Food and drinks events

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.

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

█ Feb 10 to 12 — Cask-conditioned beers in Cork

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

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

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..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Feb 17 – Big tasting at ely, Dublin

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

█ Feb 23 — Wine dinner at Hayfield Manor, Cork

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

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

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

█ March 5 — Rhone wine tasting and dinner in Cork

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

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

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.

Reeling in the years 2012

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.

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

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

Alcohol consumption in Ireland has gone up by 231% since 1960. Source:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Nanny State

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

The Nanny Sector

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

Here’s the committee’s recommendation (4)

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

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

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

What happens next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reeling In The Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


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 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

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, 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

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

Bradley’s Off Licence
McGovern’s Ballyvolane
Abbott Alehouse
Barry’s Off Licence Midleton
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
Desmond’s of Limerick
World Wide Wines
Hollands of Bray.  ♦

How to use a wine tasting

THIS picture sums up what faces us in the wine shop, off-licence, or big weekly-shop supermarket — a dizzying array of wines, a whole heap of mixed messages, and precious little categorisation of it beyond price, colour, and country of origin.

So which one, if any, to buy? The most obvious answer is arguably as unhelpful as the question, because there’s a veritable cacophony of opinion out there, from tips offered by bloggers and columnists like me, through the recommendations of friends and colleagues, to the suggestions made by the people who make and market wine, all happy to suggest what you might drink…

There’s a far better answer out there, and I can assure you it’s a lot more fun.

The single greatest favour we wine fans can do for ourselves is to stop depending on the suggestions of others, and instead to learn how to make a fair guess about what’s being offered by different grapes, regions, and styles in all those bottles.

If you feel a bit lost in the world of wine, there’s a lot to be said for signing up for an introductory wine course, especially one that abides by the standards of WSET. But, with or without such grounding, the single best way to get great value, and buy the best wines you can afford, is to taste lots of wines.

Tasting lots of wines side-by-side will help you snout out a few specific bottles you like at the tasting event. But it’s also an exciting journey into what are arguably our least explored senses — taste and smell. Dive in, and you could end up with something far more valuable than any hot tip: an active, merrily sceptical attitude offering you independence from other voices, including mine and those of wine businesses alike.

Time to stop listening to the voices and learn to trust your tastebuds.

What follows is a guide to navigating open-ended freestyle tastings (essentially the same type as those held for trade and press). I’ll follow up later with shorter posts on wine dinners and tutored tastings.

One of the tables at a tasting in Avignon. The point of a wine tasting is to ignore what I and the people selling the wines say – taste them all yourself!

Please note: 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 tastings and wine fairs

THIS is what I mean when I say ‘wine-tasting’: Not a gathering of fusty oul men peering at posh clarets over their pince-nez, and murmuring their verdict on them. Nor a roomful of red-carpet party people sipping and nibbling at some glittering launch. But something far better than either — an open-ended freestyle test-drive opportunity where we can try out dozens or even hundreds of wines.

They’re most commonly organised by retailers (such as O’Donovan’s Cork Wine Fair, or Lohan’s in Galway) or by trade representatives such as the Spanish Embassy’s commercial office which is behind the big event in Cork recently.

There will usually be a small fee (say €20) which often goes to charity. If a retailer is organising it, they may be set up to take orders on the night, often with a special disount. And some retailers make the entry fee redeemable against orders. But there will never be an obligation to buy: The businesses organising proper open-ended wine tastings are doing so to showcase their wares in the hope we’ll like what we find and buy them at some future date. It’s a bit like a test-drive opportunity.

The tasting will usually take place in a biggish hotel room or conference centre. In general, on arrival you’ll be armed with a glass and a catalogue and left to your own devices. Each table is typically laid out with open bottles, a water jug and a spittoon, and is manned by someone from the firm that sells those wines.

Joe Karwig with some of his wines during a food fair in Carrigaline Co Cork.

Use the tasting

Think back to the picture at the top of the page. You know that frustrating feeling in a wine shop or supermarket when you’re faced with a whole wall of wines? And you wish you knew what each was like? Or can’t remember which bottle was the one you enjoyed before? Well the big wine tasting is like that — except the bottles are all open for you to try.
Many people treat wine tastings as a fun social event, dropping anchor for a chat armed with a glass of something nice. Yes, that does sound like fun. But, to me, that’d be like going to a concert and putting on your headset to listen to your own playlist. Don’t waste the opportunity: among those open bottles may well be some stunning great value wines. Let’s go find them…

It’s only rarely all those wines are open at the same time for us to compare – don’t pass up the opportunity. Picture: Paul Sherwood (

Use the catalogue

The catalogue (anything from a few photocopied sheets through to a lavishly-printed bound booklet) ought to spell out the full name and vintage of each wine, and its price. And there’ll be space for notes. Don’t be shy about using this, with any notation you feel like.

For instance, you could put a big asterisk or exclamation mark near the wines that stand out, bearing price in mind, at each table. Do that and you’ll end up with an instant shortlist of candidates for your attention and your money. You could then go back and try, say, the three asterisked cabernets, one after the other, and that way settle on one or two of them for future reference. The first time you do this you may be astonished to discover that one of the less expensive bottles is the one you prefer. Or that you love a bottle of a wine style you ‘hate’.

The more tastings you go to, the less surprised you will be about either phenomenon. Firstly, the price/quality relationship in wine is a very wobbly line. And secondly, we base our outlook on minority interest grapes and styles on only a few encounters, and may be surprised to discover how well we chime with them when we give them a proper go. Yes it’s a revelation. That penny will only drop when you properly open up your senses by actively tasting, free of any commentary from me or the salespeople.

Use the spittoons

The impulse to swallow food and drink is pretty powerful. In general, unless something tastes disgusting, down it goes. If you’re going to navigate wine tastings (as opposed to wine dinners or, um, drinking wine) you really have to unlearn that impulse and learn to spit. Obviously if you’re drinking the samples, you’ll end up langers half way through the tasting and may as well write off the opportunity to discover some great wines. What a waste.

Please note: 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.

If you haven’t tried it before, why not practice spitting into a basin or sink at home? Sniff it. Sip it. Pause to taste it. And then spit it out. Spelling out all this may seem pointlessly gumpish but spitting out wine (or tea or whatever) runs so profoundly contrary to our instinct that we do have to consciously do it.

So a wine-tasting is as dry as Tehran? Not quite. Often, what people do is hold off on swallowing until the end and then enjoy drinking a glass or two of their favourite discoveries. Often as not though, the drink of choice is a beer. Having been subjected to a sustained assault of high acidity, tannin and alcohol, there’s nothing your tongue would love better than to be bathed in a soft, delicious, 4% or 5% ale or lager or stout. Yum.

Use the water

Most people wouldn’t bother rinsing the glass between, say, two sauv blancs. But if you’re changing style, it’s no harm to give the glass a quick scoosh from the jugs of water on each table. Similarly, there’s far too much fuss about cleansing the palate: if we were incapable of tasting one flavour after another, hardly anyone on earth would know what rhubarb crumble tasted like. But given all that acidity and alcohol, a refreshing glass of water now and again can help keep your senses on track, especially if and when you’re switching from red to white. But even better, and true to the spirit of this post, why not listen to what your body is saying? When you need water, drink some.

Big open wine tastings tend to fill up. Get there early and whiz round to get a proper sense of what wines are out there. And then chill with a glass or two.

Use the information

Some of the wines may be accompanied by brochures with information both hard (for instance the area under vines, yields, the technical specifications of each wine etc) and soft (comprising anything from text about the winemakers’ passion for making wine, through to photos of the vineyard, and a biography of the winery dog).

Information isn’t a burden, and I wouldn’t turn any away. However, when there’s a choice between tasting further wines, and pausing to read up on one particular range, you’re better served by moving on. Ultimately, the only two things that matter are what’s in the bottom of your glass on a Saturday night many weeks hence, and what you’ve paid for it in the wine shop. The memory of the accompanying brochure will be worth zero, so your taste testing ought to be in the driving seat. Anyway, most wineries these days have websites with much of the same sort of information so you can always follow that up at your leisure.

The same goes for conversations you can fall into with the people manning the tables. These invaluable people will usually know all there is to be known about the wines they sell, and are happy to talk about them, or indeed about anything. While it’s great to be able to check details, remember that there are likely to be similar wines and similar stories at most of the other tables. Keep going and get the big picture.

(While we’re on the topic, here’s a hat-tip to the people who present wines at tastings. By time we meet them, they’ve been standing for hours on end, presumably keeping a good front out. They may well have been hefting heavy cases of wine and other paraphernalia into the venue since early morning, all the while wearing a suit. And often, the public tasting comes tacked on at the end of many hours of a media / trade tasting, so they’ve been on their feet since morning.)

Yes this is a long post but it’s possible I didn’t anticipate some questions you may have. Post a response here and I’ll get back to you. ♦

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,, (which should not be confused with the estimable 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,, 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. ♦


Tasty food and drinks events

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

December 2 – Immigrant support groups’ wine tasting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 8Red Nose portfolio tasting, Clonmel

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


November 15 – Beer and food in Cork

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

November 17 – Cases Wine Warehouse Christmas Wine* Fair

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

November 17 to 19 – Simply Wines tastings

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

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

And now for something completely different…

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

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

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

For more, see

November 24Cork Wine Fair

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

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

Food and drink events

These are in the past tense but I’ve left them up here as a sort-of diary. For the latest events, see here.

The wine and beer events here range from dinners showcasing particular wine ranges, through to massive open-ended freestyle wine tastings,  and a beerfest next weekend. Any of them would be well worth getting to, and a few are in my view particularly good value for fans of fun and flavour.  To add an event, email me – firstname. lastname – using my name of course. You might also like to take a look here at my guide to making best use of open wine tastings.

October 22 and 34 Halloween apple picking, Co Tipp

A small deviation from the wine, beer and cider — but something that is closely connected: The Apple Farm is offering a great way for families to celebrate Halloween with pick-your-own days this weekend. From 2pm to 5pm on Saturday and Sunday, they’re opening the youngest orchard meaning it’s the smallest and easiest to-reach trees (and a memorable hands-on reminder of where our food comes from). There’s no cover charge — you only pay for what you pick. €1 per kg with a minimum of 10kg. See their website here for more details.

October 24 Portuguese Wine Fair, Dublin

One of the highlights on the calendar is the Portuguese Wine Fair which this year takes place at the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, Dublin 8 on Monday October 24 from 6.30pm to 8.30pm. Phone 086-8168468 or email for details.

October 24 Dylan supper club: wine through the ages

The latest in the current series of cleverly-themed wine and food event at the Dylan Hotel (Eastmoreland Place, Dublin 4) is a vertical comparison of vintages from what they say are ‘renowned vineyards’, paired with a four-course supper. €55 per person. From 7pm. Email: or phone 01 660 3000.

October 26 – Port and chocolate tasting, Port House, Dublin

Graham’s Port and Lily O’Briens chocolates are collaborating to present a port and chocolate masterclass with Henry Shutton, winemaker with Graham’s Port in The Port House, Dublin 2 on Wednesday October 26 at 5.30pm. Out-of-towners – make sure you don’t confuse the venue with the equally splendid Porterhouse in Temple Bar. The Port House tapas bar is at 64a South William Street, Dublin 2, near the Powerscourt Townhouse. Phone 01 6770298 or see Speaking of porter…

█ October 28 to 30 – Octoberfest Cork 

WHILE the Franciscan Well microbrewery’s big Easter event is all about indigenous beers, its autumn/winter counterpart is a showcase of international craft beers – with one exception: the brewery’s brand-new limited edition Shandon Century Extra Stout. Whatever way this beer turned out, its launch is enormously significant as it’s the first one the Franciscan Well has ever put in bottle. This is an enormously significant move, as it means the brewery might now begin to address the many many people who can’t (or don’t want to) savour its wares in pubs. Hurrah! 

I haven’t tasted it yet and look forward to doing so. I’ll keep you updated in my beer and cider columnlet in the food pages of the Irish Examiner Weekend.  [Update – Saturday October 22] I got to try it since this post went up, and it features as my Beer Of The Week in the Irish Examiner today. That ferocious full-throated alcohol level is certainly at the upper end of the scale, and your palate will feel it. Crucially though, the whole is really well balanced:  Pouring with a short-lived foamy head, the stout is dense and viscous with (surprisingly) quite a delicately fragrant, hoppy liquorice aroma. Would I stand in a pub with a pint of Shandon Century Extra Stout? No I would not. But I certainly would consider sharing it at the dinner table replacing, say, a sinewey shiraz to accompany a rich roast or a few steaks.

As well as the Franciscan Well’s own pub on Cork’s North Mall, you will find Shandon Century Extra Stout at the Bull & Castle in Dublin. Retailing at just under a tenner, the only off-trade shop they’ve told me about so far is Bradley’s off-licence just a stone’s throw from the brewery on North Main Street, Cork. There’s a note about Bradley’s and its beers here.

Beerfest is back at the Franciscan Well in Cork at this weekend.

Anyway, back to the festival: On the Saturday between 3pm and 6pm, the Franciscan Well, in conjunction with Bord Bia, will present a cheese and beer tasting, pairing local artisan cheeses with various beers, ales and stouts.

You’ll find the brewpub on the North Mall in Cork city. Visit  them online here or phone the bar on 021-4393434 or the brewery on 021-4210130.

November 2 Wine dinner at Star Anise, Cork

ON Wednesday November 2, Tim and Judy Finn from the Neudorf Winery in Nelson, New Zealand, present a wine dinner at Star Anise restaurant, Bridge Street, Cork.

I haven’t yet encountered the wines from that estate (something I hope to remedy soon) but four factors suggest this will be a particularly promising and great value wine dinner.

(1) While price certainly isn’t everything, you may take the €20+ per bottle retail price of these wines as some indication of the level they play at. (2) They are imported by the multi-award-winning James Nicholson Wines whose range I regard as one of the best on this island. (3) The venue: Even with its various awards and highly reviews, Star Anise is one of the most underrated restaurants I’ve ever visited — exquisitely-prepared food served with cheery informality.  (4) Value: After a glass of James Nicholson bubbly you’ll be dining from a menu created to match some of the Neudorf wines, all for only €65 a head.
To book, call Star Anise on 021-4551635.

November 17 – Cases Wine Warehouse Christmas Wine* Fair

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

November 24Cork Wine Fair

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

SuperValu slaloms through the caveats

SOME cracking wines showed up at a wine tasting held by SuperValu last week, and provide the basis for today’s wine column in the Irish Examiner. It was their first media tasting in, I think, eight years. And although I was surprised to discover they showed only 33 of their 143 ‘Specially Selected’ range, picking six highlights proved too much for me, so I squeezed in several further bottles I’d recommend.

For this reason there was only room to barely mention two things which deserve a better airing.

1. Price is everything

The tasting coincides with SuperValu’s World of Wine promotion which starts tomorrow with reductions of up to 50%. As ever, shoppers should remember the ancient caveat about sales: the reduction is immaterial, and what matters is the quality you perceive in the wine, and the price you’re paying at the till.

Many wines in many stores will be ‘reduced’ at any one time. However you must realise that often the ‘reduced’ price is in fact the destination price, intended all along. A retailer can quite legally put a few bottles up on its shelves priced at say €15 (when any objective tasting would rank it at, for instance, €10) for a month or so and then ta-dah! reduce the price to €11.

There’s nothing new in this. There’s been what you could call a permasale in all sorts of wine retailers for years – not just the big supermarkets.

Here are two previous posts about price promotions, citing two unexpected sources: One big retailer pointing out that wine sales distort consumers’ perception of value, and another retailer, perhaps unintentionally, referring to the glut of wine on world markets behind the see-saw prices.

What are we looking for? Price/quality, that’s what. When I suggest readers check out a wine sale, the bottles I recommend fall into two categories – those I’d happily pay ‘full’ price for, which are even more attractive now they’re reduced; and bottles which I believe are  only ok value or even overpriced at the ‘normal’ tariff, but which offer good value in the sale. In SuperValu’s sale, not only are there quite a few that I think are well worth buying at their full price, there are even a handful that I think are underpriced: I’d happily pay more than their full price.

The rule remains – focus only on what you’re getting for what you’re spending. I’d go further. We’re seriously missing the point if we focus only on the likes of Tesco, SuperValu, Dunnes etc. Sure, those supermarkets and big chains deserve our scepticism – but every other wine business is, after all, a business, and each will use whatever way it can to welcome our lovely lolly too.

For instance, some salespeople can talk up their wines and indeed their entire shop. As Gary Vaynerchuk, the mentor to a generation of social media wine marketers said, “don’t sell wine, tell a story” – meaning one can sell more wine at higher prices by talking up the “passionate winemaker in the small, family-owned vineyard” narrative that pushes our aspirational buttons… Even though there are other wines which are just as good made by winemakers who are equally passionate in other similarly family-owned vineyards at lower prices in other stores…

It’s what’s in the glass that matters, and the price you paid for it.

No wine seller has a monopoly on puffing itself up, just as none has a monopoly on providing good value. Shop wisely and you will find super wines at great value in every store. If the smart shopper’s caveats and scepticism are a sort-of retail slalom course, the highlights I picked from SuperValu’s  selection whizzed through those obstacles this week. I’d recommend them for your shopping list when the sale starts.

2 Excellent beer and wine events this week

Being the time of year, there just wasn’t room in the column for more details about some of the beer and wine events coming up.  The All-Ireland Beerfest, a great evening with Yalumba, Lohan’s Wine Fair… I’d recommend you check them out in my guide over here. Enjoy!

Unmissable Spanish wine tasting in Cork

THERE are lots of public tastings, festivals and dinners coming up. Many of them are the best value night out you’ll have in ages so if you’ve never (or rarely) been to open-ended wine tastings I’d suggest you should do, and you may first want to take a look at this guide to how wine tastings work.

But first let’s start with one of the undisputed highlights (the info for which arrived too late for iniclusion in today’s column). This year, wine fans in the deep south have even less of an excuse to miss one of Ireland’s best annual wine tastings.

Wines From Spain 2010 in the Shelbourne. This year's tasting takes place in Cork on September 15. Pic:

The Wines From Spain open public tasting, organised by the Spanish Embassy, has upped sticks and moved to Cork. Named Wines From Spain: Changing Ways, the tasting takes place at the Imperial Hotel, South Mall, Cork, from 5.30pm to 7pm on Thursday, September 15, 2011, and anyone over 18 is welcome. More than 180 wines will be open to taste, running the gamut of the fabulous modern Spanish wine tradition, and 17 Irish importing companies will be pouring everything from good everyday fare to premium wines. Tickets, €20, are available from Sarah Currey on 01-2405387 or by email to

If one wine fan’s affection for Spain, Spanish wines, and this annual tasting might whet your appetite, here’s my post about last year’s event.

The tasting format (laid out in great detail here) is the simplest: You’re provided with a glass and are encouraged to wander from table to table. Some participants will pick a theme and stick to it – for instance those looking for fish-friendly whites. Others will  skim through the entire range starting with the whites, moving on to reds, taking in the fabulous Spanish Cava sparkling wines along the way and, if you’re so inclined, Spain’s unique oxidised Jerez-Xeres-Sherry tradition.

Either way, you could think of it as a sort of wine speed-dating.

As always, the event is in two parts — an invitation-only trade fair earlier on the same day aimed primarily at restaurateurs and retailers, and the public expo event aimed at consumers as detailed above. (The Spanish embassy will be repeating the trade fair section, expanded to include wineries seeking representation on the Irish market, in Dublin in October).

I presume the embassy chose to switch to Cork this year simply because so much of the market is down south in Munster. But, perhaps surprisingly, quite a few of the participants, all big players in Spanish wines in Ireland, are also Munster-based. These include Approach Trade (Tipperary) Barry & Fitzwilliam; Bubble Brothers; Classic Drinks and Karwig’s (Cork) and Mary Pawle (Kerry).

The surprise announcement that the public Spanish tasting has moved to Cork marks the beginning of a busy autumn season of wine tastings and dinners all over the country. While such events may sound like an extravagant indulgence, many of them in fact provide consumer-friendly value-for-money opportunities for food and drink fans to test and taste what’s out there. Check out my column in the Irish Examiner Weekend this Saturday for further tastings and dinners this autumn.  ♦

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