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.


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

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

via Blake Creedon’s Wine Cork

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

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

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

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

Radio programme about Lebanese wine

Click to go to BBC iPlayer website

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Goes up to 11

BBC iPlayer

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






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

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

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

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

Stop the press!

WOAH! Just seen the details of a short snappy sale on at Curious Wines online or at their store near Smyths Toys at the Kinsale Road Roundabout* in Cork. I’d stongly suggest you check it out.

The sale, offering 30% off 30 wines for 30 hours (ie until 6pm Tomorrow, Saturday) includes a number of wines I’ve happily recommended at their normal price. Taking a third off wine that is already good quality and great value is my kind of sale.

Here’s a swift gallop through the ones I have suggested recently.

Gregorina Sangiovese Superiore 2008 Emilia-Romagna (€11.99 €8.99).

Star anise… celery… You’d swear bitterness was a pejorative or guilty secret but it’s a vital component of delicious flavours in all good  food and drink. It’s here playing a mouth-wateringly fragrant foil centre-stage in a beautifully-balanced herb-inflected sangiovese.

Borgo Magredo Prosecco Extra Dry NV (€16.99 €9.59).

One way the Champagne people have gotten away with their nonsense for a century is its customers have learned to expect some sort consistency. The variability of flavour and fun you might find in “Prosecco” down the years has done the reputation of those Italian sparklers no such favours – but happily this is changing rapidly.  This one is gorgeous, fresh and fruity.

Woodstock Shiraz Cabernet McLaren Vale 2006 (€14.99 €11.99)

Rich, swoony shiraz with a fabulous heady scent.

Cuvee Jean-Paul Sec Cotes de Gascogne (€8 €6.39)

It’s all very well to prattle on about overpriced wine (and I do). But on the other side of the coin is a slew of undervalued, overlooked wine styles, chief among them Portuguese vinho verde and this style from south west France – a fresh, delicious colombard ugni blanc blend. You don’t have to be recessionista to enjoy this wine. It rocks regardless of price, and I’d have been just as happy to recommend it during the so-called boom.

Chateau Bauduc Clos Blanc Sec 2007 (€16.99 €11.99)

White wine fashions come and go more rapidly than the tide. But really the interplay between firm zesty sauvignon and plush aromatic semillon in a well-made Bordeaux blanc is the business with shellfish. And I particularly love the assertive lemon and lime edge on this one.

* You may have heard of the traffic chaos this morning as some key roads around Cork including  the Kinsale Road / Ring Road interchange suddenly iced up.  Well getting your hands on these bargains won’t be an issue as you can pay for it now online and pick it up when the thaw comes.

Blake’s Festive Fifty

THIS blog and my column in the Irish Examiner can never provide what they set out to inspire — namely, the pleasure of a glass of fine wine in good company.

So I was delighted to accept an opportunity offered to me by John McDonnell of Wine Australia Ireland earlier this summer.  They’ve given me free rein to pick a few dozen of my favourite wines from Australia, regardless of price, styles or retailer. In return, they’d provide the wine and the venue for a one-off wine-tasting evening, namely…

Blake’s Favourite Fifty Australians

The list I’ve put together is a mouth-watering range of reds, whites, rosés, sparkling and dessert wines.  And, for once, instead of talking at you about how good a particular wine is, we’re  going to be bringing you the wine live and in 3-D.

Wednesday, December 1, from 6pm to 8.30pm
at Cork School of Music, Union Quay.

Tickets are €20.
Booking (via Wine Australia Ireland on 065 7077264) is advisable.

Cork School of Music

The beautiful Cork School of Music - an inspirational venue.

For the price of a round of drinks, it promises to be a fun evening of tasting (and drinking) fifty top-class wines. We’ll be opening every one of them and serving them on the night along with some tasty bites of grub.

The practical side of the evening is represented by the brochure that everyone attending will get. This details each wine, its recommended retail price, and a  list of stockists — making it a handy shopping list if you’re inspired by any of the wines you encounter at the event.

One unusual aspect of the tasting is that the wines are drawn from right across the trade. We’ve been working with 19 Irish wine importers from well-established names (such as Findlater’s, and Barry & Fitzwilliam) to bright young firms like Classic Drinks who are also based in Cork.

All the wines are available to buy in Ireland, and the list of stockists spans a wide range of retailers from online wine stores and wine specialists such as Bubble Brothers, Curious Wines and O’Donovans, through to supermarkets and independent off-licences.

Another pretty cool aspect of the whole thing is the venue, the award-winning Cork School Of Music on Union Quay, designed by Murray O’Laoire architects and opened in 2007.

This modern, elegant building is a great setting for any event, and I’m delighted we’re holding the tasting there. And there’s more. The School of Music  wouldn’t have been built without a long campaign waged by parents,  students and teachers and their trade unions. In uncertain times, it’s good to remember that with such spirit and effort,  ordinary people can create something so positive for our city.  ♦

By the way, the event should really be named Blake’s Favourite Sixty-Five.  Hacking back the longlist was a pretty cruel task, and I had to leave out lots of great wines. So when I reached 65, I said to hell with it. Happily, John McDonnell is kindly accommodating my indescision, and we will be pouring all sixty-five on that list.

Wednesday, December 1
6pm to 8.30pm at Cork
School of Music, Union Quay, Cork.
Tickets are
20 and booking (with Wine Australia Ireland on 065 7077264) is advisable.

Eat Cork. Drink Canada Dry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

EATcork details

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The price of wine

HERE’S a half hour of audio I’d suggest to anyone interested in wine – a recent episode of The Food Programme that I heard via the BBC iPlayer (Sundays at 12.30pm; repeated on Mondays at 8pm;  available indefinitely on iPlayer).

Sheila Dillon presents The Food Programme on BBC Radio4 (c) BBC

Presented by Sheila Dillon, the Food Programme is usually devoted to just one topic. It might be a particular food tradition or trend — encompassing its history, a shopper’s guide, and recipes — but more often it’ll be all about the bigger picture,  the economic, political and health aspects of food and drink.

The show I just heard is about off-licences — the drinks sellers trading in the margin left behind by the supermarkets which sell a whopping 70% of alcohol in the UK market. (Yes, the business cost structures in Ireland and Britain are very different, as are the tax regimes, so the markets are quite different.  But they’re sufficiently similar to make the show essential listening over here too).

At one point in the broadcast, reporter Dan Saladino talked to an industry insider, Tesco’s beer, wine and spirits director, Dan Jago. When asked whether heavy discounting of wines by supermarkets was “depriving the wine industry of much-needed investment,” Jago made two interesting points.

“When you have an extraordinarily large oversupply of wine you end up with a supply-and-demand equation that would be the same as any industry,” he said.  “When we [Tesco] are offered vast quantities of wine at very  low prices, one of the things we’d want to do is pass those savings on to our customers…”

In this, Jago is confirming something the industry knows well, but which many wine consumers are still unaware of — or in some cases possibly don’t want to believe — namely, the tectonic shift in the way wine is made and how it’s priced; and also that there is a sustained surplus on world markets.

The wine pyramid

You could picture the world’s wines as being stacked up in a pyramid: At the top, tiny quantities of premium wine at frankly unconscionable prices; in the middle and at the bottom, an enormous ocean of perfectly pleasant wine at everyday prices. Well, in recent years that pyramid has both grown in size, and flattened out considerably.

There will always be a specialist market for expensive wines: the rich we will always have with us. As I’ve pointed out in my Examiner column before, the market for high-end wines costing hundreds or thousands per bottle – often sold en primeur – can only be understood if you perceive it as a millionaires’ auction.

But the really interesting stuff is happening at the middle and bottom of that pyramid.  In general, the  quality of regular, everyday wine has shot up, and the quantity of it has exploded in the last twenty years or so. You don’t need an economics degree to work out that prices ought to be tumbling across the board.

Which brings us to the second interesting point made, perhaps inadvertently, by Dan Jago, when he addressed the discounting issue  by minimising the effect of it:

“But it’s a mix,” he said. “Of the 850 wines in this store, you’ll probably find no more than 70 or 80 bottles on promotion at any one time. So it’s less than 10% of the range being promoted.”

That’s exactly the point I would quibble with. Instead of transparently, consistently lower prices, we are bedazzled by a roller-coaster of special offers and bogof (buy one get one free) deals.  I’m not suggesting traditional deals such as case discounts or bin-end sales are in some way problematic for the consumer. But I do believe consumers would be better served by straightforward transparent reduction across the board rather than the now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t special offers, many of which aren’t that special at all. ♦

Your place or mine?

TWO wine events this week. Both are based in Cork, but while one is taking place in a restaurant, the other will happen in your front room. Or indeed anywhere in Ireland.

Villa Maria wine tasting dinner

Link to the Villa Maria Estate website

WINE dinners. What’s that all about? Well, to them (winery, importer and restaurant) it’s a good promotional tool, and they’re very happy to subsidise the fun. To us (fun-seekers and wine fans) it can be an extraordinarily good value night out.  Case in point – the very affordable €55 tab for a five-course dinner accompanied by wines from New Zealand’s multi-award winning Villa Maria Estate at The Boardwalk Bar & Grill on Lapp’s Quay in Cork, tonight, Wednesday March 3.

I’m took a look at some smashing wines from the perpetually impressive Villa Maria in Saturday’s Irish Examiner. One of the things I love about the winery is the consistent quality they deliver at their lowest Private Bin level which retail for around €11.99.

Villa Maria Private Bin Hawkes Bay Merlot Cabernet

Merlot Cabernet

I love the balance of their aromatics – riesling, gewürztraminer and pinot blanc – and how their fruity, floral character is counterweighted by dense luscious textures. The sauvignon blanc is a firm, citrussy classic. And Villa Maria also reflects New Zealand’s increasing confidence with merlot and cabernet and other red varietals outside the pinot noir box.

I’m not sure of the line-up of wines on the night but I suspect those attending tonight will also be tasting some from among higher Cellar Selection and Reserve tiers of the Villa Maria range. The evening begins at 7pm with a cocktail reception followed by dinner at 8pm, and Charlotte Read of Villa Maria will be introducing the wines to accompany each of the five courses.

Tickets are €55 per person and places are limited. Book by phone on 021 4279990, via email to, and see The Boardwalk‘s site for further details.

[] The wines of Villa Maria are imported by Barry & Fitzwilliam, and stockists include: Waterford Ardkeen Stores;  Cork O’Driscolls, Ballinlough; Nationwide Carry Out Off-Licences;  Dunnes Stores; Super Valu; Centra and Superquinn. ♦


Blind tasting via Twitter

THIS week’s second wine event (it’s on Sunday, but you better get your ass in gear now if you want to take part) is hallmarked by one giant novelty — it’s taking place via Twitter. Notwithstanding this mad and utterly fabulous YouTube video, an online tasting follows essentially the same course as any other, the big difference being that it takes place in the comfort of your own home.

Wine USB - whatever next?

Video showing how you can get wine delivered via your USB...

Despite being competitors, three wine firms based in Cork – Bubble Brothers, Curious Wines, and Karwig’s –  have a happy track record in co-operating on promotions, including the big wine show they co-hosted in Cork last Autumn. But they’ve also been running #twebt a series of Twitter-only blind wine tastings.

The third one takes place this – Sunday March 7 – at 9pm, and the bottle this time is supplied (carefully wrapped so you can’t see its identity) by Karwig Wines. Order it before noon today (Wednesday March 3) from and it’ll be delivered anywhere nationwide for €19. Or if you’re in the area, you can buy it at Karwig’s shop between Crosshaven and Carrigaline for €15 at any time up to next Saturday.

Sign up to Twitter and follow @Karwigwines and ask them any questions you may have; or search for “#twebt” where you will find links to websites and videos showing how the event works. ♦

Twitter – The crowd bites back

TWITTER is changing the way information and opinion is shared. Historians may yet look back and identify it as the single greatest and fastest-growing tool for the democratisation of information since, um, the printing press.

I for one was baffled that commentators doing end-of-decade analysis last month didn’t declare 2009 The Year Of The Crowd. Turmoil in Iran, Jan Moir’s savaging of Stephen Gately’s reputation; Trafigura’s astonishing attempt to gag The Guardian and other media from reporting its toxic dumping scandal; The Scottish Sunday Express’ mugging of teenage survivors of the Dunblane massacre… The course of each of these stories was in part exposed, in part reported, and in part changed utterly by citizens with a net connection and a Twitter account.

Only yesterday, an air traffic controller based in Shannon Airport discovered that a blog post she’d published some time ago had been scooped up and selectively quoted by the Irish Mail on Sunday — essentially they used her words as a stick with which to beat her colleagues. Not good.

Update: When I first posted this opinion, the foregoing paragraph said the Irish Mail on Sunday had produced its article “without making contact with her”. Since then, the paper laid out its side of the story, including the fact that they had made contact, and that the subject had replied saying she’d rather not participate in their planned article. I don’t recall any mention of this contact in the first tweets and blog postings complaining about the article. I may have overlooked it. Either way, apologies to the journalist and the MoS for that.

I do think though my main point still makes sense. End of update.

While this story is still playing itself out, and I for one would balk at drawing any conclusions, Twitter was certainly crucial in allowing her put her side of the story assert the unvarnished and contextualised truth behind the misleading MoS article. Within hours of the newspaper hitting the streets, thousands of people, friends and strangers alike, were able to fully appreciate  her perspective.

I mainly post here about wine, and in a handful of instances (mainly advertising and PR guff, but also a laughably wretched Channel 4 Dispatches programme) I’ve drawn attention to what I call true-but-misleading syndrome: That’s where a newspaper, wine-seller or PR person (or, dagnabit, an office gossip) selectively stacks a heap of truths together that are so woefully decontextualised and misleading as to be worse than lies. Worse, because they are so difficult to rebut.

Twitter is not going to magically dispel that syndrome. But it’s certainly going to accelerate the dissemenation of detail, of context, of opinion. Not all of it is going to be good or pretty, and certainly not all of it is going to be bad.  It’s going to be interesting.


CONGRATULATIONS to Michael Kane and Curious Wines which has just won the prize for Best Ecommerce Site at the Irish Web Awards 2009.  It’s a great achievement for the site, the online presence of the wine warehouse of that name in Bandon, Co Cork.

Curious Wines website

Curious Wines website

When I first discovered it, the site worked so perfectly that I ended up poking it with a sharp stick, trying to find faults. But faults there were none. (This is akin to looking for faulty wines at Portuguese wine tastings which I invariably do, to no avail. But that’s another story). Comprehensive information and clean, fast-loading pages sold me on the virtues of the site. But, crucially, they sell a very good range including some smashing value bottles. Plus they put the effort into running tastings — indeed they’re one of the three retailers co-hosting the Good Wine Show next month. More about that anon.

Sabrina Dent designed the site and great kudos are due to her for it. I discovered on her site that she is married to John Handelaar, who is behind Kildare Street, which won the award for the Best New Web Application or Service. Kildare Street is a magnificent voluntary project that’s offering accessible, transparent, searchable information about what your politicians are up to. Essentially, the site is doing some of the work our state should be doing, and which we should be demanding as a matter of course.

Respect due all round. ♦

%d bloggers like this: