Irish online wine shops

There’s an updated introduction to Irish online wine retailers below, while elsewhere on this blog is a suggested checklist for choosing an online shop, and I hope both are of some practical use to you. (There was one glaring omission in this list which I’ve rectified this morning. If you see any other amendments you think I ought to make please let me know by leaving a comment below).

As of October 2012, I am no longer drinks columnist with the Irish Examiner Weekend. See the home page of this blog for more details. Thank you.

A well-chosen line-up of rosés at O’Brien’s most recent tasting. Click it to see my review in the Irish Examiner.

While I was revising the list of shops, the thought struck me that, like the dog in the night-time, many wine business sites are interesting for what they don’t do. I’m thinking particularly of stores which don’t trade online at all.

While obviously not of direct relevance to someone who wants to shop online right now, the thought is germane to people interested in wine, which is why I’m starting with that footnote.

Many retailers, large and small, are missing a trick. I wish those trading only from physical shops would put their wines on the net in the same way as online shops do. Even though we customers obviously wouldn’t have the opportunity to click through to a till, I think the shops in question would benefit greatly from proffering that virtual shelf online. And we wine fans (and perhaps wine itself) would benefit setting such information free.

Certainly, an online placeholder might be of some use to a retailer – a rudimentary site with a store finder, opening hours, contact details etc. But by not showing the actual wines, such stores are passing up on the unique opportunity presented by the internet. Browsing a wine business’ site which doesn’t have a proper database of the wines it sells is like walking into a carefully planned shop designed by architects, laid out by professional display artists and  illumined by lighting engineers – but which doesn’t show what’s on sale nor how much it costs.

I’m thinking in particular of big retailers such as Dunnes, and franchises such as SuperValu and Carry-Out.

Often the nearest you’ll get to wine range is a PDF of the current ‘special offer’ leaflet – usually headlined by big brands (led by spirits and slabs of lager) thereby sidelining the store’s own exclusive wines. At best you’ll see only a handful of wines, rarely kept up to date and often without key specific information such as vintage. I’ve encountered cracking wines from all and would love to be able to point to a link on their sites. And so would other shoppers. Look around at social media where people are sharing hints and tips: Even a shop’s biggest fan really couldn’t be arsed putting up a link directing their friends to a site which essentially says ‘buy from us, we’re great’.   No, we want the specifics. What customers are saying online is “Got a great sauv blanc from WineCo – here’s a link with the details”.

And then there’s the search engines. Shops looking at search engine traffic will quickly discover that, in general, we aren’t searching for what the wine shop thinks of itself

award-winning red… delicious wine… small, family-owned winery… serving Ireland since 1922… you’ve tried the rest now buy the best… enjoy a drink in relaxing surroundings…

We’re far more likely to be looking for terms specific to us, such as

chenin blanc… cava… Bordeaux available in Mullingar… Chateau Wotsit 2011 half bottle…

We’re not landing on the vague sites. Or if we are, we’ll find little or nothing about what the store is selling right now.

For all the foregoing reasons, I hope wine shops, wholesalers and shoppers alike take a look at the first site here – even though it doesn’t actually sell wine.

As of October 2012, I am no longer drinks columnist with the Irish Examiner Weekend. See the home page of this blog for more details. Thank you.

www.searsons.com

Searsons has been in the wine trade for about 90 years, having bought into the Davy family’s grocery business which had been operating around Dublin for most of the 19th century. They remain one of Ireland’s best importers and wholesalers, equally adept at posh high-end wines for special occasions and good solid wines at relatively approachable entry-level prices.

Unlike the wine stores listed below, the site is not a click-and-buy, but rather a shop window linking to retailers that Searson’s supplies. The site used to be the least sophisticated wine site in the world ever – merely a series of PDFs and a phone number. But it’s now a proper site allowing you browse wines and view a map showing stockists nationwide. Crucially, it also has the full name, rank and serial number (well ok, full name, appellation and vintage) of every wine. As it doesn’t sell directly, the site can’t of course tell you what the retail price is: that contract is between you and the retailer. But it does helpfully give an rrp (recommended retail price) for each. It workd as an excellent support for the independent retailers the company supplies, and a wine-finder resource for us.

There’s no such restriction on big non-online retailers, which could easily offer all the specifics and, for instance, update special offer and multiple-buy info with a few keystrokes. (Indeed there’s no reason such publicly available info couldn’t be integrated with their stock control system).

And franchises could just as easily emulate the wholesaler Searsons. Some have gone part of the way. For instance, the Carry-Out site has an excellent, well-organised interactive map of all its 50-plus franchises with full contact details. Yes there’s a special offer leaflet as described above. But no indication of its basic range.

That’s a pity. There’s nothing preventing all the franchisees agreeing to stock say a dozen or twenty basics, each in an agreed, tight price band. Suddenly anyone – bloggers, columnists, Facebookers, tweeters, TV radio pundits – could feel confident in saying ‘cracking pinot blanc in Carry-Out for €x’ knowing that it actually means something to anyone, anywhere in the country.

Now on to the online wine retailers proper, starting with the top six that I would choose first if I were buying wine for delivery right now.

As of October 2012, I am no longer drinks columnist with the Irish Examiner Weekend. See the home page of this blog for more details. Thank you.

Irish online wine shops

Curious Wines website

www.curiouswines.ie

Curious Wines is an exemplary, comprehensively searchable and informative website.

Between their participation in big tastings, and snapshot samplings of parts of their range (most recently a handful of discounted wines from Bordeaux and Spain) I’ve found the store offers many terrific, good value wines.

Nicholson's

http://www.jnwine.com

Stunning list operating out of James Nicholson’s award-winning shop in Crossgar, Co Down. You’ll also find some of these at Parsons’ Wine Warehouse, Carrigaline Co Cork as well as in selected restaurants such as Star Anise on Bridge Street in Cork. In brief, Nicholsons sell a disproportionately large number of my favourite wines on the Irish market. As far as I’m aware it has another distinction as the only site that allows you to buy and deliver anywhere in Ireland or the UK — I’ve found it a godsend for sending gifts to England. Finally, make sure you select the right jurisdiction in the “Delivery Location” tab on the opening page so you see the wines priced in the right currency.

www.obrienswine.ie

The growing off-licence chain (with stores all over Leinster plus one-off outposts in Galway, Limerick and now also in Douglas, Cork) has a winning wine selection, and is also a great one-stop shop, as it also stocks a wide range of good beers and ciders too. Their most recent tasting  confirmed again its expertise with an imaginative well-chosen range including some cracking good value.

As of October 2012, I am no longer drinks columnist with the Irish Examiner Weekend. See the home page of this blog for more details. Thank you.

www.wineonline.ie

Excellent site featuring hundreds of wines from everyday sippers to special interest bottles.

www.winesdirect.ie

One of the first wine retailers online (now in its 20th year) Paddy Keogh’s site is excellent in terms of functionality and its wine-list. Check out Sticks Chardonnay, Viognier Yarra Valley 2006, €12.90 or rich ripe spicy Chateau Haut Rian Cuvée Prestige Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux 2005, €13.70.

www.simplywines.ie

Ian Dornan’s smashing list is very well worth returning to for its frequently top-class wines – backed up by a money-back guarantee.

++++

www.bubblebrothers.com

Began exclusively with Champagne, hence the name, but now sells a wide range of classic wines. Also has a drive-in warehouse at Marina Commercial Park, Cork as well as its original store in the English Market in the city centre.

www.karwigwines.ie

Award-winning wine list also sold from their store at Carrigaline, Co Cork. Smashing affordable wines from all over but I am particuarly fond of several of Joe’s wines from Italy, Germany and Portugal.

www.lecaveau.ie

Extensive list also available at its store in Kilkenny.

www.marypawlewines.com

Ireland’s longest-established importer of organic wines. I’m agnostic on the whole organic thing but believe that winegrowers and winemakers even aiming for organic certification  by definition lavish TLC on their plants which is where it all begins. Mary makes no specific health or even quality claims for wines made from organically-grown grapes – but rightly emphasises that she’s looking for good, carefully-made wine and there are several winners in her list.

As of October 2012, I am no longer drinks columnist with the Irish Examiner Weekend. See the home page of this blog for more details. Thank you.

www.mccabeswines.ie

Excellent online presence of the shops in Blackrock and Foxrock.

www.mitchellandson.com

One of Ireland’s most informative and interesting sites and a premium range of wines from the 200-year-old upmarket Dublin wine merchant.

www.onthegrapevine.ie

Long list touching the most important bases with some brilliant minority interest specials.

Bordeaux, try rich ripe Chateau Rauzan-Despagne Bordeaux Reserve 2006, €15.50.

www.FromVineyardsDirect.ie

The newish Irish outpost of a British online store. Highlights include a cracking value expressive plump tropical chardonnay from Burgundy, Saint-Véran Merloix Bourgogne Blanc 2007, €12.45, and crisp white Rocca di Tufo Orvieto Classico 2007, €11.45.

www.superquinn.ie

Extensive range. Delivers only in the Dublin area.

www.terroirs.ie

Spin-off from the eponymous gourmet shop in Donnybrook, Dublin.

the wine store

www.thewinestore.ie

The retail wing of importer Tyrrell & Co is a multiple award-winning site focusing on wines from France, Spain and Italy and, in particular, the Rhône valley.

Finally, it’d be pretty understandable if you skipped the long footnote that I opened with. But it is worth thinking about if you get a chance. Information belongs to all of us, rather than being in the gift of some presumed elite. As Tim Berners-Lee tweeted during the recent inspirational Olympics opening ceremony, ‘this is for everyone’.  ♦

As of October 2012, I am no longer drinks columnist with the Irish Examiner Weekend. See the home page of this blog for more details. Thank you.

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Enjoy a drink in relaxing surroundings

The challenge in this week’s episode of The Apprentice UK (Season 8 Episode 9, Wednesday May 16 2012 and available to watch again on YouTube by clicking here) was to devise an online marketing campaign for English sparkling wine...

The show

Click here to view The Apprentice – English sparkling wine.

So is it about business? Or wine? Not quite. You could view the series as The Office staffed by volunteers or a fish-out-of-water sitcom with a cast of amateur method actors. The business challenge each week is the sit, while the com is provided by watching youngish, inexperienced people jump through hoops while subjected to outlandishly unrealistic constraints, all carefully edited for our slightly guilty viewing pleasure. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not dismissing the show, and it’s no Big Brother. I reckon The Apprentice could be a great experience – once you don’t mind coming across like a bit of a prat, which seems inevitable on much reality TV.

(If you’re not familiar with The Apprentice UK, it’s a weekly reality show in which contestants complete challenges set for them by entrepreneur Alan Sugar. A flock of camera crews film the contestants as they go about their antics – coming up with their plans, consulting with people who do know the field of business, and putting plans into action. The results are edited down to a package lasting perhaps 15 or 20 minutes. After this is screened, the contestants and Sugar are brought face-to-face in the ‘boardroom’ segment. Drawing on opinions of experts and the show’s in-house ‘aides’ who’ve accompanied the contestants, Sugar offers a pungent critique of each candidate before choosing one to eliminate with the catch-phrase ‘you’re fired’.)

And there’s comedy anguish aplenty.

For instance, one of the competing teams came up with the deathless slogan “Less fizz, more sparkle.” To my ears, this belongs to a genre of advertising prose that older readers may remember with a shudder: a calendar printed on an A3 card surrounded by adverts for pubs, chippers and taxi companies, each bearing some trite, gumpish legend. Enjoy a drink in relaxing surroundings. You’re tried the rest now buy the best. Less fizz more sparkle.

Two contestants are filmed stumbling around Tesco looking for the in-store wine connoisseur. Another of the contestants, Adam Corbally, is apparently pissed as a newt when interviewed after a wine tasting.

But for schadenfreude fans, the show’s highlight was surely the catastrophically, comically wrong advert depicting a bride gagging at the (presumably foreign) rubbish sparkling wine and declaiming this isn’t English Sparkling Wine she’d ordered. Boo. But the advert has a happy ending. Yay. Some guy proffering the desired porduct that no-one’s heard of. The whole thing is redolent of the hilariously amateurish, self-regarding and seller-oriented advertising pitches so mercilessly lampooned in Viz all those years ago. The ad on The Apprentice just about stopped short of saying “At last!!! An end to your lack of English Sparkling Wine misery!!”. It also scored a double by including a priceless tagline modelled on a horrific sexist trope along the lines of ‘what she needs is English sparkling wine’. Nudge nudge, wink wink.

The participants respond to Alan Sugar’s verdict.

So we conclude the contestants are thick? Big mistake. And unfair. While many episodes do seem to reveal some terribly naive misjudgments, I suspect it’s emphasised or even created by the programme planners (by the obstacles and time constraints on the contestants) and editors (for instance by deleting evidence of competence).

When Adam Corbally compared the taste of his sparkler to Christmas cake, Twitter erupted in derision. But hang on a minute. Let’s workshop this. Imagine someone who hasn’t tasted much wine, and now for the first time he’s coached to actively sniff it. Which he does. And he detects a vinous smell he associates with one particular vinous scent he is familiar with, a port-rich christmas cake…

I didn’t taste the bottle he tasted. I wasn’t there. But on the face of it, that soundbite sounds to me like an honest and I imagine a broadly accurate descriptor.  I’d be far less impressed with the guy if he’d parroted what he’d heard other people say. Or if he baulked, refusing to say what he thought, for fear of what others might think. As such, he seems to be doing precisely what I try to do, and what I advocate others to practise. On the evidence of that tiny clip, he appears to listen to what his nose and palate tell him, and reports it honestly. That right there – that’s what I want to see. If I’m right in my presumptions, he surpasses the professionals in France who were caught out a few years ago, describing the tannins in a white wine which had been dyed red. There’s every chance he’d excel as a sommelier if happenstance directed him that way, and he enjoyed a few years’ exposure to lots and lots of wines. I’d happily buy wine from him.

The Christmas cake scene lasted seconds. What was snipped out?  By any chance did his other comments display non-comedy competence? We don’t know.  And then there’s a cutaway to Sugar aide Karren Brady, smiling and shaking her head. She may have been smiling at that comment. Or she could just as easily have been filmed an hour earlier responding to a crew member making some silly gag. We don’t know.

Adam is later shown apparently drunk. At a wine tasting, you whizz through a great volume of wines in a short period, spitting out everything you sample. The spitting out thing doesn’t come naturally and has to be learnt.  So while it may look like he was irresponsibly drinking on the job, it may be that he hadn’t learned how to spit. Big deal.

The social media

For me though, one of the most interesting aspects of the whole experience was not in the programme itself but in responses on social media to it – for instance, the derision that greeted one team’s search for the sommelier in the wine aisle of Tesco. Many (most?) of such criticisms were spot on, pointing out that that’s simply not the way large volume stores work. But some of the comments seemed to be using the opportunity to take a lazy, snobbish pop at supermarkets such as Tesco and effectively the people shop in them.   Those big-volume stores do generally have wine experts working for them – but they’re to be found at head office, at tastings sessions, or visiting wineries, not manning the aisle. In supermarkets. You know, those (hint) self-service stores.

I could be mistaken but think I detected a subtext in some of the comments on social media: they seemed to me to support the oft-repeated calumny that wines sold in supermarkets are somehow ‘different’ and inferior to fancy-pants wine. They’re not: The supermarkets’ mission is to sell lots more of everything to a broader spread of the population than, say, specialist wine stores.

Tesco, Dunnes, Superquinn et al try to address a far broader band of people including, for instance, those who have to or want to shop primarily on price. Similarly, the big stores have to cater to popular tastes, many of which aren’t highly rated by sommeliers. But that range is broad in both directions,  and the supermarkets also sell some of the high-end, highly sought-after and expensive wines, just as the wine specialists do: Champagnes, cult winemakers, gran reservas.  Indeed sometimes they’re the same wines.

The wine

I do occasionally taste English sparkling wines – most recently in April of this year – and found almost all of them perfectly palatable and presentable. I’ve never highlighted any of them in my column, solely because they’re priced in the twenties, thirties and up. They’re lovely and all that but they’re just too dear. I reckon  there’s a niche market of people who have that kind of  money, don’t mind spending it. They are welcome to buy all of it, and I merrily raise a glass to them in the hope they enjoy it.

Which brings me, finally, to an interesting article here in the Daily Telegraph about English sparkling wines. It begins with an anecdote which yet again underlines one of the best-kept secrets in the wine world: Even after we’ve tried and judged a wine, our feelings toward it can be overruled by factors which have absolutely nothing to do with what our senses have told us. The power of suggestion – whether it’s on the label, in an ad, or in suggestions of wine salesperson – is astonishingly powerful, and because it broadly equates price with quality, it’s costing us money.

The Champagne myth is riddled throughout the media, and The Apprentice isn’t immune, right from the first act. The Eurostar terminal at St Pancras station in London, the voiceover breathlessly intones, has “the longest Champange bar in Europe” (meh) “boasting the finest French fizz”. Accompanied by a shot of some moodily-lit bottles including Perrier Jouet Belle Époque 1999. Here in Ireland it’s imported by Mitchells, and it’ll set you back €119. A bottle.

Ah no thanks lads, you’re grand. Really. Bye now.

In the anecdote in the Telegraph, the two factors are provenance and price. And the writer’s point remains true even when you broaden it beyond English wines. Just because a bubbly comes from Champagne and costs €20 or €100 doesn’t mean it’s as good as a well-made cava or Australian chardonnay pinot noir for a tenner. Overpriced wine, you’re FIRED!  ♦

Myth and magic

Note: I no longer contribute drinks columns to the Irish Examiner. See here for details.

EXCITING news from the world of science. Beer has been found to contain a substance that makes a proven contribution to health. Scientific studies have shown that dihydrogen monoxide or DHMO delivers important health benefits, delaying death for decades. And laboratory tests on beer have shown that it contains a significant proportion of the miracle compound. Moreover, researchers warn that a diet lacking in DHMO could cause developmental issues and even death for some children as it plays a vital role in the metabolism. But on the upside, as well as promoting health, the superfood ingredient may also contribute to your kids’ intelligence: Albert Einstein was known to have included it in his diet…

OK, stop. There isn’t one untrue statement in the preceding few sentences but it’s utterly misleading. yes, DHMO is essential for life and yes, it’s found in beer. But it’s also found in parsnips, apples, your little finger and, in great quantities, gushing out of your kitchen taps. Because it is just another name for plain ol’ H2O – water.

Misleading with selected facts is easily done: A few carefully-chosen points are presented (and, crucially, information which might provide contradiction or even context is omitted) in a way to plant an utterly false suggestion in the reader’s mind. You could just as easily turn the miracle ingredient into a nightmare… Experts warn that DHMO, whether in its liquid, solid or gaseous state, can contribute to accidents and injuries and even kill… Yes, people do drown, slip on ice, and get burnt by handling boiling kettles. 

Like a car crash, negative scare stories attract attention, and keep readers exercised and clicking on the pages generated by some parts of the media, old and new alike, which appear to value popularity over proper, contextualised truth. Similarly, breathless upbeat stories like our  ‘miracle’ product are attractive to many readers. Both types of fact-filled misleading nonsense are sometimes used by less scrupulous businesses promoting some product or other. Boo! story – our product has the solution. Yay! story – our product is packed with the miracle ingredient.

Brief report on The Drinks Business website

In my column in this morning’s Irish Examiner I refer to a brief piece in a drinks industry news website which quotes Professor Roger Corder. The piece, in The Drinks Business, is nonsense. Like my spoof paragraph in italics above, it appears to contain no untruths that I’m aware of. But the parade of selective partial truths is more thoroughly misleading than a pack of lies. Let’s go take a look at it.

Professor Roger Corder, author of The Wine Diet and an expert on dietary polyphenols, has spoken out against supermarket red wines dubbing them “cheap imposters” and “little more than white wines pretending to be red.”

A professor, author and expert (ooh there’s an appeal to authority) is indicting those rascally retailers, the supermarkets, for suckering us into buying cheap imposters. That’s the impression being delivered here.

Let’s hold off judgement and read on till he presents his evidence. Mind you, I must point out the thing about “white wine masquerading as red” is questionable even without evidence. There is a glut of wine, red and white, on world wholesale markets at most price points. Surely the purpose of ‘passing off’ is defeated if the alleged fraudster is making no extra benefit from his fraud. Pretending that white wines are actually red would be like melting down €1 coins to forge €1 coins. Eh? Let’s read on…

“A large percentage of supermarket red wines have just enough contact with grapes to extract colour from the skins and contain virtually no grape pip polyphenols,” Corder said.

*BRRRNNNGGG!!!!* Sorry, that was the guff alarm going off. Permitting grape juice to remain in contact with the grape skins (and pulp, and possibly a few unlucky but merry wasps who followed the truck to the winery) is precisely what happens when making red wine. That skin contact is necessary, and it is sufficient. It’s the way red wines have been made, are being made, and will be made. Saying this process is “just enough” is a bit like saying that Rory McIlroy played “just enough” golf to win the US Open. Pips? You want pips? Here you go. This side-eye ‘just enough’ bollocks from Corder adds little to the reader’s store of knowledge but much to inculcate a vague dissatisfaction with some (as yet unidentified) wines sold by (as yet unidentified) stores.

“Polyphenols are the source of a wine’s colour, flavour and character, yet many supermarket red wines are low in polyphenols, which compromises the taste and quality of the wine,” Corder added.

This is a particularly vicious type of nonsense. First, here comes the science bit: As the article sort-of points out elsewhere, the levels of polyphenols, colour, alcohol, etc do indeed vary from wine to wine. This phenomenon of variability is known as the “range” of “wine styles”. No more, no less. A wine that has more or less of any of these constituents isn’t necessarily better, and isn’t necessarily worse by any criterion. It depends. So much for the insinuation.

But anyway, polyphenols are only one source of ‘a wine’s colour, flavour and character’. Let’s go back and look at Corder’s broad point which seems to suggest polyphenols are where it’s at, and that red wines with lower levels of same are somehow lacking.

Here are some facts. Wines made from red grapes range from white through the palest rosé to dense, dark purply black. Yes, the fact that white wines can be made from red grapes may come as a surprise, but everyone knows the most famous example – Champagne. The traditional sparkler can be made with any combination of three grapes – chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. The latter two are red and, while they are obviously used in making rosé Champagne, those red grapes also feature in ‘white’ Champagnes. To complete the picture, a sparkler made only with white grapes is known as blanc de blancs; while a white one made only with red grapes is a blanc de noirs. And pink-hued sparkers made with red grapes and/or white are rosé, rosato or rosado. This is a digression. But it may serve as a useful bit of perspective.

Each and every wine style has something to recommend it. Being a source of polyphenols ain’t one of them. Why? Because polyphenols are everywhere, that’s why. We’re practically falling over them. Nature is knee-deep in em, as they crop up in practically every type of plant. So if you feel an urgent need to embiggen the quantity of polyphenols in your diet, just tuck into some tasty fruit and veg. Especially fresh or raw. Here, have a tomato. Peel an orange. Put a lettuce leaf into that breakfast roll. Have a cup of tea even.

So what the hell is Corder whingeing about?

Why would the learned professor keep banging on about a common-as-muck component of our diet which he (unsupported by even one proper scientific finding) claims is good for our health and bemoan what he claims is its scarcity in certain products (which he hasn’t disclosed) sold by certain retailers (which he hasn’t disclosed)?

While scratching your head over the enigma of Professor Corder, here are some thoughts. I think wine is fun, whether it’s red, white or rosé. A decent bottle in good company can elevate a dinner into a feast, can make you feel good. All great fun once it’s in reasonable proportion, once alcohol doesn’t adversely affect you. But even as a major fan of wine, I have to say it has a miniscule positive effect on our lives compared to the powerful impact on your longevity delivered by the real agenda-toppers such as having a good balanced diet, enjoying life, having a half-decent mission in your life, exercising mind and body a bit, having reasonably fulfilling relationships, and having a sense of perspective…

Speaking of perspective, where’s Prof Corder? Look back at that third paragraph again and ask why do his sciency pronouncements — Specific. Hard-edged. Clear. Polyphenols! Pow! Analysis! Biff! — just… collapse… into detumescent vagueness…

How many is this “many” supermarkets you speak of Professor? Three? 2,476? And then there’s the wines he’s trying to warn us about. Name one. Go on. Check your wallet — the name of this appalling imposter is probably printed on your till receipt and we’d like to know. After all you’ve been ‘dissecting’ these wines in the lab, haven’t you? Where’s the paperwork? The rather large bank of data listing all the components of all the wines you’ve tested? Oh and while you’re at it, name just one of the supermarkets in question. So we’ll know which ones to avoid. Let’s see if the article divulges. We’ll read on…

In March, Corder teamed up with Santiago Navarro, head of UK online wine merchant Vinopic, which assesses a wine’s drinking pleasure, richness in grape polyphenols, value for money and customer popularity, giving each wine a score out of 100.

Oh…. So the brave sciencey stand Prof Corder has been taking on behalf of consumers… It turns out that he’s…. Vinopic is… how do I put this… another wine retailer?

I haven’t forgotten his 100% failure to provide even one item of evidence for his assertions in this article so far. But for the moment let’s put that question on hold. And let’s take a look at the retailer he’s involved with.

Vinopic (“buy better wine online” is the cheering, albeit hardly objective, endorsement on the link when I Google it) looks for all the world like any other online wine shop. Nothing wrong with that. A blameless occupation. Curiously, the site boasts not one but two rating systems — an “intrinsic quotient” awarded by the professor to reds which purports to measure “the skill of the winemaker and how well-made the wine is” and then there’s an overall score. I could find no explanation of how points were awarded to the wines which is again oddly vague: We’re asked to believe that this isn’t just a regular wine reviewer’s scoring system, but something sciencey, yet we’re kept in the dark about criteria and even the units of measurement.

To illustrate the intrinsic quotient, the site provides this graphic.

The “Intrinsic Quotient” scale on the vinopic site.

Ooooh. Interesting. Average “supermarket wines” are way over on the left. Tut tut. Bit low on the Intrinsic Quotient so they are. But great news for Vinopic! Their wines have scored up to 150 wotsits. So unlike any presentation of data you might expect from — oh, say a scientist — this one doesn’t actually disclose anything. Not the items being compared, nor the criteria for the comparison nor even the unit of measurement (I’ve decided to call them wotsits).

Sure we could all do that. I could put up a chart measuring the, eh, Intrinsic Quality of blogs. Few wotsits bad (frowny face), many wotsits good (smiley face). And on my chart, right there on the right hand side would be my brilliant blog! 150 wotsits! And on the ‘bad’ left hand side would be “A Terrible Average Low-Wotsit Blog”. No URL or link, mind you as the ‘bad’ blog may not even exist.

Corder’s Vinopic chart says supermarkets boo. Vinopic yay.

So you’d expect the site is selling truly extraordinary wines with magickal properties. Having trawled through some of the wines on offer, I recognise quite a few as wines I’ve tasted, and some I’ve recommended here or in the Irish Examiner.

Here’s one of them, as it appears on the Vinopic website.

Ringbolt Cabernet Sauvignon £64.99 for six from Vinopic

Yep that’s it. Ringbolt Cabernet Sauvignon from Western Australia. 2008.

I must say I like it a lot, and I recall recommending it, and previous vintages too. But Vinopic wasn’t on my radar until last week. So how the hell did I manage to secure a precious bottle of this life-giving elixir that’s so… polyphenolish? Oh hang on, here it is…

Ringbolt Cabernet Sauvignon £55.80 for six at Tesco

Yes, another retailer [I’ve used their UK site so the prices are comparable] selling the same wine, same region, same winemaker, same vintage, same polyphenols. Tesco. A supermarket.

 

Question: What’s the difference between supermarket wine and Prof Corder’s magically healthy wine?
Answer: About £1.53 per bottle.

 

I don’t speak for any retailer, let alone any supermarket. Far from it. I think far too much power in the retail food trade is concentrated in too few hands. I regret the clout that supermarkets wield, and also think the relaxing of regulations on aspects such as opening hours, Sunday trading and store size may have been harmful to communities around Ireland…

But none of that makes it all right for anyone – in this case a competitor – to take lazy swipes at a big, easy target. Worse, preying on common misconceptions of how science actually works. And worst of all, in my view, nothing justifies stoking up misplaced doubt and unjustified fear in the minds of us, the public.

Despite the inital appearance to the contrary, the short article in The Drinks Business has nothing to do with your health, nor with the quality of wine you’re drinking. There is no reason to believe that Prof Corder has any more interest in your life and your wellbeing than the employees of those other retailers he’s giving out about. In fact, he has far more in common with them than sets them apart. They both want your money. The only major difference, as far as I can tell, is that supermarkets haven’t been spreading mendacious nonsense warning customers off from shopping in independent online wine stores. I shop in both, find excellent quality and value in both, and I know of no wine lover who doesn’t.

 

If you’re interested in finding out more, I suggest you start with Dr Ben Goldacre the greatest debunker of nonsense science reporting in the media – his site includes a number of brilliant bits of audio which I think are particularly helpful for crystallising the issues. And here is my guide to wine myths, for the most part just common errors rather than deliberately misleading guff. But among them is a look at those utterly misleading pseudoscience stories about wine you’ll occasionally see in the media.

 

Edit: Many thanks to Tom Way for the splendid spoofery he’s got going on over at the DHMO website. I borrowed from shamelessly plundered the DHMO idea from his hilariously panic-inducing posts for my opening paragraph above. You may want to start with this 2004 article in the Guardian which recounts a real-life panic in a Californian city caused by someone taking the DHMO spoof as real. Is it okay to laugh at them? Briefly perhaps. And then maybe resolve to be less credulous ourselves. ♦

Great value from the Mediterranean

Laurent Miquel dominated the French part of the tasting.

IN my latest column in the Irish Examiner I’m taking a look at the forthcoming current wine promotion in Dunnes Stores.

Having kicked off on Wednesday, it features dozens of wines from Spain, the south of France and Italy.

There is some amazing value on offer and you may wish to suspend the booze cruise this year, and instead take a look at the shopping list I suggest in my column online over here.

The tasting featured four classy Italian reds, two each from Tuscany and Chianti.

Last week, Dunnes held a preview tasting for the media, showcasing dozens of its exclusive wines from the mediteranean. While they’ve occasionally held smaller scale events this was practical purposes their first open-ended wine tasting. Does this matter? Yes it does. A lot.

Most importers and some retailers hold periodic tastings for the media. I and others like me — who contribute wine opinion to papers, radio and blogs — taste through a cross-section of wines seeking out the best quality and value wines to recommend.

Tastings of this type provide the only practicable way for us to get a wide-angle view of the wine world – they offer the only means to properly understand what’s good value out there, what’s indifferent, what’s overpriced or overhyped.

I and the others do of course happen upon good wines to recommend in the more usual way — at a dinner party, or by browsing shelves and buying on spec. While delightful and useful (in this way I’ve stumbled upon many of the wines that have graced the food and wine pages of the Irish Examiner) it’s far too haphazard an approach to the thousands of bottles on the Irish market.
For the same reason that I recommend anyone with any level of interest in wine to get to tasting sessions – but especialy the larger scale ones such as wine fairs. ♦

 Store Code  Store Name  WINE
   200  ASHLEAF CRUMLIN  A
   205  BLANCHARDSTOWN S  A
   207  CORNELSCOURT  A
   213  DONAGHMEDE  B
   214  MAYNOOTH  B
   219  GEORGES STR.  A
   234  NORTH EARL ST.  B
   243  PORTMARNOCK  B
   246  SWAN CENTRE  B
   247  SWORDS PAVILLION  B
   250  STEPHENS GREEN  A
   255  LEOPARDSTOWN  B
   257 FINGLAS CHARLESTOWN  B
   258 BEACON COURT  A
   304  ATHLONE IRISHTOW  B
   309  SCOTCH HALL  B
   311  ARD EASMUINN  B
   312  THE MARSHES  A
   315  KILKENNY  B
   321  MULLINGAR HARBOU  B
   326  NAVAN GROCERY  B
   327  ASHBOURNE  B
   328  ENNISCORTHY  A
   336  REDMOND SQUARE  B
   338  CARLOW  B
   339  EDENDERRY  B
   340  KYLE CTR PORTLOAISE  A
   341  GOREY  A
   350 KILKENNY MCDONAGH  A
   352 ARKLOW BRIDGEWATER  A
   400  DAVIS ROAD NEW  A
   409  DOUGLAS COURT  A
   411  ENNIS  A
   412  JETLAND  A
   417  BALLINCOLLIG  A
   418  LIMERICK HENRY  B
   428  PARKWAY  A
   437  TRALEE NCR  A
   441  HORAN CENTRE TRA  C
   445  BISHOPSTOWN COUR  A
   446  CARRIGALINE CORK  A
   448  CLONAKILTY *  B
   452 MACROOM  A
   454 ROSCREA  B
   458 TIPPERARY TOWN  B
   511  WESTSIDE  A
   518  CRANMORE  B
   520  TERRYLAND  A
   524 KNOCKNACARRA / RAHOON  B
   526  FORTE SC LETTERKENNY  B
   528 BRIAR HILL  B

Have ye no homes to go to…

THREE things happening this week (two in Cork, one nationwide) may be of interest to wine fans – the inaugural session of Bubble Brothers’ new wine club, a guide to growing your own fruit, and a virtual blind tasting session through the medium of Twitter.

1. New wine club in Cork

Firstly, Bubble Brothers are launching what sounds like a fun monthly wine club. The Blackrock Castle Wine Club, as its name suggests, will be based at the unspeakably handsome castle-restaurant-observatory of that name on the Lee. It’ll meet 10 times a year, on the last Thursday of every month (except July and December) from 7.30pm to 9.30pm.

Blackrock Castle

Bubble Brothers are basing their new wine club at Blackrock Castle & Observatory

Forgive my repitition of what I regard as a well-kept secret: wine tastings, wine dinners and wine clubs often offer astonishing good value for a night out and BB’s club looks likely to be no exception. The price is €200 per year for all 10 sessions, or €25 per session for non-members, subject to space. They’ll meet at the Castle Bar and Trattoria in Blackrock Castle, although there may be occasional exceptions such as a midsummer banquet on June 24 in the Castle’s Observatory Restaurant.

The inaugural meeting takes place next Thursday at 7.30pm. Check out www.bubblebrothers.com for more details. I’m sure I’ve posted something here before about the economics of such events *rummages around in files to no avail*. In brief — retailer, wholesaler and producer all happily drop their margins in order to showcase wines they believe in. The wine fan enjoys a convivial night but pays far, far less than she would for the nearest equivalent in a pub or restaurant. It’s wine-wine. Sorry I meant win-win.

2. Grow your own fruit

I recently wrote a column in the Irish Examiner followed by a blog post on the same theme about growing fruit. It was by way of reply to the frequently-asked question about the feasiblity of making wine (as we know it) in Ireland. Now it turns out one of the players in that piece is generously giving his time to a meeting of the Cork Free Choice Consumer Group on Thursday January 28. Con Traas (whose apples I was merrily munching as I wrote the original blog post) is joined by a fellow fruit grower to provide guidance and inspiration to amateur gardeners who fancy growing a whole range of delicious fruits.  See here for all the details.

3. Twitter tasting

Time, ladies and gentlemen PUHLEASE! It’s last orders. Or at least it will be on Thursday January 28 at 1pm which is your last  chance to order a mystery bottle of wine so you can participate in Ireland’s second Twitter Blind Tasting Event or twebt.

Anyone (over 18 of course) who has The Twitter and is anywhere in Ireland can take part in this online blind tasting set up by technology professional Brian Clayton and Kevin Crowley of Fenn’s Quay restaurant in Cork.

Hey! No peeking now!

Twitter wine will be revealed on Sunday

The idea is simple. Rather than being asked to stir from the hearth to take part in a wine event, you’re invited to buy one particular bottle — wrapped so its identity is unknown to you — and set yourself up with glasses and your chosen company on Sunday night to take part in the tasting. On Twitter at the appointed time (8pm) you post up descriptions of the colours, scents and flavours you detect — and discuss it with other participants as long as the fancy takes you. In 140 characters or fewer, of course. Go have a look-see at the Twitter stream for #twebt or the other links on this page.

As well as Fenn’s Quay, the twebt is centered on three wine importers based in Co Cork — Bubble Brothers, Curious Wines and Karwig’s — which are of course competitors, but which yet have found common cause: They collaborated on The Good Wine Show in December, and they’re all interactive tweeters. They’re taking it in turns to supply wines to the Twitter tastings series.

You can buy the bottle here on the Curious Wines website, which also has all the details you may want to know.

I hasten to add that geography is no barrier as the Thursday deadline is for delivery anywhere in the republic. Those nearer Bandon Co Cork can pop by and buy their bottle over the counter up to Saturday at 6pm.

On a bigger scale *harrumphs and adopts serious disposition* you might like to pour another glass and reflect that Twitter is changing the way information and opinion is shared.  I look at just some aspects of that phenomenon here.

But for now I’m going to don my top hat and conduct a wine tasting by telegraph… And that’s another story

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