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.

Wine and beer tastings, and online shops

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.

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.

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.

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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. ♦

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.  ♦

Buying wine online

Buying wine online


HERE’s a list of Ireland’s best wine websites and below are some  general guidelines to getting good wine delivered to your door in time for Christmas day. You should of course bear in mind all the usual caveats when shopping at an online wine retailer. The criteria I’d suggest you consider include…

1. The quality and value of the range of wines it sells;
2. Comprehensive information on each wine, including useful notes;
3. Free or reasonably priced delivery;
4. A range of styles sufficiently substantial to cope with different needs or occasions;
5. Ease of use of the site;
6. Fun and/or useful extras such as blogs, links and more information about wine.

There is also one overriding hygiene factor: clear and accurate information on price, delivery, terms and conditions made clear to the shopper before s/he starts the purchasing process. If any of those issues are in question, forget about it.

Specifically, any wine website worth looking at should be…

VERSATILE: Most sites offer two ways to buy: You can choose one of their pre-picked selections, or you can put together your own mixed cases will-nilly.

INFORMATIVE:It’ll list every wine’s full name, vintage and regional designation. It ought to have a little bit of further information about the wine’s producer and the region.

UNAMBIGUOUS: One of the things you should check immediately – that the site has unambiguous information about
1 minimum order
2 delivery charge, if any.*

3 extra costs, if any.
*The first two points can be related, as often delivery is free if you order over a certain value or volume.
The third point is ultra-important. There should be no extra costs, end of story.
*

AUTHORITATIVE: If there are notes about the wines, ask yourself if someone has actually tasted the wine and tried to communicate something of its character. Or is it just vaguely positive-sounding blurb.

UP TO DATE: It’s quite possible that a site promising “sizzling bargains for summer 2007” might be selling top class wines at good prices. But really you’d have more confidence in the ones that have accurate up-to-date information.

I’d be highly sceptical of any site that pops in a cost such as insurance on top of the list price. In particular, watch out for VAT. It is an offence for a retailer to advertise consumer goods without its VAT component.

Yet one site, http://www.throughthegrapevine.ie, (which should not be confused with the estimable http://www.onthegrapevine.ie) promotes itself as supplying individual customers, providing wedding wines etc. However, it does not include VAT in its list prices, that component being added in later in the purchase process. Some people (yes I mean me) get a bit fuzzy about numbers when they go into three figures and I can imagine a less-than-alert wine buyer innocently clicking ‘buy’ without realising his or her wines have gotten a whole lot dearer.
How can this site justify this? Well it also sells business-to-business and as such is entitled to show ex-VAT prices. But by rights they should emulate those flyers from Dell which clearly show both prices for business and private customers.

Through The Grapevine may not be doing anything illegal but really it is a bit cheesy to say the least and you don’t need people like that in your life. Puh.

El Coto Crianza

El Coto Crianza

Oh and apart from all that, the corporate or private shopper may do better elsewhere anyway. Last time I compared, Through The Grapevine listed El Coto De Rioja Crianza 2004/05 as €120 for a 6-bottle case. Add in €25.80  in VAT and the total comes to €145.80, meaning you’re stumping up over €24 every time you brandish your corkscrew. A high-end premium wine then? Break it out for special occasions?

Well hang on, look up another site,  www.karwigwines.ie, and there it is, El Coto Crianza [not to be confused with the Gran Reserva] the same wine for €14.15 a bottle straight up, VAT included. Delivery is free if you buy the right quantity. And even if you’re buying less than that, the €9.50 delivery charge is swallowed up by the 5% case discount  or the 10% discount on orders worth more than €200.

The point is — tame your credulity and shop around. If you’ve any comments or questions, please add a comment below. ♦

AUTHORITATIVE

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

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