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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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 me a line 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/

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