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.

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 by leaving a comment below).

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. Thank you.

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.

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. Thank you.

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.

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. Thank you.

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.

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. Thank you.

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.

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. Thank you.

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’.  ♦

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. Thank you.

Whipping the herring

As of October 2012, I am no longer drinks columnist with the Irish Examiner Weekend. If that’s why you’re here, please see the home page of this blog for more details. Thank you.

ONCE upon a time, the butchers’ apprentices in parts of Ireland would mark Easter Sunday — and the end of a slack month of Lenten no-meat misery — with music, mirth and wild celebrations. Drink may have been taken too. A fiesta always comes after a fast of course, but I imagine there would have been an added cause for celebration for people whose livelihood depended on the consumption of meat. The picture here records the tradition in Cork in the mid-18th century. The centrepiece of the festivities involved attaching a herring to the top of a long pole which was then paraded around the city walls, affording the local urchins (basically me, 250 years ago) an opportunity to flake the bejaysus out of it like some piscine piñata.

“Whipping The Herring…” at the Crawford gallery.

This tiny but delightful painting, Whipping The Herring Out of Town (c1760) is by Nathanial Grogan, and it’s in the collection of the Crawford Art Gallery on Emmet Place in Cork. The picture 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. To the best of my knowledge, it’s on permanent display in the gallery. Well it’s always there any time I look, on my way around the contemporary exhibitions, or on my way to check in on the Penrose collection. Go take a look.

I warn you, Whipping the Herring… is tiny. Arguably, you’ll see more detail in the excellently-photographed pic on the Crawford’s site and in their catalogue, which you can buy. But then, no matter how slick a recording is, you just can’t beat a live gig. So if you find yourself in Cork, please do go see it.

The picture is so vivid you can almost hear the racket. I love the detail. Walking while playing the fiddle at the head of a parade is no mean feat. One old fella who should know better is drawing back his cudgel to take a good swipe at the fish. I imagine the child with his back to us is about to burst into tears, terrified by the crazy, noisy 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, legs akimbo. The same beasts are being pursued by a man in a natty red coat who seems to be convulsed with mirth and horror at the same time. Think of all of them the next time you see some fella, wearing a traffic cone on his head, cavorting in the Berwick fountain on the Grand Parade at midnight.

All of this contained in a picture smaller than the sleeve of a 10-inch EP.

Despite the energy and chaos, 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 also by Nat Grogan – a much 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, Elizabeth Fort to your right, and George’s Quay and the Quay Co-Op further down the river. To your left is the site of the former Beamish & Crawford brewery which is tipped to be redeveloped as a concert venue.

The spot depicted in the painting is close to two historic sites – the thriving port city of Cork’s Viking era which was trading internationally 1,000 years ago, and which was only discovered during archaeological excavations from 2003 to 2005, and Sir Henry’s nightclub. Yes, I will post a pic from the same spot when I get round to taking it.

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.

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

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.

Edit: I added a few lines about Whipping The Herring to a post about a wine and beer tasting before Easter this year (2012). The tradition deserves a bit more attention, so I’m re-posting an expanded version above. For this weekend’s post about Elbow Lane Angel Stout, click here https://blakecreedon.wordpress.com/2012/06/21/cheers-for-a-cracking-new-stout/

Cheers for a cracking new stout

Edit: 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. 

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.

Edit: 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. 

Lamb and tempranillo

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. Thank you.

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.

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. Thank you.

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.

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. Thank you.

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.

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. Thank you.

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.


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. Thank you.

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.

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