Two Good, Two Bad and Two Unusual

This week we begin a new series of quick tastes.

Two Good

  • I met up with winemaker Francesco Cucurrulo from Sicily recently. His family estate , Masseria del Fuedo, is organically farmed and always has been. It’s not all about IMAG0655vines either!

The Masseria del Fuedo wines are distributed by Classic Drinks out of Cork. Francesco makes brilliant wines.  I am now completely in love with the Masseria del Fuedo Nero d’Avola – sun-kissed, herbal, superb depth and tremendous savoury length.

Not all Nero d’Avola are great wines – this is. (and here I am a great fan of Sicilian Grillo ….)

Here’s a wine that exudes confidence, grace and energy. It is ageing beautifully. Lucky for us that this vintage is still in the market!

Interesting selection of Navarra gear arrived to the house last month : Thanks Navarra!


Two Bad

  • It happens now and then that either the wine maker, the distributor or the retailer gets it wrong. It might be the wine is too pricey or poorly made. It might be that the wine is just plain wrong for our market or it might just be that there is really something wrong with the wine. Lucky for us there are very few of the latter floating around these days  … ….

Our independents, retailers and distributors, need all the help they can get. It is simply unfair for a generic organisation, with a big budget to spend, to run a trade event on the same day as a pre-advertised portfolio tasting by one of our independents. We are too logosmall a market. ‘These things happen’ is a poor response as to why Wines of Australia has muscled its way onto the same date as the Mackenway Distributors portfolio tasting.  There is an excellent  Wine Diary run by Jean Smullen in place to help avoid this sort of confusion from occurring.

Mackenway Distributors have a brilliant portfolio and win the best of awards for the wines that they represent. Have a look at it here.


  • It saddens me that I was very disappointed with a wine recently. It came across as a ton of simple primary flavours with no more  substance than found in a cheap pot of jam. The sad part of this is that I like the brand and have a load of respect for its producer. That said, the current vintage of the (Undurraga’s) McKenna Cabernet Sauvignon is very poor indeed. Nothing wrong. Just very poor. This happens when a brand fights for price points. At €8.99 it is particularly good value for a Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile. As a ‘red wine’ from Chile this is fine. As a Cabernet?…..

In the past I have liked the McKenna red. I have every confidence that I will like it again in the future as Undurragga makes many of the best wines in Chile ….. hopefully the near future!

Two Very Unusual

I dropped in to the very excellent Green Man Wines (Wine shop and Wine bar) near Harolds Cross in Terenure D6 recently. A treasure trove for natuIMAG0664ral and organic wines – actually it’s a treasure trove for wine!

The ‘Unusual’ was a pair of natural wines from the Czech Republic by wine maker Milan Nestarec. His web site is a great read. If, like me!, you know nothing at all about the wine industry of the Czech Republic have  a dip into Milan’s US importer’s web page. It tells you everything you need to know and a lot about his Knives and Forks range currently at the Green Man Wines.

IMAG0665   IMAG0667








Take to the Slopes with the Wines of Austria

My latest column for Checkout Magazine was on the Wines of Austria. I opened with, ‘A few years back I was presented with a cd by Austrian wine producer Willi Opitz titled ‘The Sounds of Wine’. It was a recording of his wines as they fermented in his cellars in Illmitz near the Hungarian border. Clearly it was unique!

         This month the AC Wine Club had a look at five wines from Austria. Unique. It’s a word that sits comfortably alongside most of what Austria produces. Others are Interesting, Quality and Very Food Friendly.

The white Gruner Veltliner makes up about 30% of the Austrian trade. While its hallmarks include crisp, fine acidity, peach blossom and a spiced, long finish this months’ two wines from Laurenz V showed just how versatile it’s wines can be.

Laurenz V, Singing Gruner Veltliner 2013

Blossom bouquet, gentle fresh fuit, rich crisp palate and a fine finish with distinct hints of spice.

Universally liked by the Club. Excellent lifestyle wine. Would be fabulous ‘By the Glass’ or at a wine bar lunch.

Laurenz V, Charming Gruner Veltliner 2008

Yes. 2008!  Does this grape age well and if so, what happens to it?  The Laurenz V website tells us that 2008 was a ‘winemakers vintage’. It was a perfect harvest and the fruit taken for this wine from the Kamptal Region spent 6 months on its lees in stainless steel tankes before bottling.

Obvious darkening with slight tawny hints but still clear and attractive. Nose has some damp earth elements and a bit of empty cigarette box allied to a persistent ripe peach skin. Fabulous alert palate with soft fruit and plenty of it supported by a rich acidity. The finish was mellow! The middle palate here is truly fabulous. Does Gruner age? Yes it does!! Or at least this Charming 2008 has. (Distributed By Gilbeys Wines)


Domane Wachau Terrassen Riesling Federspiel 2015

Wachau is reputed to be one of the most beautiful wine regions in the world. Domane Wachau is a co-op in the region and takes grapes from about 400 local farmers. That sort of makes it very, very influential. Good thing then that it’s wines are so good. (recently taken on by Cassidy Wines for the Irish market)

The ‘Terrassen’ series of wines are made from grapes grown on rocky sites that are in themselves too small to make a wine. (The ‘Federspiel’ is a local designation of ripeness and roughly translates into about a 12.5%vol potential and uses the falcon as its sigil.)

Absolutely fabulous wines. Loads of juicy citrus fruits with an immmensely impressive, brilliant and  balanced acidity. This is all about ripeness, freshness and length and does not show any developed Riesling effects such as old cheeses etc. Very much one for New World style aficionados.

Rabl Riesling Steinhaus

Rabl Steinhaus Riesling Kamptal DAC 2013

Imported by O’Briens Wines this is a classic where acidity meets rich ripe fruit and fair dose of ageing Riesling bouquets where whiffs of sewing machine oil fumes are noticeable. Love it.

The term ‘Minerality’ is tossed around the wine trade often without having any apparent meaning. Here’s a wine that might explain it! Terroir is where a wine comes from. It is the totality of its genesis. Sometimes this throws up a grape where fruit ripeness balances in with acidity in a way reminiscent of licking  freshly split limestone. I’m not talking flint here but ‘tongue tingles’. That’s minerality and this wine has it in abundance.

Heinrich Red Burgenland 2015

I am an absolute fan of a number of the red grapes grown in Austria – I always hanker after St Laurent and love the Zweigelt. This Heinrich Red (Liberty Wines) is a blend where Zweigelt is to the fore (followed by Blaufrankisch and St Laurent) and shows very well with its light, almost austere, palate entry only to blossom into fresh bramble fruit. This in turn brings it back to the ripe and freshly scented bouquet. Interesting colour – rich cherry!  Really fine example of a modern wine trade. Burgenland, and epecially the Neusiedlersee in SE Austria, is home to ‘ripeness’. As such, it is capable and produces some of the finest dessert wine styles in the world. It also ripens red grapes!!                    

The AC Wine Club meets on the first Monday of each month

Village Centre, Ardclough Co Kildare.

We know nothing. We learn lots.

Orange from White

Colours don’t often wake up my taste buds.

Mauve. Nothing.

Black. Nope.

Does White have a taste or a bouquet? Blue, Green …..

Orange?   Yes.    Citrus and tangy zestiness jump out – because its a fruit. estrecho-monastrell

I now accept ‘Orange Wine’ as a category as valid as I do Red, White, Sparkling and Rosé. It has taken me a while as I’ve been prone to  confusion as to what Orange Wine actually is. Hint: it’s not the colour of the wine….

In Alicante recently I was privileged to be served wines at Bodegas Enrique Mendoza. They were truly exquisite – especially his Quebrada 2010 and a monumental Estrecho 2012 (I reckon even his agents will be lucky to reserve this …. mature, hand-harvested Monastrell, gobelet pruned and grown at 700ms: edges of herbs, rose water, rich dark cherry and some peat smoke. Fabulous wines.) It was quite a chilly morning and maybe the ‘peat smoke’ was from the blazing fire that had been lit for us and fueled by large chunks of air dried vines! Either way it was a captivating scene. Imagine then when the tasting began we were served an Orange wine followed by a red Natural wine both of which, we were told by our jovial host, were the wines he serves up to his family and friends.

Enrique’s Orange Wine (which by its very nature is also a  Natural Wine in Enrique’s camp) was a Muscat that had been on its skins for 60 days in a large tinaja buried into the earth.

I didn’t get a photo of Enriques tinaja’s but across the wider area of Valencia tinajas continue to be used and at more than a few wineries they are making a come back….check these out at Celler del Roure where the local white grape Verdil benefits greatly from ageing in 500 year old tinajas! Great grape btw.


Enrique Mendoza’s Muscat Orange wine is brilliant. Honey, orange zest with edges of passion fruit; orange rind on palate with fine acidity and excellent depth of flavour and an impressively dry finish. A great example of a Natural Wine made from white grapes that have been allowed to ferment on their skins  – Orange Wine. It’s not orange of course but as many of these wines take on a deep (off white even though  no wine is actually white either!!) colouration they have been described as being Orange.fiano-530x1024

Yesterday at a very fine Borsa Vini Italiani tasting in Dublin (organised by the Italian Trade Commision- ICE) I was very pleased to see some great organic wines and then to be really impressed by a couple of Orange wines shown by the CAIAFFA family from Puglia. The Caiaffa Fiano 2016 shows cleanliness, an exciting palate and a  very fine finish. The Caiaffa family’s commitment to organic is absolute and their understanding of how and why to make an Orange wine would appear (after our short conversation) to be an intuitive thing. It was a bit like I had asked, ‘What is a White wine anyhow?!!!’

 It’s probably a shame the category has been labeled ‘Orange’ as it evokes a definite colour (and even a distinct bouquet and taste). That said it is a simple and memorable title and makes a valid distinction both within and without the Natural Wine category. Now that more of these wines are being presented without funky off bouquets and flavours (which I  don’t like) or structures akin to red wines – (leave tannins to red wines)  they will become more widely available offering us all a new (and wider than ever before) range of taste sensations to enjoy.

Orange. The New White

Happy New Year (Masterclasses)

Fabulous Christmas. Tremendous New Year. Rang it all through with the very excellent Jaume Serra Cava from Spar and decided that my favourite Prosecco (while the competition was weak it shouldn’t take away from this wine distributed by Gilbeys of Ireland!) is the Maschio dei Cavalieri Spumante! There. That’s a first for me – a favourite Prosecco ….

This post is meant to bring me back to an old topic of mine – The Masterclass.

What is it?

When I was younger I thought that a Masterclass was something brilliant people became entitled to. You know – John O’Connor giving a Masterclass on the piano to outrageously talented young pianists. A MASTERCLASS was given by a Master.

The wine trade has an unfortunate history of taking words out of context and abusing them to death. ‘Minerality’ and ‘Finish’ come to mind!! It is in the throes right now of going one step further as its use of the word Masterclass is, on the one hand, bestowing a title to presenters who do not deserve it and on the other attempting to fool a fact hungry trade that it is actually going to learn something from a ‘Master’.

When a wine journalist is brought to a country of origin one presumes the idea is that they will report back to their readers when they come back home. The same applies to other journalists. Go to a medical conference and report back what’s  going on in the world of medicine. Go to a car show and tell us what car to buy. All makes sense?

This month I have been invited to a Wines of Australia Tasting where the ‘Masterclass’ is a selection of wines that impressed Liam Campbell from his sponsored tour there last year. I am sure it will be a wonderful tasting. I am equally sure it will NOT be a Masterclass. The invite includes the following: ‘Led by wine writer and educator Liam Campbell, this 90 minute master class is an opportunity to taste a diverse range of wines and gain insight into Australia’s unique and revered styles and regions.    Liam has handpicked the wines, which inspired him the most during his recent trip to Australia.  After careful consideration and plenty of re-tasting, Liam has narrowed it down to 14 wines for this master class.    Join Liam on a journey through the vineyards, hearing the stories and exploring the top tips from his visit. Covering still, sparkling and fortified, you’ll taste wines which show off cool climate regions and alternative varieties, and that challenge the traditional assumptions of Australian wine’. What happened to the journalist reporting back to his readers? Besides there will be  a stack of genuine Masters in Dublin on the day – they have come all the way from Australia where they make the wine!

Landmark Australia Tasting ’09


I have also been invited to a Wines of New Zealand tasting where ‘John Wilson will conduct a masterclass for Trade entitled “A New Zealand Pinot Noir Roadtrip” to showcase the regionality of New Zealand Pinot Noir.” This is quite simply ridiculous. On the one hand there will be 35 wineries from New Zealand in Ireland for the Fair most of whom could and should present The Masterclass and all of whom I could quote. I can’t quote the Irish Times as being the expert on regionality in NZ Pinot Noir any more than I can quote Failte Ireland on how brilliant it is to taste wines in Australia!!

Wines of NZ Marlborough Vineyards


You don’t go to a medical conference and arrive home a doctor any more than a motoring correspondent doesn’t become  a race engineer from attending the Monte Carlo car rally!

Seminars, Talks and Presentations are not Masterclasses.

It has been announced that the brilliant (I’m a genuine fan!) Jamie Goode will present a seminar at a Beaujolais tasting in Dublin this coming June. Note the word SEMINAR. (Mind you the very same Jamie recently had a blog swipe bemoaning the loss of good wine writing as edited wine columns are more and more being replaced by unedited social media commentary. The same can be said for overseas journalists arriving into Ireland taking a budget designed for Ireland to tell us about Beaujolais. I thought those days were over as when this happens these journalists invariably have no idea who they are talking to and it all sounds as if they are preaching to a UK  audience … Beaujolais is in France and we are not in the UK..)

What to do?

Well, don’t quote experts unless they actually are Expert.

Believe me when I say that journalists do form expert opinion. They should use this to inform and not to attempt to pretend to us that theirs is a masters knowledge. That, after all, would be both narcissistic and deceitful and we know that this is not their intention. (Oh, and beware journalists who apply grandiose titles to their presentations!)

Let seminars be seminars and lets look forward to the first Masterclass of 2017.


Am I Independent?

The moniker ‘Independent‘ is bandied about the wine trade with such regularity we tend to ignore it more often than use it as a useful tool. What does it mean to be ‘independent’?

Independent Wine Merchant:   This should be an easy one! Does it mean ‘not part of a group’ or owned by a bigger group? Well, no is the answer or O’Brien’s Wines with 33 stores (I think….look out for the transformation of Molloys at Nutgrove to an O’Briens soon) could hardly be considered an independent – neither could Fine Wines or indeed O’Donovan’s claim the distinction even though Gary O’Donovan is the current chair of NOffLA (The National Off Licence Association).  At the other end it can’t possibly mean stand alone stores only or excellent stores such as Mitchell & Son or Curious Wines or The Corkscrew or The Wine Buff franchised outlets or McHughs could never be described as being independent …… besides if it did mean this then ‘independents’ would be prohibited from ever expanding their business!


‘Independent Wine Merchant’ seems to translate only as a negative ie Not a Supermarket! Mind you this doesn’t always work. I can remember Searson’s Wine Merchants (now gone but parts are still alive in Tindal Wines) treated O’Brien’s Wines as a multiple and as they would not supply multiples they refused to supply O’Briens!! As for me I still think of SuperValu outlets as being independent and franchised. Ah, I hear you all telling me that SuperValu has a centralised buying department at Musgraves and they take their wines through that route. Agreed. They do – but some stores choose much better than others which wines to stock and when to sell them.

If you think that’s muddied the waters try ‘Independent Wine Producer‘. I know dozens of these and meet them all of the time. They’re the ones who own their own business – right? mmmm, well, almost. How independent is a family owned wine business leveraged to the hilt with the banks? Won’t they have to run their trade according to who they can find as customers? Otherwise they’ll go broke. How independent is that compared to the big, solvent multinational free to make its own decisions as to who to sell to, what to make and when to expand?  Gallo is the world’s biggest wine producer, is family owned and is independent. But that’s not really who we’re talking about when we use the term ‘Independent’ now, is it?

A Recent and Excellent O’Briens Tasting

My absolute favourite is ‘Independent Wine Writer‘. This is used all of the time to imply impartial and objective judgement. What it really means is someone working freelance. Maybe its the wording but these days this reminds me of ‘sellswords’ in ‘Game of Thrones’! (Maybe mercenary is going too far …. ) How do ‘Independent’ wine writers visit regions of interest? They are brought there. How do they taste so many wines? They are given them. They may be capable of independent judgement but wine writers are actually beholden to the trade they are supposedly independent of. The only way around this is to mention the where and when (and who paid) of the wine that was tasted. Does it not seem odd to you that your fave wine writer on a Saturday morning suddenly delivers brilliant detail about the wines and restaurants of a small island in the  middle of nowhere. They have either been there or they’re plagiarising or they’re chancing their arm. Every wine writer needs to have an accessible code of ethics page. (Look up Jancis Robinson’s (or mine) – they’re brilliant! Basically if someone gives us a bottle of wine then its business. If they give us a case of wine its a bribe!)

 ‘Independent’ in the wine trade is extensively used to imply that its wearer is better in some way than others in the same trade. NOffLA tells us that, ‘In excess of 600 wines were submitted to The Irish Wine Show Star Award adjudication panel of NOffLA judges and independent wine writers‘. These writers work for newspapers and will now report on their own findings. At times wine writers have been proven over the years to be biased towards style of wines that have been favoured by the very publications they write for!! Circular wine writing is rampant and if its not circular it can often be fashionable. Who’d have thought Prosecco and Pinot Grigio would command more space than Cava or Chardonnay?


What to do? Well, lets agree that its useless to describe merchants or producers simply as ‘Independent’. It means nothing unless we’re told what they are supposed to be independent from or what the independence actually is. As for writers, first of all Be Honest. Tell us who paid for the trip or the sample. Then tell us what your personal preferences are. Do you love Chardonnay and so you might not always give a Sauvignon Blanc the thumbs up? Have you lived in South Africa so long that you don’t recognise the brilliance of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon? Maybe (as one wine writer/educator in Dublin used to tell his students) you just think all wines from Chile are crap anyhow?! Maybe you’re  a paid consultant to a wine company in the trade already? Maybe you have full time paid employment other than your wine writing? Just tell us. Give us context. Somewhere. Because if you don’t you are not truly Independent at all.

Do we need Independent’s? In the true sense of needing honest brokers, yes we do. We most certainly do. Do we have them? Now there’s the rub!

Last week BWG Wines & Spirits sent out twelve wines to ‘the press’. I was one of them. I like Italian wines and I really like the laid back full fleshy and soft fruit feel of their PASSORI red from the Veneto (€10.99 regular/€9.99 on special). 60%Merlot gives it softness and fleshiness while the 40%Corvina gives it backbone and richness. Super style. Available nationwide in Spar, Eurospar, Mace and Londis stores.

 Image result for passori

Lidl’s latest French Wine Sale – How Good?

First off I need to make it clear that I am a fan of many wines that Lidl carry. When they run a French Wine Sale, like the one due to begin this Monday (Sept 12th), they bring additional wines into their stores. So, buy ’em now ‘cos they won’t be there when they’re gone!

(I should also add (as it may be a mystery) as to how the wine press is so familiar with these wines? Lidl bring us to France to taste them! This year the tasting was in Alsace and was led by Richard Bampfield MW – you know him by his friendly face in all Lidl supermarkets!)

Strasbourg looking good

Back to business. This Lidl French Wine Sale has something for everyone, is good value and the wines are available nationwide.

Here are a few that stood out for me as being fabulous: (they will sell quickly ….)


Alsace Grand Cru, Altenberg de Bergbieten Riesling 2013      €12.99         If you ever want to find out what the fuss in relation to well made Riesling (with a touch of age) from Alsace is then grab this. It’s fantastic.

Chateau Roylland, Saint- Emilion Grand Cru 2012  €19.99   Drinking quite young with a ton of well integrated structure and rich fruit to allow it to age well. Love the big strong finish!


Alsace Sylvaner Vielles Vignes  2015  €8.99  This may be all peach and pear in a light body but it has a really fine poise that gives it good length and balance.

 Chateau Pey de Pont Medoc Cru Bourgeois  2012  €11.99    Incredible Bordeaux red at this price. Finely perfumed with a generous heart of well ripened fruit stitched to a brilliant structure; all leads to a strong and exact finish. (Tuck a few away for Christmas?)



Comte de Moucheron Beaune 1erCru  2012  €34.99  Burgundy is often (correctly) quoted as being out of reach of our pockets! Perhaps this still is. That said it offers us the chance to try a truly excellent example of a rich vibrant wine with plenty of years ahead of it. If Pinot Noir does it for you then give this as a gift where you know it will be opened before you head home!

Virginie de Valandraud Saint-Emilion Grand Cru  2014  €32.99    A really exceptional wine with a ‘big’ pour (always impressive – foolish, I know!) This just keeps on giving more as it opens up in the glass. Generous to a smooth fruit fault and held together with ease by a smooth but definite structure. All good.


Gorgeous vineyards at Blestheim Alsace


Besides the Alsace Grand Cru above I really like the following two. Both have their faults (might not get high points on the Bampfield scale!) but they deliver for my palate and here’s why ..

Chateau Lalande Mausse,  Fronsac   2013   €9.99  Beside the value here the fruit is exciting. I like to find young vibrant fruit in a wine. (I’m personally not a great fan of aged wines…!) In this case my money is well spent on a soft heart of richness and rewarded in a long and satisfying finish.

William Nahan Chablis 2015  €14.99  This has an edge of smokiness to it and a well textured palate. I like the ‘verviness’ of this where there seems to be a nervous tension ready to uncoil!


Super Lidl Tasting

A Pair that I disagree with the Bampfield score on!

I don’t like 100 point scales but as they seem to work so well (ie consumers buy into the higher the score the better the wine ..) I do have to appreciate them. It doesn’t mean we have to agree with the scores!  In general, though, if the taster is expert enough then these numbers will relate back to an objective set of criteria. Richard Bampfield is one such expert and in general I do agree with most of his scores. A couple caught my eye where we disagree:

Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge 2015  €17.99 (91 points) I despair at red Chateauneuf du Pape wines that drink no better, or indeed differently, than a good Cotes du Rhone Villages. Admittedly, this one drinks better than many of the €14.99 examples we see every weekend as cut price offers but then a €17.99 wine should drink well! I think this is poor value for money for a Chateauneuf du Pape and  much prefer another Rhone in this sale the Vinsobres 2015 at €9.99 (89 points)

Mignot Pere et Fils Fleurie 2015  €10.99 (90 Points) This is a very dry wine. Too dry! Gamay should be succulent and overtly fruity with an imprint of the village it hails from. In this case it comes from Fleurie but tastes like a dried out Morgon.

Enjoy this Sale. In total it brings us 44 wines from across France. All good? No, but sure that’s the fun of it all! Some good? More than just some!

(Anything absolutely Worth Avoiding?  I hate to point to a wine that just doesn’t work for me at all. After all, tasting is inherantly subjective. Every now and then though a wine just seems ‘wrong’! For me the Chateau de Roussellet Cotes de Bourgs 2011 at €9.99 is just ‘not right’.)

It Smells of Boiled Potatoes with a Dollop of Butter

When I am asked to describe the bouquet of a wine I always preface my answer with something along the lines of, “this is what I smell and it may not be what your nose is picking up….”   ( ah, sorry about the picking bit…. )DSCN6290

When it comes to recognising bouquets we are all victims, and beneficiaries, of our environmental histories. Some of these are deep seated and cultural while others are ephemeral, transitory or even learned.

This is all quite apart from the fact that each one of us is more or less sensitive to various types of bouquets. To assess a wine for possible inherent faults, for instance, it is reckoned that five people need to be involved!


So, do we have an Irish sense of smell as opposed to an English one and, if so, how might we use it to our advantage?

Let’s put this into context. Recently I asked Wine Australia Research if they might forward to me one of the Wine Flavour Cards that they have produced so that they might better understand the Chinese market and its unique character in relation to wines.

It’s a fabulous piece of research that looks at whether cultural and lexical differences are important when it comes to buying and selling wine. Clearly Chinese is an extreme as the following results makes obvious:

  • Generic descriptors are used more often than specific descriptors. The most commonly selected generic descriptors are smooth (平滑), fruity (果香), sweet (甜), mellow (醇), and lengthy aftertaste (回味).
  • When using specific Chinese descriptors, the most prevalent terms are: citrus fruits such as pomelo and lime for white and sparkling wines, red fruits such as yangmei and dried Chinese hawthorns for red wines, jackfruit and longan for dessert wines

Source: Wine Australia, Research Development and Extension

So, what about Ireland?

Ireland has taken to wine quite recently and as such can claim to be an ‘emerging market’. We have a unique heritage and are known across the world to express ourselves individually, coherently and, one might add, often! As we speak English it has been assumed that whatever is written on wine for the market in England is alright for us IMAG1371in Ireland. Is it? Why would someone in ‘Jackie Healy-Rae Country’ relate to what ‘fruity’ means to a wine drinker in Oxford? Alternatively, why would someone in Newcastle understand what a wine described as having ‘the whiff of an oxter’ about it? Language alone is not good enough to assume we know what the wine maker is talking about.

Then there’s the culture. While the food we eat has changed a lot since our grandparents’ days we are, many believe, imbued with the smells and tastes of at least one, if not two, generation(s) gone by. (I shudder to think that future generations will share an international commonality in this respect …’ah the smell of a Subway Store’, or, ‘get that McDonalds Fries bouquet?’..)

Relate wines to your own sense of smell and to no-one else’s! If you can balance yours with others and get a common result so much the better. Thus, if we all reckon a slightly aged Riesling from the Rheingau exhibits a sense of petrol fumes. Great. If you think that it doesn’t but you always get a whiff of your favourite cheese, then go for it. It is not up to you to accommodate producers as much as it is their responsibility to accommodate you. They cannot do so individually but as with the Chinese example they can, and should, relate to us culturally.

 Is our wine tasting so different from England? I believe its similar but different. This certainly works in our favour with many of the inexpensive and sweeter supermarket styles that have found favour in the UK. We tend to find them either too sweet, too simple or not ‘real wine’ at all!


It may work against us in that we don’t have a wide appreciation of older or indeed expensive wines – we have such a limited history of buying and drinking them. This is a generational thing and will improve in sophistication with time. Right now we possibly err on the side of ripe fruitiness a bit too much. Mind you, we are adventurous with the grapes we are prepared to look at, in contrast to the labels we are influenced by most of which tend to be classical rather than modern/funky.

‘Freshly boiled new potatoes with melting butter’ resonates with me. ‘Yangmei and dried Chinese hawthorns’ do not.  For all I know they are the same thing (although I doubt it!). The point is, take wine descriptors in English with a grain of salt and don’t always believe that what you read on the label actually means something.

  • Taste the wine first!
  • Follow a critic that seems to taste like you do.
  • Begin to interpret key wine descriptions back into your own meaning of whatever language you speak.

This might be a ‘Jackie Healy-Rae dialect’ or a south Dublin yuppie expression saying the same thing but sounding very differently indeed. Above all, taste for yourself and don’t let others do it for you and just like a fabulous bowl of freshly boiled potatoes keep it simple.


…….. ‘Send reinforcements, we’re going to advance’ or ‘Send three and four pence we’re going to a dance’!

Lidl has Italy (and its wines) covered!

Way back in the 1980’s …. sounds like a bit of an old song … start again.

When the ‘modern’ Irish wine trade was in its infancy (early 1980’s) my two brothers and I began to import wines from Italy. (The Verling brothers did likewise). We were, I suppose, trendsetters. Were we? Perhaps it was a bit of bravado but in truth it began out of a necessity to be different and to make a profit in an industry dominated by a few large companies who not only controlled distribution channels but also had control of profit margins. Italy had such diversity and (at that time) only a few of its wines were being imported – Chianti, Frascati and the big three from the Veneto; Soave, Valpolicella and Bardolino.

Today, profit margin is controlled by the supermarkets, distribution is more amenable than ever before and quality wines from Italy are easy to find. Lidl has now added to this mix by introducing value through a range of carefully chosen Italian wines to complement the Lidl Italiamo Food Theme in all of its stores from the 13th of this month.

The range of wines on offer is very good and the following are well worth checking out:

WHITE WINES202728_Podere_M_Vernaccia

 Podere M. Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG 2015          Vernaccia (from Gimignano) needs to be ‘found’. It is one of the world’s best food grapes that no-one seems to have heard of! This is a well dressed up wine that’s drinking very well to a fine finish – the mid-palate of this wine craves food to bring it ou202888_Gavi_di_Gavit: creamed pasta and a well-chilled Vernaccia …. €9.99

  Gavi di Gavi DOCG 2014          I’ve always had a grà for Gavi. It comes from just above Genoa and is made from the Cortese grape. Everything in this wine is pitched well: fine structure and great fruit acid balance; lean and lightly warmed, straw like, fruit with loads of textural mouth feel. €9.99

RED WINES208659_Morellino_di_Scansano

Morellino di Scansano DOCG 2014         This region is on the Med coastline of Tuscany and uses the Sangiovese grape to brings us fresh, crisp and soft fruited wines. Really fine summer drinking. €9.99

(Try the Nero d’Avola IGP from Sicily at €13.99 for the magnum (1.5liters). Reall206888_Babarescoy great price for a barbecue/party wine!

‘WTG?’ In my notes means ‘Want To Try The Grape’? I am constantly encouraging folk to broaden their grape horizons. It doesn’t always work (at times it’s a grape deeezaster …..!) but how else are we to find out what we like and what we don’t like? Take Nebbiolo from the north of Italy; high tannin, high alcohol, high acid, high fruit; throw in a touch of warmed asphalt. Fabulous?!

 Barbaresco DOCG 2013         Light tawny and a light warmed tar, great acid and fine ripe fruit, rich tannic grip and long warming finish. You just have to love it with a medium rare, juicy sirloin. €12.99207534_Valpolicella_Classico

  Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso DOC 2012          The name here covers all bases! Valpol Ripasso 2012 does it for me. Cherry like fruit, ageing, some baked fruit cake and fig, soft, rich mellow wine with a highish alcohol that makes you sleepy in the sunshine. Great price for one of Ireland’s current favourite Italian categories.  €9.99

M&S Wines – a Go To Place

Marks and Spencer recently held a fabulous tasting of its Summer Wine Portfolio. Here are a few of the wines that stood out for me.     old063

SPARKLING         M&S is always a good source of variety within its sparkling section. Beside very good Champagne (Oudinot, Abel Charlot) Cavas (Segura Viudas) and others they often include wines from exotic locations such as Brazil and New Zealand! 

I love these:

 Prosecco Brut NV  Masottina, Italy €12.49     I’m only a fan of Prosseco when I trust the producer! Masottino is one of those. He has a track record of being brilliant. This wine is reasonably full on the palate as the dosage (sweetening..) is highish at 11.0g/l but this is offset (to a degree…sic) by a low alcohol  level of only 11% vol. Everything here is bright, summery and delicious. Serve well chilled.

 ‘The Rhona’ Brut Rosé NV  Graham Beck, South Africa  €22.50     I like a lot of what Graham Back produces and I absolutely love everything his sparkling wine maker Peter Ferreira makes. This is fabulously well balanced Rosé wine where Pinot Noir (59%) is allowed to dominate Chardonnay. The result is a textural delight with a deep seated, rich berry fruit allied to a fine autolysis leading into a long and very satisfying finish. Every celebration should have one!

WHITE WINES     There are some really great white wines around these days where technology is taking a back seat (at long last) to the grapes themselves. Northern Italy has a treasure trove of these where the likes of Verdicchio, Cortese, Garganega, and many others, are shining through (note of caution: be very careful with P Grigio – some are downright ordinary..!) 

 Cantina di Monteforte 2015 Garganega Pinot Grigio  €11.79 Veneto, Italy     The wine maker here has respected his grapes to the extent that they are allowed to give us a great value wine and at the same time a whole lot of interesting fruit. Light almond and nutty elements blend in well with broad melon. Really good and yet gentle acidic structure contributes to a fine mouthfeel and a finish worthy of more expensive wines. Way to go Veneto!

 Pierre de Préhy Chablis 2014, Chablis, France  €22.00  Winery: Jean Marc Brocard     Good Chablis has just the right amount of ripe fruit balanced against a steely expression of the Chardonnay grape grown at a relatively high latitude. I don’t expect any great local character (but if it’s there its bonus time!) as that really is reserved for Premier Cru and Grand Cru sites. Good, honest, regional white wines like this grown in northern France are brilliant for so many food dishes that’s it’s hard to recommend just one – oh, alright: a bowl of steaming mussels and a crisp Chablis alfresco.HT_FD_F23A_00695152_NC_X_EC_0

 Mayne de Beauregard 2015, Bergerac Blanc €11.79 Hugh Ryman     Very good Value for Money with a super Sauvignon Blanc Semillon blend.

 Domaine de Villargeau 2014, Sauvignon Blanc Coteaux de Giennois, France  €14.79     Top class style and very well made wine

 Cascara Casablanca Chardonnay 2015, Casablanca, Chile  €13.29 Winery: de Martino   Taut and energetic. Very fine. Shows how versatile and brilliant Chardonnay can be.

 Colinas del Itata Old Vine Field Blend Muscat Corinto 2014, Itata, Chile  €14.99   Winery: de Martino      Muscat rose petal and lychees aromas blend very well with the more neutral Corinto. Super blend and very interesting, very dry wine. (Corinto is thought to be Chasselas but more likely a mutant of Pedro Ximinez?)

 Ken Forrester Workhorse Chenin Blanc 2015 Stellenbosch, South Africa €13.29     Highly recommended. Rich, tight, some wet wool, tons of rich fruit, top class acidity, gorgeous.

 Paul Cluver Ferricrete Riesling 2015 Elgin, South Africa €18.99     Auslese style with a whack of residual sugar to balance the acidity. I don’t think Cluver knows how to make anything but Excellence.


 Flaxbourne Sauvignon Blanc Rosé 2015 Marlborough, New Zealand €15.99     Winery: Yealands Family Estate     How do you make a Rosé from a (white) Sauvignon Blanc? Blend it with a dollop of colour from Merlot (2.5% here). The result is everyone’s favourite New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ripe exuberance in a Rose wine!! And it Works!

RED WINES          It’s not too long since we were given a choice of a few grapes and or a few regions to choose from. Nothing wrong with Cabernet or indeed Rioja but what of the rest of Spain or indeed the rest of the thousands of red grape varietals? Well, times have changed and the variety on offer is pretty impressive these days. Here’s a few that caught my palate.

 D’Aragon Old Vine Cariñena 2015, Cariñena, Spain  €11.79     Excellent style with a ton of young, ripe fruit, structure and quality wine making. GVM (Great Value for Money!)

 Abel Mendoza Rioja 2012 Rioja, Spain  €47.00     100% Tempranillo with impressive and very soft fruit. If you ever want to know what a ‘modern fruit forward’ style of Rioja is then you must wangle a try of this sometime (might be difficult given the price tag!) It really is an excellent wine.

 Brolio Chianti Classico Riserva 2011, Chianti Classico, Italy €44.00     Wine maker: Baron Ricosoli     As traditional a house as you can find but the wine is a sensational mix of the new (fruit and ripeness) and old (age and structure). Absolutely Love it!

 Domaine Mandeville Shiraz 2015 Pays d’Oc, France €12.79     (Shiraz HT_FD_F23A_00989855_NC_X_EC_0from France?) Lovely wine. Great example of how approachable inexpensive Syrah can be. Lively, rich and interesting. Looking forward to a few sizzling meats from the barbecue now!

 Underwood Pinot Noir 2014 Oregon, USA  €12.49     Really good price from a well-made Pinot from Oregon. ‘Excellent and Accurate’ meaning a fine structure supporting a fruit with a light coloured pour and a rich nose of red berries and dusted warmed herbs leading to a rich finish. Fine ‘teaching’ wine.

 Colomé Altitude Malbec Tannat Cabernet Franc 2014 Salta, Argentina  €17.49       Salta is a high place – up to 2600m – and very dry. I really like the intensity here where you can almost feel the grapes suffering as they struggle to ripen. The winemaker has carefully aged this wine to both protect this nervousness and also to elevate it in a very ‘French’ style. Lovely. (don’t like the label!)

 Campos de Solana Tannat Malbec 2015 Santa Ana, Bolivia  €15.99     Cripes. I’d love to visit this vineyard. Tannat and Malbec from Bolivia! Modern red with ample fruit and all very well blended and structured. Well worth checking out – and then asking your mates where they think it’s from!!

 Earth’s End Central Otago Pinot Noir 2014 Central Otago, New Zealand  €25.00                A Classic. Fabulously rich red berry effect and wonderful deep seated sense of time and place. There is something incredible sensuous (to me at least) from such brilliant Pinot Noir fruit.

 Willson Family Langhorne Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 Langhorne Creek, Australia  €19.99     Australia is pushing itself into being a supplier of ‘premium’ category wines. As such it needs to deliver the quality that matches its ambition. This is 100% brilliant and reflects both the grape and the region very well indeed. A premium price. A premium wine.

What a fabulous array of wines. Countries, grapes, regions and styles. Marks and Spencer is a genuine difference to our wine trade in the very best way possible. Sometimes the mix is a bit too ‘English’ or ‘British’ (if you know what I mean) but if you want to follow grapes or, best of all, some off-beat countries of origin then this is the place for you. Bolivia for heaven’s sake!! Fantastic.  

New Zealand Wines Needs to Add Another Gear – for Ireland

Recently we were told that, ‘New Zealand’s wine industry is gearing up for its largest ever presence at the Prowein International Wine & Spirits Trade Show, following a record $1.54 billion in exports in 2015, up 14% on 2014’.

As I’ve blogged before, don’t read headlines to be impressed. Read them to be informed! Up 14% on what? 1.54 billion sounds impressive but with a conversion rate of 0.6 to the Euro the final result shows that its big but not THAT big!!

New Zealand by necessity needs to express itself well. It is far away from its export markets – especially the UK – and within a world scale of things it has a small, but important, wine trade. Without Sauvignon Blanc (66% of its 2105 harvest) its trade does not exist in any meaningful way and so gearing up ‘for its largest ever presence’ means a lot more Sauvignon Blanc than before. Nothing wrong with any of this.

Very often I can buy an excellent bottle of Lone Kauri New Zealand Riesling from SuperValu at €9.00 a bottle. I rate it very highly. Earlier this year the cover of featured The Family of Twelve from New Zealand. In that we emphasised diversity, energy, innovation and quality available from New Zealand’s Vineyards. Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc are all excellent from New Zealand.


Where are we going with this blog?

Right now NZ wines occupy a small single digit market share in Ireland. You might think that this is pretty good given the size of the Irish market, its distance from NZ and how important other markets must be to the New Zealand Wine Growers. Well, that’s where we are going here! It could, and with a degree of ease, be a whole lot better!

Currently Ireland ranks an impressive 9th in terms of value of wine exports from New Zealand sent to any country. Mind, you this only equates to 1.24% of the overall $1.54billion and falls seriously behind the likes of the US, Australia and the UK who account for 77% between them! Put it another way positions 7 to11 inclusive in the table account between them for only 5% of the export value from New Zealand. Ireland is in good company – Japan, Sweden, Hong Kong, Singapore. (Source table: New Zealand Winegrowers Annual Report 2015)

(As we have mentioned before) if we add in exports we  import from Germany and the UK via Tesco, Lidl, Aldi and others, we begin to eat into that 5% as a very valuable overseas export market for New Zealand.

Why does our market share hover in the low digits when we are clearly capable and willing to spend well for wines from a country as far away as possible as it is to get to from here? Surely we can do better.


It all comes down to ‘The Message’. New Zealand needs a Champion. It needs to have, at a minimum, 1.25% of its marketing budget assigned to Ireland and it needs to meet with our trade in a way that more shelf space is allocated across our country to show off the diversity on offer from New Zealand.

The Message, via the New Zealand WineGrowers Annual Report, tells us that it’s Board has, ‘signed off on an important 10-year major events programme which will bring key global influencers to New Zealand as we showcase our wines and our unique story.’ All good. Potential champions will travel to NZ and bring The Message back with them.

To date that has meant one person from Ireland per year. That’s not enough and we should say so!

New Zealand tells us that its Marketing Programme lumps Ireland in with the UK. The result in terms of market visits to NZ are clear to see:

2015    Ireland             1          (John Wilson: Irish Times)

Japan 1             Singapore 1            Netherlands 2

Norway 2          Hong Kong 2            Germany 3

Canada 4               Sweden 4                     Taiwan 5

UK 6                         Australia 10                       US 12

China  27

The two biggest losers, or at least those missing opportunity, are the UK and Ireland. The UK has the office. It can look after itself. Ireland is the mug hoping for a few crumbs.

Two marketing strategies in the Irish wine market have been proven time and again. The first is to have a local champion. The second is DO NOT RUN US FROM AN OFFICE IN LONDON. We will be side lined and we will Miss the Message.

The numbers here speak for themselves. The wine is available. The Quality is available. The Diversity is available. The Value is available. The Interest is available.  So, come on New Zealand. Take another look at your own numbers and help us to spread the good word. You can take anywhere from 5% to 8% of the Irish market and hold onto it.

Don’t tell us that you’re gearing up for Prowein. Tell us that you’re gearing up for Ireland!