wine wholesalers and retailers is, I believe, one of the worst and most persistent wine myths.

Wineupmanship: Pay us more than you have to, and look happy about it.

This is suggested to me by, for instance, wine fans practically apologising for buying wine in a supermarket or corner shop rather than a specialist wine store — even though they’re quite often buying better, or at least the same, as they would in a wine specialist. This impression is based on anecdotal evidence and at a later date I’ll look around for harder evidence of it.

While I percieve this bias being projected by us consumers, I suspect some wine traders may well practice wineupmanship, taking advantage of this misperception about the quality of their wares. For now though here’s an extreme example of wineupmanship you might enjoy.

Media boo!

The Channel 4 wine scandal

As a counterpart to media yay! (nonsense ranging from generic wine-is-good-for-you yarns to the magic bean machine press release above) the feral end of the media business loves media boo! stories too.

Dispatches, the investigative current affairs television strand on Britain’s Channel 4, has a reputation for tackling important issues head-on including, for instance, going undercover at a residential care home to expose abuses. On September 5, 2008, it broadcast a documentary named What’s in your wine? which set out to expose a scandal that we consumers ought to know about.

Click to view Channel 4's Dispatches programme on wine, presented by Jane Moore.

The programme does indeed point towards some issues which should cause us sceptical consumers concern. But it is so thoroughly compromised that it’s worse than useless. I do recommend viewing the programme, and I’d welcome your comments below. At a later date I intend putting up here a timeline answering each point raised by the programme. Some, such as the litter-strewn Champagne vineyard, do cause me concern. But the programme-makers have as many questions to answer as do the winemakers.

For now, let’s look at some of the broad issues that undermine it, starting with the promises made in the Channel 4 press release which should raise eyebrows even before you see a single frame of the documentary.

With wine consumption in the UK hitting record levels, Jane Moore investigates the many different substances — including fish and dairy products — that can be used to produce wine but which rarely appear on the label of the average bottle.

Anyone who has attended the most basic wine course will chuckle at this paragraph. Because they will know that since time immemorial, naturally-occurring compounds derived from sources such as fish (isinglass), egg (albumen) and clay (bentonite) have been used to refine and filter wines. Big deal. But those with enough interest and time on their hands to sign up for Wine 101 amount to a tiny minority of the wine-drinking population. And this TV programme which purports to inform and educate the public is achieving precisely the opposite, scaring people unnecessarily by couching widely-available uncontroversial facts in terms normally reserved for startling revelations.

Let’s try a more calm approach.

One of the great benefits of EU membership has been the introduction of standardised mandatory labelling on food and other packaging. I think the labelling information on wine could be much better: Processes such as chaptalisation (adding sugar) and the use of fining agents should be disclosed. And in particular, I think the presence of that most misunderstood of additives, sulphites / sulfites, should be disclosed by means of a parts-per-million measure rather than just blankly as “contains sulphites” (see the ‘Contains Sulphites’ entry in Wine Myths for more). Isn’t that a reasonable proposition? A wine buyer for the Co-Op retail chain makes similar positive suggestions in the programme. But, embedded as they are in the shriekingly fearful tone of the programme, such reasonable points may be misinterpreted as suggesting there’s some sort of wine conspiracy going on. Let’s go back to that statement from Channel 4.

The health benefits of the occasional glass of red wine are widely acknowledged but Dispatches reveals how a great deal of the wine we consume is enhanced, sweetened or flavoured, creating a drink that one critic describes as no better than, ‘an alcoholic cola’.

“Widely acknowledged” eh? Actually, the health benefits of an occasional glass of wine have never been demonstrated. And nor has the opposite contention. Again I refer you to the Wine Myths post. That sort of assertion is understandable at the water cooler. But this TV programme purports to have expertise in divining the truth about wine and informing us of it, and really should stick to the evidence rather than parading this wilfully ignorant OMGism.

The ‘alcoholic cola’ bit is a quote from veteran wine writer Malcolm Gluck. Which brings me to two aspects of the editing which oversell and undermine the film.
Selective editing. The film includes soundbites from two luminaries — former Guardian wine critic Malcolm Gluck and winemaker Randall Grahm. There are brief clips of both, their tone broadly condemnatory of much modern winemaking practice. But each soundbite is bracketed by voiceover from Jane Moore which seems to be levelling more serious charges. Further, we don’t get to hear the full interviews with either. Indeed, not once are we allowed hear the questions that elicited those quotes — not a major problem in a light entertainment show. But hardly best practice in a groundbreaking current affairs programme.

What did they really say? In full I mean. And what questions and prompts were put to them? Any chance Channel 4 would put the raw video online?

I believe their quotes were deliberately taken out of context, that the broad thrust of their comments was not to suggest that any, or even many, wines contain dangerous nasties, but rather to distinguish between the upmarket wines they might advocate, and more popularly-priced ones. It’s perfectly reasonable for them to profess that the latter are not good quality or that they’d prefer not to drink them. But that’s a world away from the panicky feeling induced by the frantic tone set by the two framing devices — Jane Moore’s commentary, and that wretched soundtrack.

[By the way - Apart from one accessibly-priced mourvèdre, I have never bought wines made by Randall Graham. I've tasted a few down the years and they did indeed rock, but they are way outside my price bracket. To give you an indication, here's a link to the nearest stockist of their wines I could find.]

Manipulative audio. Have you ever trawled YouTube for funny movie mashups? You should. Amateur auteurs take clips of popular movie and television hits, edit them together and post them as faux trailers for strange new imagined hybrid movies. Among the most popular are Sesame Street muddled up with Mean Streets (there’s a lot of swearing and violence in that one so you may want to avoid showing it when children are around) and classic horror The Shining as a romantic comedy. They’re a lot of fun – and they’re also terrific examples of how easy it is to manipulate meaning, and the viewer’s emotions, with a soundtrack.

If it weren’t so grossly misleading the public, the Dispatches wine programme would be almost as funny as those mashups. The film is accompanied throughout by a soundscape which is, frankly, distressing. Such manipulation has no place in any reasonable assessment of the issues involved.

But my ‘favourite’ sequence in the whole show is the startling revelation [cue spooky music; odd camera angles] made by a SCIENTIST [man in white coat; test tubes] about the level of residual sugar in various Champagnes and sparkling wines…

Good God, what a reveal! High fives all round the production office! We nailed Big Wine, eh?

Problem is, it’s not a revelation. The sugar levels in various wines including those bubblies are widely available; none of the ‘tests’ fouund any discrepancies from the stated levels; and not only does the process leading to that sugar’s presence in sparklers have a name (‘dosage’), but if you visit any winery making a champenoise sparkling wine, they will actually show the process to you as they proudly demonstrate the intricate business they have to set about to make this fascinating and often delicious wine style.

This programme has to be the most most cynical confection of weaselly, misleading crap about wine I’ve ever had the displeasure to endure. But there’s a positive message for us — we shouldn’t believe stuff just because it’s on telly, in a newspaper, or on a blog including this one: if they don’t provide clear evidence, what they’re saying is quite likely to be untrue or misleading.

And finally…

I’ll add more links as they crop up. For now though, let’s leave the topic as we began it, with comedy, sort-of. There’s a wave of top-class comics such as Dara Ó Briain who riff on and ridicule pseudoscience to devastating effect. Among the foremost is Tim Minchin, whose appearance at Cork Opera House this year was promoted by Cork Skeptics.

The Australian comic’s appeal to both our reason and to our funnybone is certainly reflected in this song, White Wine In The Sun. But it’s also a moving paen to the Christmas spirit, and an expression of love to those closest to us — and enjoying good wine in their company. I think that’s what wine should be all about. ♦

A carrot for Rudolph, a bottle for Santy

Click to browse 27 of Ireland's craft beers

WHAT are you leaving out for Santy? The kettle plus a teabag is a good option, as is a warming drop of port. But there’s never been a better time to choose a slice of cake and a bottle of good beer for the great man’s brief pit-stop. A growing number of bottle shops are stocking a wide variety of good Irish stouts and ales — and if you look harder you’ll find a handful of excellent, rich, limited edition winter warmers which seem particularly apt for this time of year. I detail two of them below.

I’d add to that list an all-year-round brew, the terrific savoury Porterhouse Oyster Stout (33ml / ABV 5.2% / around €1.90) which I think is perfect for when you want just a single bottle. Stockists include Drinkstore.ie online or in their store in Stoneybatter, Deveney’s of Dundrum, and Celtic Whiskey ShopHere’s a mouthwatering glimpse of Irish beers available to buy online at Drinkstore.

A hamper of Eight Degrees beer and glasses at Bradley's

Some stores are putting together ready-made hampers and some, including Deveney’s of Dundrum and my nearest beer-a-rama, Bradley’s on North Main Street in Cork, can deliver them too. Each stocks an enormous range of beers from hereabouts. If you’ve time, why not drop in and put together a mixed case yourself? You could pick one theme to explore – for instance all WISE pale ales. Or stouts. One tip though: include at least two of each. It’s always far more interesting if you’re able to revisit one that took your fancy, or pass on the second bottle to someone you think might appreciate it.
Here are two winter beers I’d recommend (These are revised versions of my beer-of-the-week reviews originally published in the Irish Examiner Weekend).

Eight Degrees Brewing
A Winter’s Ale

7.5% ABV / 330ml / about €2.50
eightdegrees.ie

In this assuredly rich and warming seasonal brew, the  Mitchelstown-based brewers have lifted a rich, earthy ale with orange, cloves and spiky star anise from Green Saffron.

Eight Degrees A Winter's Ale

Eight Degrees' A Winter's Ale

Eight Degrees off-licence stockists

Cork Bradleys Off License, North Main Street, Cork
Number 21, Patricks Hill, Cork
Reidys Supervalu, Mitchelstown, Co Cork
Centra, Mitchelstown, Co Cork
Costcutter, Amber Garage, Fermoy, Co Cork
Brookes Supervalu, Youghal, Co Cork
Donegal Dicey Reillys Bar & Off licence, Ballyshannon, Donegal
Dublin OBriens off-licences
Celtic Whisky Shop, 27/28 Dawson Street, D2
Deveneys Dundrum, 31 Main Street, Dundrum, D14
Deveneys Rathmines, 16 Upper Rathmines, D6
D Six Off licence, 163 Harold’s Cross Road, D6
Drinkstore.ie, 87 Manor St, D7
Martins Offlicence, 11 Marino Mart, Fairview, D3
McHughs Offlicence, 57 Kilbarrack Rd, D5
McHughs Offlicence, 25e Malahide Rd, Dublin
Mortons, 15-17 Dunville St, Ranelagh, D6
Next Door, 23-25 Sundrive Road, Kimmage, D12
Next Door, Old Swords Road, Santry , D9
Next Door, 294/298 Harolds Cross Road, D6
Redmonds of Ranelagh, 25 Ranelagh, D6
Galway Cases Wine Warehouse, Tuam Rd
McCambridges of Galway, Shop St
Laois Egans Offlicence, Peppers Court, Portlaoise
Limerick Desmonds Next Door, Raheen, Limerick
Waterford Number Five Off license, 5 Tyrone Rd, Lismore Park, Waterford City
Ardkeen Quality Food Store, Dunmore Road, Waterford
Wicklow Hollands Fine Wines, 78/ 80 Main Street, Bray, Co. Wicklow.

Dungarvan Brewing Company
Coffee and Oatmeal Stout 2011

4.5% ABV / 500ml / €2.99
dungarvanbrewingcompany.com

I’m hardly the only beer fan to gingerly sniff at beers with added extras, as I’ve encountered some pretty OTT numbers dominated, rather than supported by, flavours such as vanilla. But in this one, the natural savoury flavour palette of stout is augmented with a lick of coffee, and its texture boosted by the addition of creamy oats. Both additions are subtle and assured, and the whole effect is a gorgeous, rich middleweight stout.

Dungarvan Coffee and Oatmeal Stout

Dungarvan Coffee and Oatmeal Stout

Dungarvan Brewing Company off-licence stockists


Cork
Bradley’s Off Licence
McGovern’s Ballyvolane
Abbott Alehouse
Barry’s Off Licence Midleton
Dublin
Redmond’s of Ranelagh
Drinkstore, Stoneybatter
Deveney’s Dundrum
McHugh’s Malahide Road and Kilbarrack
Sweeney’s Glasnevin
Baggot St Wines
Martins of Fairview
Dungarvan Tommy Power’s
Twomey’s Eurospar
Limerick
Desmond’s of Limerick
Waterford
World Wide Wines
Wicklow
Hollands of Bray.  ♦

Christmas tastings + Suck It And See

Cork Skeptics wine event at Blackrock Castle Observatory

Cork Skeptics wine event

[Update - Friday, December 16, 2011]

THE event below is now of course in the past tense. It’s rare for any more food and wine events to take place this close to Christmas, but if I hear of any I’ll stick details up here.

I will post links to a heap of original sources and/or opinion related to the issues I mentioned during my winey talk at Cork Skeptics’ December meeting. The idea was to highlight how we keep on putting barriers between us and what our perceptions actually tell us about the wine nestling in the bottom of our glasses.

I had intended to post these links on Wednesday and said so here. Unfortunately, one of life’s little wrinkles diverted my attention, and that was followed by a computer crash. And so I’m posting that material much later than intended. I apologise for the delay.

My column in tomorrow’s Irish Examiner Weekend (quite aptly linking in to the broad theme of skepticism) is looking at wine made using organically-grown grapes. Some of my conclusions may surprise you. And I’ll also be looking at another good bottle of beer to leave out for Santy.

As for the Skeptics event itself, a hearty thank you to everyone who endured my peripatetic conversational style. It’s why I generally stick to writing, and why the links I’ll be posting speak louder and better than I can. ♦

[The following was posted on December 6, 2011]

WE’RE coming up to the last few wine events of the year. As ever I’d suggest you check out my hints and tips for making the most of a wine tasting. The line-up of events includes a rare outing for me on Saturday with something completely different.

December 10 – Suck It And See, Blackrock Castle, Cork

PART of an international movement promoting critical thinking, Cork Skeptics live here (corkskeptics.org) and also at the splendid Blackrock Castle Observatory (bco.ie). Each of its meetings turns the focus on topics where sceptical evidence-based thinking has been *cough* absent or challenged — ranging from alternative medicine to moving statues, pyramid schemes, scams, GM Foods and UFOs.

A quick word about language: Skeptic is an alternative spelling of sceptic. More importantly, you may hear the words skeptic and cynic used interchangeably. Big mistake. They’re so different you could say they’re opposites. A cynic has all the answers, whereas a skeptic just keeps asking questions.

Poster by Alan Barrett

Anyway, this week Cork Skeptics kick off the festive season by turning their attention to wine, and have kindly asked me along to help. In a wide-ranging illustrated talk, I’ll be presenting a heap of evidence that our prejudices distort out perception of quality and value, and suggesting how we wine fans can suck it and see and learn to trust our own tastebuds.
The whole thing is meant to be provocative and fun and, reflecting the suck-it-and-see philosophy I try to promote in my column.

I was tempted to get the Cork Skeptics to advertise it as a stand-up comedy gig. I don’t presume that I’m funny – but much of the material certainly is hilarious in that cringey you-couldn’t-make-this-crap-up way.

Along the way I’ll explode some of the popular myths about wine. And while on the subject of memes and factoids, we will take a critical look at the media, with some eye-watering examples of both PR-driven non-stories, and misleading reporting regarding wine (and indeed all alcohol) and health. Even worse than misapprehending the science behind wine, I ask whether some media are deliberately misleading their readers on this topic? Come along, take a look at the examples I’ll be presenting and see what you think. I’ll also highlight an empirical study which I suggest makes nonsense of every wine health story.

It takes place at 8pm on Saturday, December 10. Admission is free, it’s open to anyone over 18, and see corkskeptics.org for more details. And you get your money back if not utterly delighted. ♦

Organic wines

IN this week’s Irish Examiner Weekend I’m looking at wine made with organically-grown grapes.

As I point out in my column, there’s every reason to be sceptical about the more fanciful claims made by some fans on behalf of organic wine. Even the people who make and specialise in selling them don’t claim you’ll live longer by drinking organic wines.  However, I am persuaded that wines made without pesticides and fertilisers may benefit from careful old-school husbandry of the soil and plants. organics and the half-related (and widely misunderstood) issue of sulphur dioxide, the use of which is limited by winemakers adhering to any of the various organic standards. There are signposts to the issues of organics and sulphur dioxide, among others, on this post on  Wine Myths.

Back to the tasting table! I picked today’s highlights solely on the usual criteria – I’m looking for well-made delicious wines at fair prices. Most of the ones I feature this week are imported by Mary Pawle Wines. You can buy direct from marypawlewines.com  who also supply the following stockists.

Clare
Next Door, Kilkee
Next Door, Ennis
The Grainey, Scarriff.

Cork
O’Donovans;
Quay Co-Op;
Harringtons, Ardgroom
Husdons, Ballydehob
Mannings, Ballylickey
Organico, Bantry;
Taste, Castletownbere;
The Olive Branch, Clonakilty;
The Lettercollum Kitchen, Clonakilty
Scallys Supervalu, Clonakilty
Roaring Water, Schull;
Fields, Skibbereen;
Dublin
Lilac Wines, Fairview D3;
Listons, Camden St, D2
Redmonds of Ranelagh
Sweeneys Off Licence

Galway

Cases Wine Warehouse
Connemara Hamper, Clifden
Mortons

Limerick

Nature’s Hand

Kerry

Mannings, Killarney
Milltown Organic Shop
Milltown Market (saturdays)
Waterford
World Wide Wines ♦

Tasty food and drinks events

Slow Food is hosting a wild food festival in co Wicklow.

December 2 – Immigrant support groups’ wine tasting

NASC and Cois Tine are getting together to present an evening of delicious wine and food  from 6.30pm on Friday December 2 at Cois Tine, beside St Mary’s Dominican church on Pope’s Quay, Cork.
Michal Lewandowski will present a selection of wines (courtesy of O’Donovan’s off-licences) accompanied by grub from (drool) three fine food specialists in the English Market — On The Pig’s Back, Heaven’s Cake and Iago.

Tickets are €19.10 – a fee that wasn’t picked at random: that’s the weekly allowance asylum-seekers receive.

[] Cois Tine (pronounced kush tinn-eh, it’s an Irish language term meaning ‘by the fireside’ chosen to signify hospitality) is a Christian multicultural organisation working to promote “the integration of people from all communities, cultures and faiths”. It works primarily with asylum-seekers and refugees, particularly those of African origin. See www.coistine.ie for more.
[] Nasc (it’s an Irish word meaning ‘link’) is The Irish Immigrant Support Board. It links immigrants to their rights, and works across a wide variety of fronts including combating racism, promoting the Cork City Integration Strategy through to direct provision of services.  See www.nascireland.org for more.

December 2 & 3 – Curious Wines Christmas Wine Fair, Cork

THE Christmas Wine Fair at Curious Wines on the Kinsale road in Cork takes place from 4pm to 8pm on Friday, and from noon until 6pm on Saturday, with more than 100 wines open for tasting, along with tasty gourmet food. Tickets cost €10, and all proceeds go to Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind. Phone 1800-991844 or click here www.curiouswines.ie for more details.

This is precisely the sort of tasting I keep urging wine fans to check into. Yes, it’s a commercial showcase of one particular retailer’s range. But it’s also the sole opportunity you will get to dive in and sample any or all of this wide range of wines, free of commentary, advertising, and the suggestions of bloggers and columnists. And if you don’t often dip into such tastings, you may find some useful tips in my post suggesting how to get best use out of open wine tastings.

December 6 – Stickies and fortifieds at Hayfield Manor, Cork
December 7Stickies and fortifieds at Ely IFSC, Dublin

THERE’s any number of lesser-visited wine styles I’d urge everyone to check out. Off-dry riesling. Dry riesling. Portuguese wines (all of them).  Loire reds and whites.  Sometimes it feels like a hopeless mission to persuade people to try out dessert wines or port. Understandable really. After all, what more do you want towards the end of a good dinner than more of the same — a good white or red that you’ve been enjoying?

But discover how a dinner can be turned into a banquet — with tiny glasses of cold botrytis semillon as a beautiful foil to hot bitter coffee, or a rich round spicy port  on the couch — and you’ll never look back.

If you’d like some inspiration, there’s an event next week at venues in Dublin and Cork — Ely bar & brasserie, IFSC, and Hayfield Manor Hotel respectively — that you shouldn’t miss. Courtesy of Wine Australia Ireland, they’re hosting a tutored tasting presented by winemaker Chris Pfeiffer whose Rutherglen Muscat has featured in my column a few times. He’ll present a top line-up of Australian stickies and fortifieds, accompanied by nibbles. The tastings in both venues cost €20 per person and begins at 7pm.

For the Cork tasting, book on ireland@wineaustralia.com or 065-7077264.
For the Dublin event, book on wineclub@elywinebar.com or  01-676 8986.
And if you want any further information on either, contact John at the Wine Australia contact details above.

December 8Martin’s Christmas Crackers Tasting
(Note change of date)

Martin Moran MW (who presents movies and booze on Newstalk with Sean Moncrieff) has put together an event that sounds practical and inspirational in equal measure. He’s trawled the shelves of the major supermarkets and put together a shortlist of approximately 25 wines chosen to compliment seasonal foods and parties.
But as Martin explains on his site, there’s more to it than that and if you want it, he can customise your choices and give you advice on hundreds more wines from the supermarkets’ ranges.

It all takes place at Darc Space Gallery, 26 North Great Georges Street, Dublin 1 from 6.30pm to 8.30pm. Tickets cost €10, or €15 for two.

December 8Red Nose portfolio tasting, Clonmel

ON Thursday, December 8, Rudolph the Red Nose Wine Shop Red Nose Wine is hosting a portfolio tasting  from 8pm at Hickey’s Cafe, Westgate, Clonmel.   Tickets are €15, or free if you buy a €50 voucher – a handy money-saving idea. Click on www.rednosewine.com for details.  Last time I checked in, Gary was putting a list of the wines opening on Facebook – and says he’s open to suggestions from customers of further bottles to add to the tasting. Check it out!  ♦

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

November 15 – Beer and food in Cork

EACH Tuesday in November, The Cornstore in Cornmarket Street, Cork is playing host to beer and food pairing events matching menu with beers such as Birra Moretti, Paulaner and Tiger, in association with Heineken Ireland. At each event a beer and food expert will be on hand to take you through the tasting of beers from around the world and how they match with the food on a specially designed menu. A three-course set menu with beer tasting is €24.95, it kicks off at 7.30pm and you can find out more on 021-4274777.

November 17 – Cases Wine Warehouse Christmas Wine* Fair

The great big annual wine* fair at Cases Wine Warehouse on the Tuam Road, Galway takes place from 6.30pm to 10pm on Thursday November 17. There will be about 120 wines open for tasting on the night, and there’ll be tasty food provided by Cava restaurant. Other antics include Cases annual blind tasting competition and live music….
*Kudos to Cases for putting good beer centre stage, as they’ve announced the tasting includes a range of delicious beers from Irish artisan beweries including Galway Hooker, O’Hara’s, Dungarvan Brewing and 8 Degrees from Mitchelstown. Tickets, €20, (with all proceeds going to Self Help Africa) from Cases on 091-764 701 or at info@cases.ie.

November 17 to 19 – Simply Wines tastings

SIMPLY WINES is probably best known as an online store but you can shop in person there too, and if you’re in the parish I’d strongly suggest you check out their wine fair. They’re holding it over three days with extended opening hours (until 9pm on both the Thursday and Friday, and until 7pm on the Saturday) to showcase more than 80 wines in their range.

You’ll find Simply Wines at Unit 2, Ballyogan Business Park, Ballyogan Road, D18, just around the corner from The Park retail centre, Carrickmines. There’s more details about the wine tasting opportunity here, and a map and stuff here.

And now for something completely different…

November 19 & 20 – Wild & Slow, Macreddin, Co Wicklow

This is big. The BrookLodge Hotel, Macreddin Village, Co Wicklow, is the HQ for a busy weekend of food inspiration from 11am to 8pm on Saturday and Sunday November 19 and 20. In addition to the food on sale from the stalls, there is a programme of wild-food workshops, tastings, talks and demonstrations around Macreddin presented by Slow Food and sponsored by Fáilte Ireland and Bord Bia.

Harvesting hedgerows – what is available for free, where to look for it, and when it is best harvested.
Photo safari in the National Park – a strenuous hike in and around Wicklow, to stalk and photograph the resident wild deer herd and game birds.
Handling and plucking game – a masterclass with licensed game dealer Mick Healy, including a visit to the Wild Irish Game premises in nearby Glenmalure valley.
Game tasting workshop – Taste pheasant that’s been hung for one, two and three weeks cooked for parallel tasting by Ross Lewis of Chapter One.
Game tasting workshop – Tim Daly from BrookLodge presents a sensoray evalutation of three wild meats, rabbit, hare and venison.
Matching game with wines – Martina Delaney, sommelier at l’Ecrivain  will host a workshop pairing gamey wines with these traditional meats.
Wild fish workshop – Mick Murphy, licensed traditional snap-net fisherman explores issues of seasonality and sustainability and fisheries management.
♦ Herbalists Freda Wolfe & Clodagh Mulvey on foraging from among more than 400 plant species used in mainstream medicine and alternative therapies alike.
♦ The gamekeeper’s year – Keith Wooldridge, the retired head gamekeeper of Ballinacor Estate will talk you through the year from preparations in spring through to winter shoots, with an emphasis on habitat and environmental management.

For more, see
http://wildandslow.com
www.slowfoodireland.com

November 24Cork Wine Fair

THE 11th Cork Wine Fair, organised by O’Donvans Off-Licences, takes place on Thursday November 24 from 4pm to 9pm at the Clarion Hotel, Lapps Quay, Cork. About 400 wines as well as beers and spirits will be open for tasting, and there will also be samples of gourmet foods. Two masterclasses, led by two of Ireland’s leading experts, will take place in a side room during the show, featuring the wines of Australia (John McDonnell) and New Zealand (Jean Smullen). All proceeds from tickets (€10) go to the Simon Community in Cork. Booking/enquiries at any of O’Donovan’s 16 stores in Cork city and county or phone 021 4296060.

Heineken Ireland is bringing beer and food tasting to top restaurants in Dublin and Cork. Ely Bar and Brasserie, Siam Thai and Roly’s Bistro in Dublin and The Cornstore in Cork will give food lovers and beer fans the chance to come together and sample the natural pairing of beer and food with beers from around the world like Birra Moretti, Paulaner and Tiger. At each event a beer and food expert will be on hand to take you through the tasting of beers from around the world and how they match with the food on a specially designed menu. So whether you’re a beer lover or have never even thought of drinking a beer with your food, there is a beer for you that will add a new dimension to the food you know and love.

Autumn tastings

NB: I’m leaving this post with previous events up for reference only – if you want to see up-to-date listings of forthcoming tastings etc pop over here.

█ September 21 – Tinpot Hut winemaker in Cork
OH my. This is so promising. A tasting menu of some potentially top-class wines, presented by the winemaker, delivered at a very modest price and in a flexible way (to accompany a budget set menu or à la carte as you choose). It’s a pity it was set up at the last minute, as I’d have been there in a heartbeat if I could rearrange. So go and check it out for me.

While I haven’t tasted the wines in question, they certainly have a promising pedigree. Co-owned by Matt Thomson and Fiona Turner, the Tinpot Hut marque — comprising wines from both north and south islands of New Zealand — has picked up various posh awards.

Fiona is on a brief visit to Ireland and will be at Electric on the South Mall in Cork on Wednesday September 21. I don’t yet know if there’s a format but from 5.30pm, anyone dining from the early bird menu can also plug into her wines — a half glass each of the Tinpot Hut sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, grüner veltliner (gv), pinot noir and syrah. I’m interested in all of them, and am particularly intrigued by the gv which is rarely seen outside its native Austria. That’s five wines and your snap for €29. If you’d rather order à la carte, you can just add the wine bit as above for just €10. Ah come on, like.

You’ll find all the info about the event in Electric on their website here.  And again if you’re involved in such events, please drop me an email and let me know.

█   September 22 – Big tasting at Ely
More than 70 wines and cocktails on offer at Ely’s second BIG tasting. It’s €20 or, for a set three-course dinner, €35. 6pm and 8pm. Book on wineclub@elywinebar.com or 01 678 7867.

█  September 23 to 25 – The All-Ireland Beer Festival at the RDS
More than 40 beers and ciders (along some whiskies) will be pouring at this new festival which clearly aims to become a major annual fixture. It’s open on Friday (4pm to 12.30am; Saturday noon to 12.30am; Sunday noon to 6pm. Tickets are €10 per day or €15 for a three-day pass. You have to change your cash into festival ‘Beer Bucks’ to buy food and drink from the exhibitors at an exchange rate of €2.50 per buck, each of which buys you a half pint. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster.ie or from The Bull and Castle pub near Christchurch on Lord Edward St D2, and L Mulligan Grocer at 18 Stoneybatter D7. www.irishcraftbeerfestival.com.

█  September 23 Culture Night
There’s one deviation from the wine and beer events on this list, and it’s a biggie. On  Culture Night this Friday, hundreds of venues nationwide throw open their doors to the public late into the evening, many of them hosting special events, and all free of charge. Here’s the national Culture Night website.

Take my manor, Cork, as an example. There are 200 events in 75-plus venues, all quite rightly mashing up the arts — exhibitions, plays, film screenings, readings etc — with culture in the widest sense.

To give you a sense of the event’s breadth, you could…
♦ bring the littl’uns to the excellent Graffiti theatre-in-education in Blackpool,
♦ paddle your boat up and down the Lee,
♦ tour the innards of the Everyman Palace Theatre, a beautiful Victorian music hall whose stage was once graced by Miss Minnie Cunningham,
♦ join the Lord Mayor for City Hall’s open evening,
♦ be serenaded aboard the three Culture Bus shuttles laid on for the night,
♦ go to church for tours & talks by architectural and historical experts,
♦ drop in on rehearsals in the bandroom of the Butter Exchange Brass Band,
♦ visit the barracks that provided troops for conflicts ranging from the Napoleonic Wars through to UN peacekeeping missions…

And even if you got through that impossible itinerary, you’d still have experienced less than a tenth of what’s on offer. See what I mean? Download the PDF on the Cork Culture Night website or, better still, seek out the printed booklet in arts venues, libraries etc all over the city.

County Cork is weighing in for the first time this year, with a full programme of events at County Hall, right on the doorstep of the city. But there are also events going on from Beara in the west to Youghal in the east, and many points in between: Baile Mhuirne, Ballydehob, Bandon, Carrigaline, Castlelyons, Castlemagner, Castletownbere, Charleville, Coachford, Cobh, Crookstown, Cúil Aodha, Cullen, Eyeries, Fermoy, Freemount, Glengarriff, Goleen, Kilworth, Kinsale, Macroom, Mallow, Midleton, Millstreet, Mitchelstown, Schull, Shanagarry, Skibbereen, Youghal. So take a look at the County Council site above or ask around locally.

█  September 23 – Second International Grenache Day at elyCHQ
Grenache (aka garnacha) is the secret star of many beautifully-perfumed wines, particularly from southern France and northern Spain, but also from Australia and beyond. Here’s a whole evening’s opportunity to get up close and personal with the grape.
5.00pm to 6.30pmseminar
6.30pm to 7.30pmtasting
8.00pm til latedinner.
Tickets are €65. For information and bookings, drop in to elyChq in the IFSC (http://www.elywinebar.com) or phone 01-6720010.

█  September 27 – Food producers & wine in O’Connell’s of Donnybrook
Wow. Even alongside some of the other rich pickings, this is likely to be an outstanding event. O’Connell’s have worked with several of their partner food producers and with wine importers Febvre to put together an enormously impressive and yet chilled-out food and wine evening. You will choose your starters in the style of a buffet – but you’ll be picking them up directly from the producers as follows…

Organic smoked salmon from Bill Casey Shanagarry Co Cork
Chorizo, Salamis and Cheese from Gubbeen
Organic Pork and Vegetables from Alan Pierce, Gold River Farm, Co Wicklow
Organic Chicken from Mary O’Regan, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford
Hereford Prime Steaks  Christy Broe, The Irish Hereford Prime Beef Society
Fresh fish from Shellfish de La Mer, Castletownbere, Co Cork

Then, the mains and desserts will be served to you at your table. And Carlos Martínez Bujanda from the top-class Bodegas Conde de Valdemar, Rioja, will be on hand to pour complimentary wines. There will also be a tasting flight of the winery’s wines at 20% off the normal price. Speaking of which, your final bill depends on what you order thereafter, including their €20.95 all-night early bird.  That’s good value.

Kudos for the imagination to put together an event that’s both useful and exciting, and also so accessibly priced. All the details are here on O’Connell’s website.  Go book.

█  September 28 – Latin American wines at The Merrion
The Merrion Wine Society’s second dinner this year is focused on wines from Latin America. The six-course dinner will be accompanied by wines from Chile, Argentina and Uruguay presented by Mary Dowey, wine editor of The Gloss. Book tickets (€90) now on 01-2755310 or email register@thegloss.ie.

Winequake, September 29

Several high-profile and otherwise worthwhile events are likely to compete for our attention on Thursday,  September 29.  I believe there may be more to follow but the first three confirmed are as follows…

█  September 29 – Yalumba tasting and/or dinner at Ballymaloe Co Cork
One of the best tutored tastings I’ve been at was conducted by Jane Ferrari. As she’d say herself, ultimately it’s what’s in the glass that matters most, and Yalumba does make terrific wines, from entry level to posh upmarket bottles.  But the presentations that Jane brings round the world are themselves superb — informative and highly entertaining.  This event is in two parts as follows
7pm
  Jane will present a tutored tasting on various wines made by Yalumba (€10).
8.30pm Wine dinner, with each course paired with one of Yalumba’s wines, which Jane will introduce (€75). Book now on 021 4652531 by email to res@ballymaloe.ie and see http://www.ballymaloe.ie.

█  September 29 – Lohan’s Wine Fair Salthill Co Galway
Taste more than 100 wines as well as international beers, whiskeys and spirits, speciality cheeses, cakes and canapés at Lohan’s big annual wine fair – and as if that weren’t enough, there’s entertinment laid on too.
As ever, the entire proceeds go directly to local charities – Croí which supports families affected by heart disease and raises awareness of the issue; and Cystic Fibrosis, the most common life-threatening genetically-inherited disease in Ireland which has the highest incidence of it in the world.
Tickets (€20) are available from Lohans Bar & Restaurant, 232-234 Upper Salthill, Galway, 091-522696, or email goodtimes@lohans.ie and see www.lohans.ie.

█  September 29 – Wilson & Caviston in Greystones Co Wicklow
St Patrick’ Parish Centre in Greystones, Co Wicklow, is the venue for what promises to be a highly entertaining evening in a good cause featuring John Wilson, wines from Mitchell & Son, and food from Caviston’s – with all proceeds going to the Parish Fund.  Tickets are €15 and are available from the  parish office on 01-2010648.

October 19 – Malbec tasting dinner at Thornton’s

The Corkscrew on  Chatham Street presents a dinner showcasing Argentina’s finest with winemaker Mariella Molinari presenting some of the premium wines of Argentina’s Catena Zapata to accompany a five-course menu created by Kevin Thornton. Tickets are €120 per person. See www.thecorkscrew.ie or phone 01-6745731.

October 19 – Roger Ravoire at Donnybrook Fair

Olivier Ravoire will present wines from his family’s Roger Ravoire Rhone winery in The Restaurant at Donnybrook Fair from 7.45pm. Phone 01-6144849 to book.

October 20 – Mitchell’s October Wine Tasting

On Thursday October 20, from 7pm, Mitchell’s present a  tasting of new additions to their range in their CHQ shop. It’s an excellent consumer-friendly format that other retailers might consider emulating: You pay €10 to take part in the tasting — but you get a voucher for the same amount that you can redeem in store on the evening.

October 20 – Food and beer at Cornstore Cork

Applause please for what looks like a terrific five-course tasting menu, each course paired with a selection of German, English, Scottish and Belgian beers. To pick just one menu item…

Pan-seared Ballycotton sea bass with roast pumpkin, sautéed spinach, grilled baby sweet corn with carrot and orange emulsion accompanied by Schneider Weisse Kristall

That sounds both delicious and a great match, as does the venison with celeriac, kale and cabbage matched with a doppelbock. Some of the matches sound a bit surprising to mefor instance Fuller’s Honey Dew pale ale with the salmon — although the latter is cured with treacle… But preparing to be surprised is half the fun of it, and you are in safe hands at the Cornstore, and that assuredly confident menu. It ought to be a delicious, interesting evening putting beer back where it belongs, on the dinner table.
Cornstore, Cornmarket Street, Cork at 7.30pm on Tursday October 20.
Tickets (€45) from 021-4274777 or reservations@cornstorecork.com.


█ October 20 – Mas De Daumas Gassac in Thurles, Co Tipp
October 21 – Mas De Daumas Gassac in Ballymaloe, Co Cork

TWO Irish wine importers and retailers — Curious Wines in Cork and Red Nose Wine in Clonmel Co Tipperary — are collaborating to put on three great opportunities to meet wines and the people behind one of the Languedoc’s classiest names, Mas De Daumas Gassac. Samuel Guibert will present some of their wines at a dinner at Inch House, Thurles, Co Tipp, at 8pm on Thursday October 20 (60 from 052-6182939 or gary@rednosewine.com). And on Friday October 21, he’s in Ballymaloe, Shanagarry, Co Cork to present a tasting at 7pm (15) and a dinner at 8.30pm (85). Contact Ballymaloe on 021-4652531; Curious Wines on 021-4320233, or mike@curiouswines.ie.


] Family of Four & Grenache 23 [] Nofla SIP 7 gold star wards 2 [] Pio Cesare Donnybrook September 28.   [] Portugal 24/10  []

Dingle Food & Wine Festival October 1 and 2. http://dinglefood.com.[] Cork wne fair 24/11  [] Taste of Christmas 25/11.


€85,000 bottle of wine

THIS post is a longer version of an article published in the Irish Examiner on Wednesday July 27

While we’re at it, here’s an earlier post  along with the accompanying column in the Weekend section of the Irish Examiner in praise of sweeter wines — both the slightly off-dry styles (sweeties) and fully-fledged dessert wines (stickies). It includes a shopping list of accesibly-priced sweet wines and, I hope, adds a useful dimension to a colourful, fun story which is really more about PR than wine.

A FRENCH wine expert has splashed out a staggering €85,000 on a bottle of wine — a Chateau d’Yquem 1811  — making it the most costly bottle of white wine ever sold.  The buyer, Christian Vanneque, is a sommelier and restaurateur but the bottle is unlikely ever to be troubled by a corkscrew, serving instead as a talking point at his new restaurant in Bali which opens on Monday.

While ancient red wines — particularly from high-end parts of Bordeaux — do change hands on the millionaire market, It’s rare to see a white wine fetch such prices, or even to remain drinkable at such an advanced age. The explanation seems to be that the bottle in question is a Sauternes (made with semillon, sauvignon blanc and muscadelle grapes) which, being a dessert wine, would have naturally contained both high acidity and a lot of sugar, which may prolong its life.

The same vintage has attracted top marks in wine magazine reviews as recently as the 1990s. It was awarded 100 points by Robert Parker in The Wine Advocate, and by Per-Henrik Mansson (The Wine Spectator)
To put all this in perspective, the price of this particular bottle is of the order of 10,000 time the price we normally pay for a bottle of wine. The chairman of the Irish Wine Association, Philip Robinson (he’s also and marketing director at the Findlater Wine & Spirits Group) estimates that in the last two years, the average sum we in Ireland spend per bottle of wine has dropped from €9.20 to €7.70 — due in part to the 2009 reduction in excise duty, but mainly because we’ve been ‘trading down’ to lower-priced wines.

The fuss about this record-breaking bottle may encourage more wine fans to broaden their horizons and try out dessert wines. Dessert wine is an acquired taste, coming across more like liqueurs than what we’re used to: intense sweetness balanced by natural acidity and fruit flavours. Whether in a restaurants or at home, a small glass — perhaps alongside cheese and good coffee — is one of the most delicious ways to end dinner.

Australia has led the way — particularly with producers in Victoria and in South Australia’s Clare Valley, making wines whose quality matches precious European styles such as Sauternes and Hungarian Tokaji.

The idea that dessert wines from the ‘new world’ might attract such kudos shouldn’t come as a surprise to new owner of that €80k bottle of Sauternes. In 1976, then a fresh-faced young sommellier, Mr Vanneque was one of the tasters who took part in the now-famous Judgement of Paris wine tasting when — for the first time, and confounding all expectations — wines from the new world won the top place in every category ahead of all   the more expensive wines from France.

Should you feel like toasting 200th birthday this autumn, you might try, for example, two of the most widely available and accessibly priced dessert wines — Thomas Barton Sauternes at around 20 (750ml) and, from Victoria in Australia, Brown Brothers Orange Muscat and Flora at around 10 to 12 (375ml).  ♦

“Red wine with meat…”

THIS week in the Irish Examiner I’m looking at some inspiration for wines to go with the most common ways of preparing red meat. The odd-one-out is of course the white wine which I’d recommend with pork and bacon. 

Beef or lamb stew

Altos d’Oliva Gran Reserva Catalunya 2004 Dunnes, €9

 Tannin gets more subdued over time, making this tempranillo garnacha blend  rich, easy-drinking red a perfect foil for stews. You might also like to try Dunnes’ more snappily crisp Marqués de Chivé Reserva Utiel-Requena DO also at €6.99.

Steak from the pan or grill

Bushland Reserve Shiraz , South Eastern Australia
Aldi, €5.99

Made by Michael Hope (as in Hope Estate) this is one of the best value wines on the Irish market, an enormous fruity red in a beautiful creamy texture. The welcoming scents of baked sweet red fruit follow through on the palate in a spicy, creamy texture.

Roast pork / roast or baked ham

Tesco Finest Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc, Tesco, 10.99

Chenin and other middle-weight whites  go beautifully with pork and bacon. This outstanding example is a lovely middle-weight crisp and slightly spicy. Apart from lavishly sauced-up dishes such as barbecued spare ribs, an enormous range of recipes from roast pork to bacon and cabbage will do best accompanied with a white — such as Semillon and that most appley of wines, Pinot Blanc.

Another great match for pork we hardly ever seem to think of is cider. Think of most recipes for pork, and apples are rarely far away. By the same token, soft moist pork can be set off beautifully by a dry, crisp cider. Cider is particularly good with bacon and cabbage, as the combination of wine and brassicas can lead to an unpleasant metallic clash.

Roast lamb

Bodegas Muriel JME  DO  Independents, e13

Smashing overt tannins and generous bright cherry and berry flavours make this Rioja a fine foil for lamb.

Imported by Classic Drinks, stockists include Cork Barry’s Midleton; Pinecroft, Grange. Mulcahy’s, Charleville; O’Driscoll’s, Ballinlough; Matsons, Bandon; Cahill’s, Ballintemple; Kerry Stacks, Listowel; Waterford Ardkeen Quality Stores; Greater Dublin Magic Carpet D18; Jus De Vine, Portmarnock; Bin No 9, Clonskeagh; Hole In The Wall; Wine Boutique, Ringsend; Cellars, Naas Road; Townhouse Naas; Newtown in Maynooth; Galway Adare beverages Kilkenny The wine centre; Next Door, Thomastown.

Seafood, wine — and a cracking new beer

Howling Gale Ale

Howling Gale Ale

THIS week in the Irish Examiner Weekend I’m looking at food and wine matching, plus a smashing new beer brewed in Mitchelstown Co Cork. There’s more about Howling Gale Ale and Eight Degrees Brewing’s growing list of stockists below. First though, the food and wine…

PAIRING wine and food is like sex — both cause a heap of unnecessary anxiety, but with a bit of empathy and a light-hearted attitude they can bring untold pleasure and fun. I’m taking a look at it (wine matching that is, not sex) in today’s Weekend section of the Irish Examiner and you also can see it online here. For rhetorical purposes I’ve started by dismissing two extremes – the hopelessly general idea that a wine is “great with pasta” at one end; at the other, those terrifyingly specific lists you’ll see suggesting you simply must get a Domaine De Wotsit when shark toasties are on the menu.

I am suggesting some wines – five whites and one red – to go with some very broad types of seafood dishes, but I hope readers will regard these as inspiration rather than prescriptions.

It’s most helpful to view wine as an ingredient, working with the others on your plate. The wine will bring its own payload of contrasting and complementary elements to the other components via a heap of fruit flavours, but also through the key components of acidity, texture, sweetness and, in reds only, tannin.

One great lazy tip when matching wine to food: If the recipe is more or less ‘traditional’, look to its homeplace for inspiration. The most blindingly obvious of these has to be Boeuf bourgignon with pinot. So it is with seafood which is the topic I’m looking at today: you won’t go far wrong by trawling (sorry) the seafaring traditions along Europe’s Atlantic seaboard. Sailing from north to south, the highlights would include…

Bordeaux blanc, surely the most versatile white wine for seafood
♦ the shamefully overlooked delights of soft Muscadet de Sėvre et Maine sur lie,
♦ Fashionable and therefore saucily-priced Albariño from Galicia and its counterpart,
Alvarinho from Portugal which is sadly under-represented on our shelves
♦ Portugal’s other great white, modestly-priced, simple (and generally low alcohol) Vinho Verde branco

There are further delights when you plunge into the Med – such as the shamefully overlooked fish-friendly wine from the Coteaux de Languedoc, Picpoul de Pinet. Bubble Brothers have a cracking one for €12.

Needless to say these wine styles have been emulated with great success in the new world. For instance, by Bordeaux, I really mean sauvignon blanc & semillon blend wherever it is made (and, by red Bordeaux, cabernet sauvignon & merlot).

Finally, a word about red wines. The “red with meat, white with fish” isn’t the worst rule of thumb: Tannin (found only in reds) is certainly a friend to red meat. But some of the lightest reds can go beautifully with seafood dishes — especially the more robust tomatoey recipes, and in today’s column I’m suggesting a Tarrango made by Brown Brothers. You’ll often see pinot noir (particularly Bourgogne) suggested, as well as its southerly cousin, Beaujolais. This might be a helpful suggestion but remember it’s based on a somewhat out-of-date presumption: the breadth, alcoholic strength and tannicity of red wines from these regions has edged up in recent decades. But as I suggest in my column, please do experiment and enjoy.  ♦

ALSO this week in the Irish Examiner Weekend I’m suggesting Eight Degrees Howling Gale Ale as beer of the week. I’d certainly enjoyed the draught version at its launch during the Franciscan Well‘s beer fest at Easter. But my focus is exclusively on take-home beer and wine, so bottle is where it’s at. And Howling Gale is certainly there.

This isn’t just a promising first attempt – it’s a highly accomplished and beautifully-weighted ale. I’d certainly enjoy a bottle myself, and would expect dedicated beer fans to do likewise. But the singular achievement of this authentic beer is that it’s so simpatico: I’d be very confident that people more accustomed to mass-market beers would enjoy it too. See the brewery’s website at www.eightdegrees.ie for more.

Eight Degrees Howling Gale Ale is available online at www.Drinkstore.ie and in the stockists below. All of them may sell the beer to take home, but the ones in bold certainly do.

Cork

city & surrounding areas
Abbot Ale House, 17 Devonshire St, Cork

Bierhaus Cork, Popes Quay, Cork
Blairs Inn, Cloghroe, Blarney, Cork
Bradleys Off Licence, North Main Street, Cork
Fenns Quay, 5 Sheares Street, Cork
Franciscan Well, 14 North Mall, Cork
county
Costcutter, Amber Garage, Fermoy, Co Cork

Cronins Pub, Crosshaven, Co Cork
Springfort Hall Hotel, Mallow, Cork
Ballyvolane House, Castlelyons, Co Cork
Costelloes Malthouse, Clonakilty, Co Cork
The Clonakilty Hotel, Clonakilty, Co Cork
Fields Supervalu, Skibereen, Co Cork
West Cork Hotel, Skibereen, Co Cork
The Good Things Cafe, Durrus, Co Cork
Glandore Inn, Glandore, Co Cork

Dublin

central
Against the Grain, 11 Wexford Street, D2
Bull and Castle, Lord Edward Street, Christchurch, D2
Crackbird, 34 South William St, D2
Deveney’s Dundrum, 31 Main Street, Dundrum, D14 
The Village Bar, 26 Wexford St, D2
north

L Mulligan Grocer, 18 Stoneybatter, D7
McHughs Off-licence, 57 Kilbarrack Rd, D5
McHughs Off-licence, 25e Malahide Rd, D5
http://www.Drinkstore.ie, 87 Manor St, D7
south
D-Six Off-licence, 163 Harold’s Cross Road, D6
Redmond’s of Ranelagh, 25 Ranelagh, D6
Next Door, 23-25 Sundrive Road, Kimmage, D12
Claremont Railway Union Lawn Tennis Club, Park Avenue, Sandymount, D4

Galway

Cases Wine Warehouse, Tuam Rd, Galway

Waterford

Number Five Off-licence, Tyrone Rd, Lismore Park, Waterford
O’Brien Chop house, Lismore, Waterford

Wicklow

Hollands Fine Wines, 78 – 80 Main Street, Bray

Making wine in Ireland (via Blake Creedon’s Wine Cork)

Making wine in Ireland UPDATE, July 1 2011: A little over a year after the post below went up, I’ve had the great pleasure of tasting Stonewell Medium Dry Irish Craft Cider 2010, the first release of Nohoval Brewing Company, which is named for its location near Kinsale in south Co Cork. Made with “regionally sourced” Dabinett, Michelin and Cox apples, it’s a crisp and fragr … Read More

via Blake Creedon’s Wine Cork

The only post about Lebanese wine you’ll ever read which is not headlined “Grapes Of Wrath”

FROM Bordeaux through various rutas de vino to new world destinations in New Zealand and South Africa, many corners of the world have become places of pilgrimage for wine fans: vineyards can generally muster pretty locations, a sunny  climate and of course good food and wine.

But if there’s one wine land that should have special appeal to wine bloggers and columnists, it has to be Lebanon. I haven’t been yet, but feel doubly indebted to the home of the ancient Phoenicians who gave us both the alphabet and viniculture.

While some European wineries proudly point to their thousand-year-old Roman (and indeed Greek) origins, those two great cultures had in turn learned the practical secrets of vine-growing and winemaking from the even more ancient civilisation of Phoenicia on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean.

Radio programme about Lebanese wine

Click to go to BBC iPlayer website

This prehistory of the wine in your glass is highlighted by a thought-provoking radio programme about the wineries of Lebanon. In Vines on the Front Line (click that link to listen up until the morning of Wednesday January 19) the BBC’s Middle East Editor, Jeremy Bowen,  introduces us to some of the key winemakers who have endured the appalling conflict that has all but torn that country apart in recent decades. He visits Chateau Ksara, an ancient vineyard which was revitalised by the Jesuits who owned the property in the 1850s; and introduces brothers Sami and Ramzy Ghosn who founded Massaya in the mid-’90s.

Although a newcomer, the latter winery’s location in the Bekaa Valley – between the Roman temple to Bacchus and the ancient city of Byblos – is an embodiment of words and wine and history.  And as if that weren’t enough metaphor for one place, Massaya is on the road to Damascus. Literally.

Generations of the Ghosn family had been farming grapes for the table and citrus fruit near Tanäil until, in the 1970s, war saw them unceremoniously booted out of their property. Brought up in France and the US, Sami still had unfinished business down on the family farm.

“I always felt we would do something with that land again one day,” Sami told me when I met him a few years ago.  “So in the early ‘90s I went back there to reclaim our land. Of course, people thought I was crazy. Our house was occupied, the Syrians were still there [as they were until recently] and then Bush goes and starts the first Iraq war. I bought a Range Rover and a Kalashnikov…”

The way he tells it, thus began an uneasy stand-off. He says he was greeted by the occupants of his home with hot tea and an edgy sort of hospitality.  Seven months later, he says, the occupants left peacefully.

The radio documentary brings the uneasy relationships between neighbours up to date – both within Lebanon and across its borders with Syria and Israel.

Back in the Bekaa, the Ghosns  began making arak and later bottling wine. But it’s with their later partnership with Domaine du Vieux Télégraph in Châteauneuf du Pape and Château Trianon in Bordeaux that their winery truly flourished. Just 1km inland, the Bekaa valley hangs about 1,000m above sea level between two snow-capped heights.  “Yes it’s hot,” says Sami, “but the altitude compensates for the latitude.” And after the short wet winter, some 300 days of warm sunshine are moderated both by the sea and by the cool night-time winds that whip in over the land from the Syrian desert to the East.

The French helped the brothers put land and winery to work — insisting on stringent monitoring in the growing and modern clean techniques in the winemaking.

The result at Massaya is a range of top-class wines. Ironically, despite predating western Europe’s wine history  by millennia, the Lebanese have an open ‘new world’ approach to wines, for instance creating blends of Bordeaux and Rhone grapes that one wouldn’t normally see together — certainly not in their homeland. Quality is admirably consistent across the Massaya range. Here are two of them.

Massaya Clasic Red Bekaa Valley 2008 (€15.25).
As poised as it is powerful, this is a ripe and spicy blend of cinsault, cabernet sauvignon and syrah.

Massaya Silver Selecton red 2005 Bekaa Valley (€19.50).
This isn’t cheap. But it’s well worth considering for a special occasion. A blend of cinsault, grenache, and mourvèdre, it’s a bright but extraordinarily concentrated  red.


♦ Massaya wines (www.massaya.com) are imported by James Nicholson Wines (www.jnwine.com) and you will also find bottles from the range at Lonergans of Clonmel or Kevin Parsons’ Wine Warehouse in Carrigaline. Restaurants stocking Massaya include Lily Mai’s in Golden, Co Tipperary and Star Anise in Cork.

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Goes up to 11

BBC iPlayer

♦ One last thing.  Look a little closer at the volume slider on the BBC iPlayer (left). Like Nigel Tufnel’s customised amp in This Is Spinal Tap, it goes up to 11. Just because.  ♦

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Generations of the Ghosn family had been farming grapes for the table and citrus fruit near Tanäil until, in the 1970s, war saw them unceremoniously booted out of their property. Brought up in France and the US, Sami still had unfinished business down on the family farm:

“I always felt we would do something with that land again one day,” Sami told me when I met him a few years ago.  “So in the early ‘90s I went back there to reclaim our land. Of course, people thought I was crazy. Our house was occupied, the Syrians were still there [as they were until recently] and then Bush goes and starts the first Iraq war. I bought a Range Rover and a Kalashnikov…”

The way he tells it, thus began an uneasy stand-off. He says he was greeted by the occupants of his home with hot tea and an edgy sort of hospitality.  Seven months later, he says, the occupants left peacefully.

The radio documentary brings the uneasy relationships between neighbours up to date – both within Lebanon and across its borders with Syria and Israel.

Great value wines at Aldi and Dunnes

As of October 2012, I am no longer drinks columnist with the Irish Examiner Weekend. See the home page of this blog for more details. I’m leaving much of the info I posted here in case it might be helpful. Thank you.

IN the Irish Examiner (Saturday December 11, 2010) I looked at some of the best value wines in Dunnes Stores’ wine promotion which runs until January 4, 2011. As well as listing my recommendations from Dunnes, I’ve also added in the highlights of a recent tasting of Aldi’s best, below.

Dunnes Stores, St Patrick Street, Cork.

But first a bit of a fógra oifigiúil.  Today’s column included a promise  to mention some further recommended wines reduced in price in Dunnes but unfortunately it turns out I’m unable to do that.

The list Dunnes sent me enumerates a number of bottles on promotion as being “Laurent Miquel”, reduced from €8.99 to €6.99 each. But the two Laurent Miquel ranges I tried at Dunnes’  most recent tasting (Père et Fils and Nord Sud) were listed as having an “offer price” of €8 and €8.99. I don’t know if that refers to the then current price or the reduced price. So I don’t know which ones are on special offer now, whether they’re the ones I’d rate highly, nor whether I’ve tasted them at all.

Apologies for not being able to follow through with further wines as promised but clearly it’s better to omit  them entirely rather than inadvertently mislead you. I hope the suggested shopping list in today’s column provides enough inspiration for now.

Here are the Dunnes exclusives I’d particularly recommend.

Vina Maipo Gran Devocion Sauvignon Blanc 2009 DO Casablanca (14.49 €10)

Chateau Longbosq Médoc 2006 (12.49 €9.49)

Grande Reserve de Beau Rivage 2007 (€13.99 €6.99)

Chateau Bois Pertuis 2008 (€14.99 €8.99)

Clos Malverne Pinotage Reserve 2008 (€13.33 €9.99)

While I admire much of Dunnes’ exclusive portfolio, and find great value in some of their ‘sale’ items,  I’ve got to agree with this British commentator:

“One of my pet hates is seeing a wine ‘reduced’ from £7.99 to £3.99. How can consumers judge its real value?”

Some of the big supermarkets — especially Tesco and Dunnes — run a seemingly perpetual cycle of ‘sales’ that aren’t really sales, but a three-card-trick of raising prices and then dropping them (to the prices they intended to charge all along) solely to keep us consumers agitated.  They work only for the most canny and energetic shopper who has time and focus to build a shopping list of their target wines and carry out raids when the so-called sale begins. And yes by the way, these sales are lawful once they abide by certain ground rules.

So who is responsible for the quote above — A campaigning blogger or newspaper columnist? Or a consumers advocate agency?

In fact it was Aldi’s chief wine buyer, Danny Gibson. While I’m no spokesman for Aldi, and treat their wines with the same scepticism as I do every other retailer, he is correct in saying that what you see is what you get at Aldi. Generally there is no farting around with “sales”. So the numbers cited below are the stable, long-term prices for the wines in question.

Aldi has proved adept at sourcing quality wines and selling them cheaply, and there was further evidence of that at a tasting I attended in Dublin recently. Here’s my Aldi Christmas hit-list.

Aldi’s great value NZ SB

Freeman’s Bay New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (€8.49)

Contrasting wonderfully with the Sancerre below, this is New Zealand sauv blanc writ large: flamboyantly pungent, followed through on the palate with mouth-watering flavours tinged with crunchy green apple.

Cave de Monterail Châteauneuf-Du-Pape 2008 (€12.99).

Despite its grand reputation, the Châteauneuf-Du-Pape appellation often disappoints. This rich savoury red bottle, however, offers an affordable glimpse of the best side of that excellent tradition.

Râmon Lopez Murillo Rioja Reserva 2005 (€7.99).

Despite the price, this is a proper ‘grown-up’ medium-bodied dry tempranillo. An old favourite of mine at Aldi, it evolves beautifully into a glassful of red fruit cut across with spice and deliciously sweet topnotes.

Bushland Reserve Shiraz, South Eastern Australia, 2008 (€5.99)

Winemaker Michael Hope’s typically generous and creamy red is one of the best value wines on the Irish market. The welcoming scents of baked sweet red fruit follow through on the palate in a spicy, creamy texture.

Bushland Grape Selection Semillon Chardonnay, South Eastern Australia, 2008 (€6.99).

You wouldn’t normally expect to see these two grapes together, as they share a tendency to plumpness. But this is a beautifully blanced white, its full texture contrasted by fresh lemony acidity.

Selection les Terres Blanches Sancerre 2009 (€10.99)

This matches up pretty well to its often costly brethren from the Sancerre appellation. More importantly, it’s an excellent firm and savoury old world sauvignon blanc that could grace any high table at a great price.

WHILE no retailer will get it right (or wrong) all the time, Aldi has certainly trumped Dunnes with regard to one appellation. Dunnes’  Chateauneuf-du-Pape (reduced from €25 to €20 ) is blown out of the water by Aldi’s €12.99 model.

I don’t think this particular instance is anything for staff or fans of one store or another to get het up about. If anything, it underlies the challenge wine buyers face, attempting to sate our lust for famous names including the likes of Champagne and Chateauneuf-du-Pape, at a discount price. In general, I’d suggest it’s time for us consumers — and in turn retailers — to get over the hypnotic spell that posh names like those two seem to cast over us.  Even when of good quality and heavily discounted — as done by both Dunnes and Aldi — they are generally too dear.

I love good Champagne and Chateauneuf-du-Pape. But in general, barring rare exceptions such as Aldi’s CdeP above, I have no intention of buying anything from either appellation, and find no reason to recommend any of them.  Both appellations routinely underdeliver on any sane price-quality quotient. To put it another way, both attract esteem far in excess of what they deliver.

I believe both appellations have been, in part, sustained by the purple economy.  This is the the market where people funded by lavish (and sometimes unvouched) expense accounts choose to enjoy hospitality they would never countenance if paying out of their own household budgets.

In the past I have occasionally recommended Champagnes only because I got feedback along the lines of ‘yes, we get that value-for-money thing but this is a special occasion so what do you think is the best value Champagne?’ I also recently tipped Dunnes’ CdeP in my column, but with the important caveat that I thought it was too dear. I did this in the mistaken hope / belief that it was due to be reduced from its lofty €20 price tag, which in fact turned out to be the destination price.

Yes, buying quality Champagne and CdeP makes perfect sense for people who belong to the shrinking minority of people who can afford the likes of it. Bless them, and may they enjoy it in good company. I raise my glass with a hearty ‘sláinte beo’ to anyone enjoying their wine, whether it costs an €8 or €80.

However I am not going to be gulled into contributing in any way to the myth promoted by the wine business and wine fans alike that there is something inherently better or special about over inflated appellations.

This isn’t the ranting of a recessionista. I’ve been broadly consistent in this view right through the co-called boom. We should by know have a rough idea of what happens when we spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need. As with houses so with wines, still or sparkling: think “property bubble”. 

It’s all in the best possible taste

If you are involved in importing or retailing wines and have a tasting or dinner coming up anywhere in Ireland, please send brief details to blake[dot]creedon[at]examiner[dot]ie as soon as possible. Ta!

Wine fairs and tastings

Thursday October 28 —  Tuscan treats at Blackrock Castle Wine Club

Bubble Brothers is celebrating its appointment as agents for Avignonesi estate wines with a Blackrock Castle Wine Club session presented by Alessio Guidi. It all takes place at Blackrock Castle Bar & Trattoria, beginning at 7.30 pm. You can also avail of the special €20 deal to ‘dine before you wine’ at the trattoria from 6pm to 7pm.

These events do fill up fast so book now on 01 4316000 or www.bubblebrothers.com.  Non-members can join for one night for €25.

Thursday November 4On The Grapevine Wine Fair, Dalkey

Another hundred wines (phew!) will be open for tasting between from 6pm and 9pm at Fitzpatrick’s Castle Hotel for On The Grapevine’s wine fair.  Tickets are €10.  The shop will be offering discounts of up to 25% on some wines  on the night. Drop in to the shop on St Patrick’s Road, phone 01 235 3054, or see www.onthegrapevine.ie for details.

Two dinners with wines from Bodegas Valdemar

Bodegas Valdemar wines are on show in Galway and Straffan

Wednesday November 10 —  Bodegas Valdemar dinner at The g.

There’s luxury on a remarkably tight budget on offer at the g Hotel when Cristina Alvarez Flores presents a five-course gourmet wine dinner with wines from Bodegas Valdemar on November 10.

Wines from that most upmarket of posh Rioja houses will be teamed with executive chef Stefan Matz’s menu drawn from “exquisite organic Connemara smokehouse smoked salmon, fresh fish caught in Galway Bay and quality cuts of meat from McGeough’s butchers in Oughterard.”  Couldn’t put it better myself.  I don’t know the details of the menu but am drooling at the thought of McGeough’s succulent air-dried lamb which I think is particularly well suited to a well-made Rioja.

Tickets are a very reasonable €69 per person including a welcome reception and a five course meal with wine. To book, phone 091 865200 or see www.theghotel.ie.

Friday November 12 —  Bodegas Valdemar dinner and B&B at Barberstown Castle.

Barberstown Castle’s website is a little less forthcoming on the details but broadly you can expect something similar to the above, relocated to Straffan, Co Kildare. They are offering a combined dinner and B&B package for €149 per person sharing. And while you can’t book dinner alone online, give them a bell and it’s yours for €75.

While you’re at it, take a look at some of Bodegas Valdemar’s Irish retailers  including James Nicholson and SimplyWines and of course the winery itself.

Valdemar

Valdemar's Alto Cantabri vineyard

November 14 Corkscrew Winter Wine Fair

This is the annual winter wine fair of one of the best remaining independent wine shops in Dublin city centre, The Corkscrew on Chatham Street. A hundred-plus wines will be open for tasting from 1pm to 6pm at the Westbury Hotel just around the corner. Tickets are €25, and proceeds go to Cheeverstown House, Templeogue, which offers education and support to children with intellectual and other disabilities from pre-school age up. Drop into the shop, phone 01 674 5731 or see www.thecorkscrew.ie for details.

November 18 Christmas Wine Fair – Cases Wine Warehouse, Galway

Fifteen importers will be pouring 120 wines and beers from around the world for your delectation. 6.30pm to 10pm in the store on the Tuam Road — which Tomás Clancy named his Sunday Business Post Wine Warehouse of The Year, no less. Tickets are €20 and all the proceeds go to Console, the charity which offers counselling and support to families who have lost a loved one to suicide. 091 764 701  www.cases.ie.

November 18The 10th Cork Wine Fair

Hosted by O’Donovan’s, this annual event is a massive affair. This year’s takes place from 4pm to 9pm at the Clarion Hotel, Lapp’s Quay, Cork.  Some 400 wines from O’Donovans’ impressive list will be available to sample, along with beers and tasty food samples. Plus, for the really dedicated wine fan, there will be a handful of focused masterclasses conducted by Jean Smullen and John McDonnell.  Tickets are €10 and available from any of the 15 O’Donovans branches in Cork City and County. All proceeds go to the Cork Simon Community.

November 24Gibney’s Wine Fair,  the Grand Hotel, Malahide

The people at Gibney’s of Malahide know what they’re talking about: This year they won the NOffLA Off-Licence of the Year Award for their third time, and their annual fair is one of the most highly anticipated wine events in the calendar.  Get tickets (€15) and further details in store, on 01 8450606, or via cheers@gibneys.com. All proceeds from ticket sales go to local schools.

Late November / early December Blake’s Favourite Fifty Australians

MY column and blog can never provide what they’re intended to inspire — the pleasure of enjoying  good company and a decent glass of wine. Well, here’s a rare opportunity for me to thrust a glass into your hand, saying ‘here, try this’.

Wine Australia, which represents much of the industry, has given me free rein to put together a list of wines from down under.  All 50 or so will be open to sample in a Cork city centre location (to be confirmed) for one evening only. Tickets will be €20 and booking opens in mid-November.

I’ve long been convinced by the depth and breadth of quality wines made in Australia. But the process of whittling down the prospective wines (it was at 90 or so just a few weeks ago) has come as an eye-opener even to me: Trust me, there are all sorts of treats on the final list. Scrap that. Don’t trust me – come along and suck it and see. It promises to be a fun evening.

I’ll be updating the details here as soon as it’s all confirmed.

November 26 to 28Taste of Christmas, the Convention Centre, North Wall Quay, Dublin

This is a bit different to the other fairs. Sponsored by Marks & Spencer, it’s being run by the people behind the Taste Of Dublin and Taste Of Cork festivals.

The Convention Centre is the venue for Taste Of Christmas

The centrepiece is a 50-minute live show in the 2000-seater auditorium.  Presenter Hector Ó hEochagáin will be mixing it up with chefs Kevin Dundon and Gino D’Acampo and guests (including Heston Blumenthal) who will be demonstrating inspiration for cooking and entertaining.

There are also open-ended tastings organised along the lines of the Taste festivals where customers buy ‘florins’ to exchange for food and drinks. Tickets start at €19.50.  The whole thing is quite a bit more structured than regular wine fairs, so do phone 0818 30 00 30 or look up  www.tasteofchristmas.ie for details. ♦

 
 
 
++++++++++++++++   I’ve moved a handful of previous events down here just for the record an ting   ++++++++++++++++++++++++++
 
October bank holiday weekend Pick your own Hallowe’en applesCELEBRATE Hallowe’en (and reconnect your concept of food to the field it came from) by taking yourself and the children to pick your own apples at Con Traas’ farm between Cahir and Clonmel over the bank holiday weekend — 10am to 5pm on October  23 and 24. These are the youngest, smallest trees on the farm, so the fruit are  easy to reach. You only pay for what you pick.  Phone 052 7441459 and see  www.theapplefarm.comfor details.If you’re still not convinced, or if you’re wondering why yer man is holding forth about apples  on a wine blog, please take a look at this postfrom earlier this year.
 
 
♦ TOMORROW, Wednesday October 20 , Cases Wine Warehouse, Tuam Road, Galway, is hosting a  food and wine night at Cava Restaurant, on Dominick Street, Galway. The focus is on the food and wine of Mallorca, with a five-course tasting menu of Mallorcan tapas, created by JP McMahon of Cava, accompanied by wines from the Anima Negra winery, presented by winemaker Miguel Angel Cerda.One of the many details that tickled my interest in this event is the dessert course. You can choose between a PX (that uniquely Spanish unctuous dessert wine made with the Pedro Ximénez grape) and a special edition Tyrconnell whiskey conditioned in Anima Negra wine casks. Cool or what?Dinner starts at 7pm. Get details and tickets  (€37.50) from Cases Wine Warehouse, Riverside Commercial Estate, Galway, 091 764701 or on www.cases.ie.♦ Tuesday October 19 Blindfold tasting dinner, Augustine’s restaurant, Cork
Cork City Slow Food convivium is hosting a blindfold tasting dinner tonight from 6.45pm at Augustine’s restaurant in the Clarion Hotel on Lapps Quay. The idea is that by temporarily removing the cues we get from one sense, sight, we intensify our focus on the others — touch, taste, smell, and even hearing. After each course, chef proprietor Brendan Cashman and sommelier Frank Schiltkamp will discuss the dish with the participants.Normally costing €25, this special edition of Augustine’s tasting menu costs €40, or €35 for Slow Food members, and it is accompanied by a glass of wine. To book, email Elke on elkepacey@hotmail.com and see www.augustines.ie.
 
 
 

Eat Cork. Drink Canada Dry.

On Sunday night, September 26, Ross Lewis (Chapter One) and Pat Kiely (Les Gourmandises) present One Night Only - a banquet in Cork School of Music.

THE inaugural Eat Cork food festival is on from Thursday to Sunday, September 23 to 26, 2010.  It is founded by food writer Dianne Curtin, and food events manager Rose-Anne Kidney of Goldiefish Events.

Thursday sees the whole thing kick off with the judging of the second Grow Bake Cook awards in The Farmgate Café.

Friday and Saturday feature EATcork Nights Out, a pub and restaurant trail supported by Murphy’s [when you're planning what you're up to, don’t forget that Friday is of course also Culture Night].

Saturday includes the Foodies On Foot walking tour through the streets of Cork’s food culture past and present led by one of my heroes, food historian Regina Sexton.

Sunday is the big day, with The English Market open for a pretty impressive list of Free Food Workshops and demonstrations, while the Grand Parade will be abuzz with Cork’s first dedicated Street Food Market, with the focus firmly on locally-produced grub, and plates priced at €3 and €5.

EATcork details

As any festival-goer will tell you, the only way to finish is with a gala. The exclamation mark at the end of Eat Cork is Sunday night’s For One Night Only in Cork School of Music when Ross Lewis of Chapter One restaurant joins forces with Pat Kiely and Soizic Kiely of Les Gourmandises to present a one-off banquet. (I was delighted by the way to see their choice of venue – the beautiful award-winning building is a testament to Gerry Kelly and fellow campaigners without whose work it would never have been built). Get a summary of Eat Cork on Goldiefish or see complete details on the event’s Facebook page.

While I have your attention (you are still there, right?) I think that, apart at all from the other festival elements, Grow Bake Cook is a significant date on the calendar in its own right. Supported by the Community and Enterprise department in Cork City Council, the aim is to seek out, reward and encourage potential new commercial food producers from among amateur enthusiasts.

It’s an excellent initiative, blending the best parts of traditional country fair competitions with the roots-up food enterprise culture celebrated variously by Dianne Curtin in her book The Creators, and by John and Sally McKenna in their Bridgestone Irish Food Guide.

The breadth of the award’s scope is, I think, hinted at in the examples of entrants cited by Dianne on her website:

…these included Alan Tennyson,  a special needs social worker who makes a variety of breads in his spare time, and sells them via a stall at Bandon Farmer’s Market, Carol Aherne,  a student on UCC’s Speciality Food Production course, who makes  yogurt products from the milk of her husband’s dairy herd, and Sherkin island resident Chris Dobbin, creator of speciality beers and wines from locally grown vegetables and wild fruits gathered from the island’s lanes and hedgerows….

I do like the concise name, Eat Cork. It condenses the activity and its whereabouts into just eight characters – or seven in their logo where it’s rendered EATcork.

The name reminds me of an apocryphal story about Brendan Behan. Arriving in Canada, the frequently congested writer was asked what he planned to do while there and replied, “well, I saw an advertisement in Dublin saying ‘Drink Canada Dry’ so I said I’d come over and give it a shot.”

Don’t forget, as I’ve already posted, On The Pig’s Back is organising a French Food & Wine Festival centered mainly in Douglas. ♦

Dunnes Stores Girls

IN this morning’s Irish Examiner I’m looking at the Wine Festival at Dunnes Stores which continues until September 28. There are reductions on some 150 wines including some classy numbers from the likes Antinori, Marqués de Cáceres, Errazuriz, Wolf Blass, Montes Alpha and Villa Maria. Here are some highlights from my shopping list.

Marqués de Cáceres Blanco (€9.99 €8).
A cracking crisp fresh value white.

Wolf Blass Yellow Label Chardonnay (€11.69 €9).
Citrussy acidity overlaid with warmer, richer tropical flavours.

Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc (€12.85 €8).
Aromatic and zingy sauvignon blanc, this is terrific value at this price.

Montes Alpha Chardonnay (€19.99 €12).
An enormous buttery chardonnay – and its companion cabernet sauvignon is similarly reduced.

Vina Maipo Gran Devocion Sauvignon Blanc (€14.49 €10)
As intense, crunchy and tart as a fresh Granny Smith apple, a mouthwatering sauvignon blanc that beckons seafood.

Antinori Santa Cristina Toscana IGT (€10.35 €8).
The word ‘bitter’ is often taken to be a pejorative term, unfortunately, which is why I use it sparingly in my column: It sounds like a turn-off. But this lovely, tart, sangiovese merlot blend is a fine example of mouth-wateringly attractive bitter dark cherry flavours.

Artiga Old Vine Grenache (€12.99 €6.49)
The Grenache grape gets a good-value outing in this bright aromatic red.

Tautavel Cotes de Roussillon Villages Reserve (€13.99 €6.99)
handsome spicy creamy red.

Errazuriz Estate Merlot (€9.99 €8)
easy-drinking but delightfully ripe and expressive merlot.


Siobhan O’Driscoll and Ann O’Leary in part 2 of the programme on the TG4 player.

WHILE you’re at it, The Dunnes Stores Girls is a 20-minute film which you can view in two parts on TG4. It’s about Dunnes’ first store, which opened at 105, St Patrick’s Street in Cork in 1944. The programme takes its name from singer songwriter John Spillane’s hit single, and features a rendition of it as a bonus.

It’s a warm, soft-focus piece, mainly chatty reminiscences of women who worked there. But among their stories of work and fun and camaraderie are some stirring memories about events of the 1980s.

On Thursday July 19 of that year, Mary Manning, a cashier at Dunnes in Henry Street, Dublin, told a customer that she wouldn’t check through some Outspan grapefruit. It was part of a new boycott of South African goods in support of the ANC’s battle for human and democratic rights under the Apartheid regime in that country.

You may have believed that the strike was mainly confined to the Henry Street Store, that it was joined by just one other worker, in a branch of Dunnes in Crumlin.

Not so it seems.

In part two of the short film, Siobhan O’Driscoll and Ann O’Leary (pictured above) recall organising pickets of branches around Cork including Mallow, Ballyvolane and St Patrick’s Street. A colleague, Dorothy Humphreys, recalls a line of women blockading trucks that were attempting to make deliveries.

It’s a fascinating and all but untold story that deserves to be told in greater depth. If you want to follow it up, the dispute was covered in an episode of the Scannal series – Boycott! The Story Of The Dunnes Stores South Africa Strike. Follow the link to details about that film on the TCD Irish Film database.

Also, here’s an interview with Brendan Archbold on the RTE website. A union organiser during the strike, he went on to join the EU team overseeing South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994. His first meeting with Nelson Mandela – in 1985 when he was still branded a “terrorist” – contrasts with a later visit to meet the then ex-president in 2008.

And finally, there’s a broader account of the anti-Apartheid movement and the part the Dunnes workers played in it in this History Ireland article.

Click picture to see full article on the History Ireland site.

Dunnes workers march with the Irish Anti-Apartheid movement.

Mixing grape and grain in Cork

THERE are so many tasting events coming up that it makes sense to group together a few by location, in this case my own stomping ground, Cork. They’re below the picture.  This week’s other post is about the fab Superquinn French wine sale.  There are also news/listings items on this blog about the season’s most promising open wine tasting, Wines From Spain and further nationwide wine tastings. Enjoy!

MontGras dinner at the Boardwalk

MontGras wines

AT the MontGras Wine Dinner at the Boardwalk in Cork on September 14, Andrea Ilabaca will present wines from Montgras to accompany a five-course dinner. I bet her selection will include three of my favourites from MontGras, as the line-up will be a selection from the winery’s reserva range as well as their organic Soleus wines — that’s one of them there lurking at the back of the picture with the watering can on the label. The evening begins at 7pm with a cocktail reception, followed by dinner at 8pm. Places are limited so get booking.

 

MontGras Wine Dinner, Tuesday September 14 at The Boardwalk Bar & Grill, Lapp’s Quay, Cork. Book tickets (€55) on 021-4279990 and also see www.theboardwalkbarandgrill.com.

Winemaker lunch at Ballymaloe

Silvia Allegrini of Allegrini Wines will present a lunch at Ballymaloe House, Shanagarry, Co Cork, at noon on Tuesday September 28. A wine tasting and presentation at noon will followed by lunch which will be paired with wines made by the Allegrini family in the Veneto region of Italy. Get more details and tickets, €40, from Ballymaloe on (0)21 4652531 or on http://www.ballymaloe.ie. The Allegrini range is imported by Liberty Wines.

Clare Valley wine with Tim Adams

Tim Adams is presenting an evening of wine and stories  from the Clare Valley in Cork next Tuesday, September 7. Quite brilliantly, umbrella representative body Wine Australia has decided to get a champion winemaker to come and talk about (and pour) not only his/her own wines, but also those made by the neighbours.

In this instance, the attraction for wine lovers lies in both the visiting winemaker (the world famous Tim Adams) and the region: Clare has earned itself an extraordinary place in the esteem of the wine world. For such a tiny community of a few thousand souls, the valley produces a heap of highly-regarded  names including Pikes, Wakefield, Leasingham, O’Leary Walker, Grosset and of course Tim Adams‘ own wines.

It’s a long way from Clare to here: an exploration of the Clare Valley wines with Tim Adams on Tuesday September 7 at Castle Trattoria, Blackrock Castle, Cork from 6.45pm to 8.30pm, €20. Book on 065 707 7264 or ireland@wineaustralia.com.

Note that Tim is bringing the same event  to Ennis on Wednesday 8 September at the Glór centre, and to Galway on Thursday September 9 at Café 8 in Galway City Museum. Same kick-off time, price and booking details apply as to the Cork gig.

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Beer tasting in Abbot Ale House

♦  THE Slow Food Cork City convivium is due all sort of kudos for their lively programme. Among their recent events was a Mystery Dining tour in July: They brought participants to a number of undisclosed locations around the city where they proceeded to ply them with tasty treats to within an inch of their lives. Apparently Prosecco in the Interior Living shop on MacCurtain Street was followed by a course each in Star Anise, Jacques and Club Brasserie. Yum.

You can read a report of that trip on the group’s blog here, where you will also find details of their next event, a beer tasting next Thursday presented by specialist beer importer Barry Fitzgerald. The focus will be on Trappist beers and some Irish beers, accompanied by finger food to match. It all takes place in one of the city’s best-kept secrets, the bar upsatairs at The Abbot Ale House which boasts dozens of interesting styles of bottled beers (plus a handful on tap) all set in a den of cosy sofas surrounded by gorgeous brewery adverts and beermats from all over the world.

By the way, you may be concerned that I’m mixing beer and wine on this blog, and believe that grape and grain should never be consumed together. Well, I’m convinced the reputed ill-effects of so doing belong firmly in the realm of wine myths.

Slow Food Cork City beer tasting, The Abbott Ale House, Devonshire Street North (off Coburg Street) on Thursday, September 9 at 6.30pm. 25 or 20 for members. Email corkcity@slowfoodireland.com to book your place.

Suck it and see…

Edit: I’m leaving these posts up but please note I quit writing drinks columns here and in he Irish Examiner in 2012 and your host nowadays is Leslie Williams. Do pop over.

Howya horse!

THE big noise on the Irish wine web now is all about the fab four Australian tasting opportunities in September – the Tim Adams Clare Valley event touring to Cork, Ennis and Galway, and Phil Sexton’s Yarra Valley evening in Dublin.

But if I were to choose just one wine event in September 2010, it would have to be the other tasting headliner next month, Wines from Spain – The New Way on September 9, 2010. Hosted by the Spanish Embassy’s commercial office, it’s going to be the biggest Spanish wine event ever in Ireland.

More than 200 wines will be available to sample, represented here and at the tasting session by 20 of Ireland’s most prominent importers including Approach Trade, Barry & Fitzwilliam, Febvre, Findlater, Gilbeys, Mackenway, Searsons and organic wine specialist, Mary Pawle.

Tutored tastings such as the Aussie ones are very useful as a spotlight. But big open-ended tastings like the Spanish event provide the floodlight. An open tasting is the best opportunity you will ever have to delve into grapes and styles and regions.  Trying a wine on its own will tell you much about that specific one. But trying it side-by-side with its peers is far more informative and interesting, and can often provide a revelation about relative quality and value for money. To quote yet again that old advert for throat lozenges,  the message is to suck it and see.

It takes place on Thursday September 9, 2010, at the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin 2, from 6.30pm – 8.30pm.  Book tickets (€20) from Sarah Currey on 01 240 5387 or scurrey@harmonia.ie and see the Wines From Spain Ireland  blog for more.

Here comes the bit about horror movies, Madrid, lollipops and Salvador Dalí

Edificio Carrión in Madrid

♦ THE picture at the top of the page is King Charles III’s horse eyeing up the advert for Tio Pepe sherry in Puerto del Sol in the heart of Madrid. There’s a bloglet about the history of the famous sign here.

I snapped it one day a few years ago, inspired by a new-found enthusiasm for giant outdoor advertising in Madrid… Well one advert in particular, the animated neon Schweppes sign in the nearby Plaza del Callao, left.

Unfortunately I can’t find my pic right now. The pic I’ve used here comes from Blog de Adolfo‘s post about Edificio Carrión.

I know little about horror films but greatly enjoyed a movie I stumbled upon some years ago, El día de la Bestia (The day of the beast) a fine horror / satire / comedy by Alex de la Iglesia. The Schweppes sign is the location for a key chase scene which also features a hilarious literal gag. I’d recommend a look, and hope the trailer on YouTube here will whet your appetite.

That movie shares its affection for the geography of Madrid with another excellent film, Pedro Almodóvar’s Carne Trémula (Live Flesh). It’s a treat, not least for its metaphorical use of locations, many of which it shares with the Iglesias film, especially the twin leaning towers of the Puerta de Europa.

Chupa-Chups logo

Dalí’s original design

Now where was I? Oh right. Suck it and see. Which reminds me of a snippet of info about another bit Spanish commercial design.

You know that familiar logo for the Chupa-Chups brand of lollipop? Well it’s is an updated version of a design originally created in 1969 by none other than Salvador Dalí.

See here, here and here. Cool or what? ♦

Making wine in Ireland

Stonewell Cider

Stonewell Cider

I’M tacking a few paragraphs about Stonewell Cider on to a version of an earlier post for reasons that I hope will become clear. Sadly, Michael O’Callaghan, who is mentioned in the earlier post, has since died. I’ve left my comments about him unedited and in the present tense. May he rest in peace.

[July 2 2011] I’ve recently had the great pleasure of tasting Stonewell Medium Dry Irish Craft Cider 2010, the first release of Nohoval Brewing Company, which is named for its location near Kinsale in south Co Cork. Made with “regionally sourced” Dabinett, Michelin and Cox apples, it’s a crisp and fragrant medium dry cider. It’s a great beginning — although personally I’d prefer a drier style. I got mine among the great collection of British and Irish beers and ciders at Bradley’s Off-Licence on North Main Street in Cork. You can find it there or among the updated list of stockists at the Stonewell Cider website.  It’s featured in today’s Irish Examiner, along with a number of wines distributed by Wine Alliance.

As with wine, it’s interesting to see how a tipple fares alongside its peers, and I’d encourage anyone interested to do so. In this case I enjoyed the Stonewell in a taste-off against a number of others — Bulmers original cider (bottle, not draught), and two vintage ciders sold by M&S from Herefordshire and Somerset.

Although the advent of Stonewell – the first of its type in the republic – is the most welcome news from the drinks industry in years, I believe the rest of this post  still rings true. See what you think, and please share your thoughts. Okay. That’s the end of the update. Here’s the original post…

[January 11, 2010] WE WINE lovers tend to be pretty enthusiastic about the subject. If there’s one recurring motif that sums up our irrepressible optimism, and our affection for the ancient craft of winemaking, it’s got to be the frequently-heard question “so, is it possible to grow grapes and make wine in Ireland?”

The short answer is “yes”. The longer answer is a tortuously qualified yes (well summarised in this interesting and fun debate going on over at The Evening Hérault). But the best answer of all is another question — Why would you bother? Or to put it another way, what would Michael O’Callaghan do?

I first encountered Michael O’Callaghan at London Wine Fair a few years ago when the couple who run the stellar Staete Landt winery in Marlborough, New Zealand, named him as their Irish distributor. He was hand-selling their wines in small quantities to restaurants back then, more-or-less as an interim measure while they sought out a fully-fledged distributor. And, it also turned out, he was developing a vineyard at Longueville House near Mallow, Co Cork. Along with a handful of other pioneers in Cork, Waterford and north Co Dublin, he was defying our Atlantic climate to make wine.  The Vitis vinifera vine generally favour a continental hot-and-cold climate rather than the mousey damp mildness that prevails here. But O’Callaghan et al had determined to grow them here, and so they did.

Fast-forward to the end of the last decade to the really interesting bit, because what Michael O’Callaghan did next should provide inspiration to any green-fingered Irish wine lover — he rooted up all his vines and replaced them with apple trees. Even though he’s clearly not short of teaspaí, and had been been sufficiently inspired to live the fantasy life of Irish winemaker, he threw his hat at it and opted instead for a native species of fruit more suited to our climate.

Apples to eat, apple juice to drink — and there is a steadily growing band of good locally-made apple juices on the shelves of good grocers and at farmers markets. There’s also the prospect of a good cider, which can go beautifully with dishes such as roast pork. And of course the whole apples/juice/cider thing fits in perfectly with the local-and-in-season aspiration which has all but supplanted organics as the foodies’ touchstone.

Displaying his typical indefatigable industry, Michael O’Callaghan now distils, and has recently launched, an apple brandy in the style of Calvados. Better again, it was awarded a bronze medal in its category on its first outing at the International Wine And Spirit Competition. (However, the contact details on the IWSC site are incorrect. Eden Apple Brandy is available directly from Michael O’Callaghan on 00 353 22 27643. There are no plans to distribute it more widely.)

SeedSavers apple catalogue

Seedsavers is still building its library of native British and Irish plants - including many vaireties of apples.

You don’t have to go as far as Michael O’Callaghan has, but I point him out as an example to anyone expressing an interest in growing wine in Ireland. If you love the infinite variety of flavours and aromas of wine; if you appreciate how wine puts you in touch with ancient food and drink traditions; if you ‘get’ the whole thing about wine and its heritage and history — plant an apple tree.

Get a few neighbours together to grow a tree each to ensure all are cross-pollinated. Better again, gather like-minded people together to turn a whole neighbourhood or town into a virtual orchard. (Green activists in Bandon, Co Cork, did precisely this during 2009. At the time of writing I haven’t been able to contact any of them for a progress update. When I can, I’ll update this post with details. If you’re involved or know more than I do, please email me).

Talk to your local nursery or garden centre. Or better still, get in touch with Seed Savers (00 353 61 921866. www.irishseedsavers.ie) and get a sapling from their growing library of traditional native Irish and British apples such as the Cavan Newington or Ballinora Pippin.

I’m not alone in getting misty-eyed over a delicious glass of wine. I love the stuff. I also love the accompanying local traditions. Bourgogne. Vacqueyras. Penedès. But think about it. A legion of wine fans is intimate with many, many grape varieties, and with their provenance, their terroir. So why in the name of Auntie Nora aren’t we similarly fluent in, for instance, Irish apples and their terroirs?

Link to The Apple Farm website

Check out The Apple Farm website here.

As I write, I’m crunching the second of two apples grown by Con Traas in Co Tipperary. They’re Elstars, delicately sweet and crunchy with a pleasant touch of earthiness. But I have to admit I’m relatively ignorant of the apple varieties native to these shores. I think the disparity of our knowledge of and attitudes toward grapes and apples begs many questions of our attitude to food and drink. And so fundamental are food and drink to who we are that I wonder if it says something about us. ♦

————————————————————————————————————————————

STOP THE PRESS!*

Since posting this I see one of the main players mentioned in it is taking part in a very interesting event in Cork this Thursday. Here are the details.

GROW YOUR OWN FRUIT
Con Traas (The Apple Farm, Cahir, 2009 Eurotoque Food Award Winner) &
John Howard (Sunnyside Fruit Farm, Rathcormac)

present an evening of inspiration advice and guidance on how to grow strawberries,  apples, plums blackcurrents, raspberries etc.

Crawford Gallery Café, Emmet Place on Thursday January 28 at 7.30pm.

€6 including tea & coffee.

* old media meme. Ask your grandparents.

Irish online wine shops

There’s an updated introduction to Irish online wine retailers below, while elsewhere on this blog is a suggested checklist for choosing an online shop, and I hope both are of some practical use to you. (There was one glaring omission in this list which I’ve rectified this morning. If you see any other amendments you think I ought to make please let me know at the usual email address).

A well-chosen line-up of rosés at O’Brien’s most recent tasting. Click it to see my review in the Irish Examiner.

While I was revising the list of shops, the thought struck me that, like the dog in the night-time, many wine business sites are interesting for what they don’t do. I’m thinking particularly of stores which don’t trade online at all.

While obviously not of direct relevance to someone who wants to shop online right now, the thought is germane to people interested in wine, which is why I’m starting with that footnote.

Many retailers, large and small, are missing a trick. I wish those trading only from physical shops would put their wines on the net in the same way as online shops do. Even though we customers obviously wouldn’t have the opportunity to click through to a till, I think the shops in question would benefit greatly from proffering that virtual shelf online. And we wine fans (and perhaps wine itself) would benefit setting such information free.

Certainly, an online placeholder might be of some use to a retailer – a rudimentary site with a store finder, opening hours, contact details etc. But by not showing the actual wines, such stores are passing up on the unique opportunity presented by the internet. Browsing a wine business’ site which doesn’t have a proper database of the wines it sells is like walking into a carefully planned shop designed by architects, laid out by professional display artists and  illumined by lighting engineers – but which doesn’t show what’s on sale nor how much it costs.

I’m thinking in particular of big retailers such as Dunnes, and franchises such as SuperValu and Carry-Out.

Often the nearest you’ll get to wine range is a PDF of the current ‘special offer’ leaflet – usually headlined by big brands (led by spirits and slabs of lager) thereby sidelining the store’s own exclusive wines. At best you’ll see only a handful of wines, rarely kept up to date and often without key specific information such as vintage. I’ve encountered cracking wines from all and would love to be able to point to a link on their sites. And so would other shoppers. Look around at social media where people are sharing hints and tips: Even a shop’s biggest fan really couldn’t be arsed putting up a link directing their friends to a site which essentially says ‘buy from us, we’re great’.   No, we want the specifics. What customers are saying online is “Got a great sauv blanc from WineCo – here’s a link with the details”.

And then there’s the search engines. Shops looking at search engine traffic will quickly discover that, in general, we aren’t searching for what the wine shop thinks of itself

award-winning red… delicious wine… small, family-owned winery… serving Ireland since 1922… you’ve tried the rest now buy the best… enjoy a drink in relaxing surroundings…

We’re far more likely to be looking for terms specific to us, such as

chenin blanc… cava… Bordeaux available in Mullingar… Chateau Wotsit 2011 half bottle…

We’re not landing on the vague sites. Or if we are, we’ll find little or nothing about what the store is selling right now.

For all the foregoing reasons, I hope wine shops, wholesalers and shoppers alike take a look at the first site here – even though it doesn’t actually sell wine.

www.searsons.com

Searsons has been in the wine trade for about 90 years, having bought into the Davy family’s grocery business which had been operating around Dublin for most of the 19th century. They remain one of Ireland’s best importers and wholesalers, equally adept at posh high-end wines for special occasions and good solid wines at relatively approachable entry-level prices.

Unlike the wine stores listed below, the site is not a click-and-buy, but rather a shop window linking to retailers that Searson’s supplies. The site used to be the least sophisticated wine site in the world ever – merely a series of PDFs and a phone number. But it’s now a proper site allowing you browse wines and view a map showing stockists nationwide. Crucially, it also has the full name, rank and serial number (well ok, full name, appellation and vintage) of every wine. As it doesn’t sell directly, the site can’t of course tell you what the retail price is: that contract is between you and the retailer. But it does helpfully give an rrp (recommended retail price) for each. It workd as an excellent support for the independent retailers the company supplies, and a wine-finder resource for us.

There’s no such restriction on big non-online retailers, which could easily offer all the specifics and, for instance, update special offer and multiple-buy info with a few keystrokes. (Indeed there’s no reason such publicly available info couldn’t be integrated with their stock control system).

And franchises could just as easily emulate the wholesaler Searsons. Some have gone part of the way. For instance, the Carry-Out site has an excellent, well-organised interactive map of all its 50-plus franchises with full contact details. Yes there’s a special offer leaflet as described above. But no indication of its basic range.

That’s a pity. There’s nothing preventing all the franchisees agreeing to stock say a dozen or twenty basics, each in an agreed, tight price band. Suddenly anyone – bloggers, columnists, Facebookers, tweeters, TV radio pundits – could feel confident in saying ‘cracking pinot blanc in Carry-Out for €x’ knowing that it actually means something to anyone, anywhere in the country.

Now on to the online wine retailers proper, starting with the top six that I would choose first if I were buying wine for delivery right now.

Irish online wine shops

Curious Wines website

www.curiouswines.ie

Curious Wines is an exemplary, comprehensively searchable and informative website.

Between their participation in big tastings, and snapshot samplings of parts of their range (most recently a handful of discounted wines from Bordeaux and Spain) I’ve found the store offers many terrific, good value wines.

Nicholson's

http://www.jnwine.com

Stunning list operating out of James Nicholson’s award-winning shop in Crossgar, Co Down. You’ll also find some of these at Parsons’ Wine Warehouse, Carrigaline Co Cork as well as in selected restaurants such as Star Anise on Bridge Street in Cork. In brief, Nicholsons sell a disproportionately large number of my favourite wines on the Irish market. As far as I’m aware it has another distinction as the only site that allows you to buy and deliver anywhere in Ireland or the UK — I’ve found it a godsend for sending gifts to England. Finally, make sure you select the right jurisdiction in the “Delivery Location” tab on the opening page so you see the wines priced in the right currency.

www.obrienswine.ie

The growing off-licence chain (with stores all over Leinster plus one-off outposts in Galway, Limerick and now also in Douglas, Cork) has a winning wine selection, and is also a great one-stop shop, as it also stocks a wide range of good beers and ciders too. Their most recent tasting  confirmed again its expertise with an imaginative well-chosen range including some cracking good value.

www.wineonline.ie

Excellent site featuring hundreds of wines from everyday sippers to special interest bottles.

www.winesdirect.ie

One of the first wine retailers online (now in its 20th year) Paddy Keogh’s site is excellent in terms of functionality and its wine-list. Check out Sticks Chardonnay, Viognier Yarra Valley 2006, €12.90 or rich ripe spicy Chateau Haut Rian Cuvée Prestige Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux 2005, €13.70.

www.simplywines.ie

Ian Dornan’s smashing list is very well worth returning to for its frequently top-class wines – backed up by a money-back guarantee.

++++

www.bubblebrothers.com

Began exclusively with Champagne, hence the name, but now sells a wide range of classic wines. Also has a drive-in warehouse at Marina Commercial Park, Cork as well as its original store in the English Market in the city centre.

www.karwigwines.ie

Award-winning wine list also sold from their store at Carrigaline, Co Cork. Smashing affordable wines from all over but I am particuarly fond of several of Joe’s wines from Italy, Germany and Portugal.

www.lecaveau.ie

Extensive list also available at its store in Kilkenny.

www.marypawlewines.com

Ireland’s longest-established importer of organic wines. I’m agnostic on the whole organic thing but believe that winegrowers and winemakers even aiming for organic certification  by definition lavish TLC on their plants which is where it all begins. Mary makes no specific health or even quality claims for wines made from organically-grown grapes – but rightly emphasises that she’s looking for good, carefully-made wine and there are several winners in her list.


www.mccabeswines.ie

Excellent online presence of the shops in Blackrock and Foxrock.

www.mitchellandson.com

One of Ireland’s most informative and interesting sites and a premium range of wines from the 200-year-old upmarket Dublin wine merchant.

www.onthegrapevine.ie

Long list touching the most important bases with some brilliant minority interest specials.

Bordeaux, try rich ripe Chateau Rauzan-Despagne Bordeaux Reserve 2006, €15.50.

www.FromVineyardsDirect.ie

The newish Irish outpost of a British online store. Highlights include a cracking value expressive plump tropical chardonnay from Burgundy, Saint-Véran Merloix Bourgogne Blanc 2007, €12.45, and crisp white Rocca di Tufo Orvieto Classico 2007, €11.45.

www.superquinn.ie

Extensive range. Delivers only in the Dublin area.

www.terroirs.ie

Spin-off from the eponymous gourmet shop in Donnybrook, Dublin.

the wine store

www.thewinestore.ie

The retail wing of importer Tyrrell & Co is a multiple award-winning site focusing on wines from France, Spain and Italy and, in particular, the Rhône valley.

Finally, it’d be pretty understandable if you skipped the long footnote that I opened with. But it is worth thinking about if you get a chance. Information belongs to all of us, rather than being in the gift of some presumed elite. As Tim Berners-Lee tweeted during the recent inspirational Olympics opening ceremony, ‘this is for everyone’.  ♦

Enjoy a drink in relaxing surroundings

The challenge in this week’s episode of The Apprentice UK (Season 8 Episode 9, Wednesday May 16 2012 and available to watch again on YouTube by clicking here) was to devise an online marketing campaign for English sparkling wine...

The show

Click here to view The Apprentice – English sparkling wine.

So is it about business? Or wine? Not quite. You could view the series as The Office staffed by volunteers or a fish-out-of-water sitcom with a cast of amateur method actors. The business challenge each week is the sit, while the com is provided by watching youngish, inexperienced people jump through hoops while subjected to outlandishly unrealistic constraints, all carefully edited for our slightly guilty viewing pleasure. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not dismissing the show, and it’s no Big Brother. I reckon The Apprentice could be a great experience – once you don’t mind coming across like a bit of a prat, which seems inevitable on much reality TV.

(If you’re not familiar with The Apprentice UK, it’s a weekly reality show in which contestants complete challenges set for them by entrepreneur Alan Sugar. A flock of camera crews film the contestants as they go about their antics – coming up with their plans, consulting with people who do know the field of business, and putting plans into action. The results are edited down to a package lasting perhaps 15 or 20 minutes. After this is screened, the contestants and Sugar are brought face-to-face in the ‘boardroom’ segment. Drawing on opinions of experts and the show’s in-house ‘aides’ who’ve accompanied the contestants, Sugar offers a pungent critique of each candidate before choosing one to eliminate with the catch-phrase ‘you’re fired’.)

And there’s comedy anguish aplenty.

For instance, one of the competing teams came up with the deathless slogan “Less fizz, more sparkle.” To my ears, this belongs to a genre of advertising prose that older readers may remember with a shudder: a calendar printed on an A3 card surrounded by adverts for pubs, chippers and taxi companies, each bearing some trite, gumpish legend. Enjoy a drink in relaxing surroundings. You’re tried the rest now buy the best. Less fizz more sparkle.

Two contestants are filmed stumbling around Tesco looking for the in-store wine connoisseur. Another of the contestants, Adam Corbally, is apparently pissed as a newt when interviewed after a wine tasting.

But for schadenfreude fans, the show’s highlight was surely the catastrophically, comically wrong advert depicting a bride gagging at the (presumably foreign) rubbish sparkling wine and declaiming this isn’t English Sparkling Wine she’d ordered. Boo. But the advert has a happy ending. Yay. Some guy proffering the desired porduct that no-one’s heard of. The whole thing is redolent of the hilariously amateurish, self-regarding and seller-oriented advertising pitches so mercilessly lampooned in Viz all those years ago. The ad on The Apprentice just about stopped short of saying “At last!!! An end to your lack of English Sparkling Wine misery!!”. It also scored a double by including a priceless tagline modelled on a horrific sexist trope along the lines of ‘what she needs is English sparkling wine’. Nudge nudge, wink wink.

The participants respond to Alan Sugar’s verdict.

So we conclude the contestants are thick? Big mistake. And unfair. While many episodes do seem to reveal some terribly naive misjudgments, I suspect it’s emphasised or even created by the programme planners (by the obstacles and time constraints on the contestants) and editors (for instance by deleting evidence of competence).

When Adam Corbally compared the taste of his sparkler to Christmas cake, Twitter erupted in derision. But hang on a minute. Let’s workshop this. Imagine someone who hasn’t tasted much wine, and now for the first time he’s coached to actively sniff it. Which he does. And he detects a vinous smell he associates with one particular vinous scent he is familiar with, a port-rich christmas cake…

I didn’t taste the bottle he tasted. I wasn’t there. But on the face of it, that soundbite sounds to me like an honest and I imagine a broadly accurate descriptor.  I’d be far less impressed with the guy if he’d parroted what he’d heard other people say. Or if he baulked, refusing to say what he thought, for fear of what others might think. As such, he seems to be doing precisely what I try to do, and what I advocate others to practise. On the evidence of that tiny clip, he appears to listen to what his nose and palate tell him, and reports it honestly. That right there – that’s what I want to see. If I’m right in my presumptions, he surpasses the professionals in France who were caught out a few years ago, describing the tannins in a white wine which had been dyed red. There’s every chance he’d excel as a sommelier if happenstance directed him that way, and he enjoyed a few years’ exposure to lots and lots of wines. I’d happily buy wine from him.

The Christmas cake scene lasted seconds. What was snipped out?  By any chance did his other comments display non-comedy competence? We don’t know.  And then there’s a cutaway to Sugar aide Karren Brady, smiling and shaking her head. She may have been smiling at that comment. Or she could just as easily have been filmed an hour earlier responding to a crew member making some silly gag. We don’t know.

Adam is later shown apparently drunk. At a wine tasting, you whizz through a great volume of wines in a short period, spitting out everything you sample. The spitting out thing doesn’t come naturally and has to be learnt.  So while it may look like he was irresponsibly drinking on the job, it may be that he hadn’t learned how to spit. Big deal.

The social media

For me though, one of the most interesting aspects of the whole experience was not in the programme itself but in responses on social media to it – for instance, the derision that greeted one team’s search for the sommelier in the wine aisle of Tesco. Many (most?) of such criticisms were spot on, pointing out that that’s simply not the way large volume stores work. But some of the comments seemed to be using the opportunity to take a lazy, snobbish pop at supermarkets such as Tesco and effectively the people shop in them.   Those big-volume stores do generally have wine experts working for them – but they’re to be found at head office, at tastings sessions, or visiting wineries, not manning the aisle. In supermarkets. You know, those (hint) self-service stores.

I could be mistaken but think I detected a subtext in some of the comments on social media: they seemed to me to support the oft-repeated calumny that wines sold in supermarkets are somehow ‘different’ and inferior to fancy-pants wine. They’re not: The supermarkets’ mission is to sell lots more of everything to a broader spread of the population than, say, specialist wine stores.

Tesco, Dunnes, Superquinn et al try to address a far broader band of people including, for instance, those who have to or want to shop primarily on price. Similarly, the big stores have to cater to popular tastes, many of which aren’t highly rated by sommeliers. But that range is broad in both directions,  and the supermarkets also sell some of the high-end, highly sought-after and expensive wines, just as the wine specialists do: Champagnes, cult winemakers, gran reservas.  Indeed sometimes they’re the same wines.

The wine

I do occasionally taste English sparkling wines – most recently in April of this year – and found almost all of them perfectly palatable and presentable. I’ve never highlighted any of them in my column, solely because they’re priced in the twenties, thirties and up. They’re lovely and all that but they’re just too dear. I reckon  there’s a niche market of people who have that kind of  money, don’t mind spending it. They are welcome to buy all of it, and I merrily raise a glass to them in the hope they enjoy it.

Which brings me, finally, to an interesting article here in the Daily Telegraph about English sparkling wines. It begins with an anecdote which yet again underlines one of the best-kept secrets in the wine world: Even after we’ve tried and judged a wine, our feelings toward it can be overruled by factors which have absolutely nothing to do with what our senses have told us. The power of suggestion – whether it’s on the label, in an ad, or in suggestions of wine salesperson – is astonishingly powerful, and because it broadly equates price with quality, it’s costing us money.

The Champagne myth is riddled throughout the media, and The Apprentice isn’t immune, right from the first act. The Eurostar terminal at St Pancras station in London, the voiceover breathlessly intones, has “the longest Champange bar in Europe” (meh) “boasting the finest French fizz”. Accompanied by a shot of some moodily-lit bottles including Perrier Jouet Belle Époque 1999. Here in Ireland it’s imported by Mitchells, and it’ll set you back €119. A bottle.

Ah no thanks lads, you’re grand. Really. Bye now.

In the anecdote in the Telegraph, the two factors are provenance and price. And the writer’s point remains true even when you broaden it beyond English wines. Just because a bubbly comes from Champagne and costs €20 or €100 doesn’t mean it’s as good as a well-made cava or Australian chardonnay pinot noir for a tenner. Overpriced wine, you’re FIRED!  ♦

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