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 Wine+.ie 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!


Free Wine Tour to Australia!

Wine Australia has organised an interesting and very welcome event in Dublin. They call it an Immersion Training Day.

The invite email read as follows:

I am writing to send you details of the Australian Immersion Training day which will   take place in Dublin on Tues 31st May 2016.
This is an all-day course which will be presented by Laura Jewell MW and John McDonnell.
The target audience is key press, on and off trade and of course importers who are directly involved in selling Australian Wine.
We would like to invite you to attend, those attending will be entered into a draw and one person from Ireland will win a trip to Australia. 

Events like these are top class and allow us to get to grips with up to date info in a very real way. Well done Wine Australia. I hope it goes well for you and everyone who can attend.


 Now for the criticism – and it’s a genuine one. Why on earth are they offering an educational package by way of a raffle? What’s that all about? Let’s look at this in the real world.

Only those who can afford a full day can attend. So, everyone tied into school runs, difficult employers etc are out! No educational tour for you.

Some poor fella or gal might really, REALLY want this (and deserve it), turn up at every event like this forever – and never win. On the flip side randomness might mean that the same attendee could win this again and again!! That would be just plain stupid.

The actual invite read as follows:

this informative programme is aimed at those with some basic wine knowledge who will benefit from a deeper understanding of the Australian wine sector

Well, how can that possibly include key press? I’d have thought most of these already have a deep understanding as most have already been bought to Australia already. So, some poor fella or gal might very well take the day of work and watch as some press hack who has already been brought to the Land of Sunshine Down Under wins the prize to travel all over again.


 It might even be worse! Imagine the penniless wine student dreaming of a ten-day wine tour of Australia watching the owner of his main competitor winning the prize. Yes, that would be worse. It can be easily argued that importers should not be allowed to win.

 I could go on. The point is that Wine Australia have not thought the prize element out. Indeed, educational packages should not be doled out as prizes at all. They should be part of a strategy where the deserving and the most useful are granted the privilege.

Useful to Australia.

Deserving in Ireland

Right now Australia is in danger of hosting someone who attended just to get out of a days’ work   –   and has no interest in Australia or its wines at all!!!!

Want to win the Barossa Sunset – Immerse yourself

Beaujolais Tasting in Dublin next Week – Are you going?

‘Beaujolais’ will be in town next week. We have been kindly invited to a Masterclass and


a 150 wine tasting. Sounds great and I’ll be there. I hyphenated Beaujolais because, over the years, it has taken on a variety of definitions and very often this means we are not entirely sure what we will experience on the day or, indeed, any time we open one of its bottles.

Many commentators and industry professionals include Beaujolais as the most southerly expression of the Bourgogne appellations. For its part Burgundy doesn’t agree and does not include Beaujolais in its educational platform. While a small amount of the Beaujolais grape, Gamay, is allowed in Burgundy (eg Maconnais and Bourgogne Passetoutgrains) it does not in any way define Burgundy. It does, however, define Beaujolais. The main soil type that Gamay prefers is acidic and in the case of Beaujolais this is granitic in origin. This

also has very little to do with Burgundy. Finally, Burgundy is not a ‘go to’ place to look for regular and very large quantities of nouveau wine.

So, there we are, we are invited to taste Beaujolais next week. Not Burgundy.

Beaujolais is hit and miss with regards to quality and style. Quality over the years has been compromised by the regions’ impressive ability to fill its tanks for early consumption – most notably in the form of Beaujolais Nouveau. This does not lend itself to innovation, research or indeed the need to develop a quality higher than the previous years’ Nouveau!  That’s a shame as the real aspiration should be to harness the regions’ capability to make the best wine possible.

Our invite to next week’s event promises us that, ‘The 2015 vintage promises to exceed the excellent 2009 vintage. Bertrand Chatelet, Technical Manager of Sicarex, the research institute devoted to the study of Beaujolais vineyards, comments, “In terms of colour and structure, 2015 reminds us of 2009 and 1947, two exceptional vintages of proven ageing potential.”’ (I wonder how they know what the colour of the 1947 was?!) This comment unwittingly says it all. 1947 to 2009 and then 2009 to 2015 – what happened in all the intervening years when other regions of the world had outstanding vintages?

We all tasted the excellent 2009

There is a relative simplicity to Beaujolais. Most of the wine (98%) is red and made from the one grape – Gamay. Ten Cru village sites are recognised (easy to remember as there are ten letters in Beaujolais). Each of these has the potential to differ based on aspect, soil and microclimate and they are all based in the Haut Beaujolais where the soil is light granite to schist based.  Thus a Fleurie is said to whiff of violets as opposed to a Saint Amour peach or a Brouilly grapiness. I did say ‘potential’. Very often the differences are really hard to detect – I often wonder have I been sold a pup and would I have been just as well off buying into the more basic, and less expensive, Village appellation instead?


Two further features of the regions need to mentioned. The first is the fact that most of the Gamay is planted and grown as stand-alone bushes. This allows them protection from fierce annual Mistral winds. This also means a lot of hand picking. In addition, a lot of Beaujolais is made by fermenting whole bunches (also needs hand picking) in a semi or, indeed, a full maceration carbonique process. This softens the grape and by intercellular chemistry encourages a fermentation to begin before full-on alcoholic fermentation kicks in. If this is poorly done or overdone the result will be spoilt banana bouquets and yucky jammy flavour profiles. If properly done it fleshes out the fruit into a silky voluptuousness that no other grape can compare to!


So. Are you going to the tasting? I am. I have a lot of questions!

If you qualify then RSVP Jean Smullen    RSVP to Jean Smullen
Tel: (086) 816 8468  jean@jeansmullen.com

Wine+.ie April 2016

Wine+.ie came out again this week and our cover features a balloon with Carmen all over it. No, not the opera and no, not a birthday party.

Carmen winery has used ‘Balloon’ and Discovery’ together for some time now. A couple of years ago the team that runs all the Santa Rita Group wines in Ireland (Santa Rita, Carmen, Dona Paula and Nativa) dreamt up the idea of hoisting their own balloon!!

Hole in One?

We were invited up to Carton House in Maynooth to take a flight. To be honest I don’t think a flight was ever on the cards so much as the visual impact was meant to be. (Marketing can be great fun!) As it happens the balloon never took off. It was too windy – (isn’t it always too windy for balloons in Ireland?) Still, the Discovery aspect was brilliant. We all hopped into the basket and listened to the ‘whoooof’ of the gas jets, felt their heat and watched the balloon’s envelope fill with hot air. In a way I imagined what the voyage might have been like.

All fired up

The photos were great! As was the lecture afterwards. It was the first time that I met Sebastian Labbé, head winemaker at Carmen, and I was very impressed. See. Years later the balloon flight has finally taken off for me!


It’s a great cover, great wine and a really interesting wine maker.

World Malbec Day

Malbec World Day will be here on April the 17th. World Days are fairly common place for grapes now and you can take your pick of which one tickles your fancy. It’s all good fun, clever marketing and to a large extent everyone is a winner.

Malbec Day is different as it tends to celebrate Argentina as much as it celebrates the grape itself.  Thus my invite to celebrate reads:

The Embassy of the Argentine Republic in Ireland
in association with Wines of Argentina
Invite you to celebrate Malbec World Day by attending a
   Trade Tasting of Argentinian Wine

Good for the Argentines. There will, of course, be many other grapes from Argentina on show. As I say Malbec Day is more ‘The Country’ and not ‘The Grape’ any longer. If it was the grape alone we would revisit Cahors, Bordeaux and the Loire in France where the grape has been grown for hundreds of years and is often known as Cot and Auxerrois. Indeed, Argentina was planted with cuttings from France as far back as the 1860’s.

Trapiche Reserve Malbec

When we look at French Malbec today we find two schools of thought. Soft, plump fruit driven styles as made popular by Argentina and the tannic, green, rustic styles traditionally associated with the south west of France. Recently the very impressive Quintessential Wines showed a light Cahors (50%Malbec, 50%Cab Franc) Tu Vin Plus Aux Soirees rrp€19.50. A little further in the tasting they showed Mas de Perie Les Escures Cahors (100%Malbec, organic) rrp€21.50. It was excellent – all sinewy, rich and long and packed tight with rich flavours. It would be an absolute shame (crime?) if France were to adopt the lighter fruity styles in preference to their tradition as shown in the second wine here. Why? Because the plump fruity style has been dictated by the United States, Argentina’s biggest export market for Malbec – a market dictated by fashion and currency exchange. The US ‘found’ Malbec and wondered where it had been hiding! It is as likely to ‘lose’ it again and not really care that the rest of the Argentine wine trade would be lost also.


Malbec is also planted in Chile (some argue before it was in Argentina at all – still ‘lost’ I suppose), Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the US. It is a grape with immense potential and modern science allows winemakers insight into where best to plant, which clones will perform well and, as importantly, how to use those grapes to the best effect in the winery. In this way producers will begin to separate the grape from the wine. Right now it can be argued that Malbec is the wine and not the grape and as with 1980’s oaky Chardonnay if consumers fall out of love with the wine then the grape will suffer!

World Malbec Day will celebrate in style on April 17th and Argentina will have cause to show off. I hope it goes well for them. One day every now and then, however, is a day out. It is not marketing. Wines of Argentina needs to remember that each market has its nuances and right now it runs Ireland from the UK. It’s influence for the past number of years on the success of its wines being sold in Ireland has been negligible. We need home based wine education, home based opinion formers and home based champions.  These are the guys who are here for more than a day out. A UK budget will always favour the UK, will bring people and commentators into Ireland who really don’t have any idea of our market and who leave without having any intention to follow up until, of course, World Malbec Day spins around again in a year’s time.


Last September the cover of Wine+.ie featured Marcelo Belmonte of Trapiche. The Malbec tasting that Marcelo gave was, quite simply, world class. He showed nine single vineyard Malbec wines of varying vintages from varying geographies across Argentina. Each would retail between €35 and €40 a bottle. He impressed on us that by maximising his understanding of how to grow grapes to perfection he could supply better material to his winemaking colleagues who in turn would then be in a more favourable position to make better wine across the whole of the Trapiche empire. Comans Wines Distributors continue to preach this wisdom. I hope Wines of Argentina support initiatives such as these undertaken by our local distributors, opinion formers and trade experts. I hope Wines of Argentina see the value in our home grown talent and that above all they see the fabulous potential available to them in Ireland.

Happy Malbec Day.                                                                            Now when is Argentina Day?

Respect Your Wine List to Respect your Customer

I read a wine description last week that had been written for a pub/restaurant. It was ridiculously vague. The list was a short one and of its seven white wines the first three were all from Chile. I have nothing against Chile and I can’t honestly see anything wrong with a list comprised of nothing but Chilean wines! If the wines are well made, good value for money and distinctly different to one another, both in style and substance, then that list would be tremendously interesting.

The list in question, however, did little more than line the wines up and give ‘name, rank and serial number’. Where’s the difference? How is anyone expected to take wine seriously if the trade selling it doesn’t do so in the first instance?

I see a lot of lists. Regardless of their length, or the quality and types of wine being sold through them, they often let themselves down. When they work well they add value to a meal, a restaurant and ultimately to the food and wine experience.

Nerdy Lists: a Batchelor’s Degree in reading bullshit allows for a strict interpretation of the descriptions used.


Poets List: Everything and anything is thrown at the wine. In this case originality would appear to expect a reward.

Technical List: Do we really need to know what yeast was actually used in the ferment? Do we really need to know what the soil structure is like in the Coonawarra at this time of the year?

Rubbish List: Big companies are prone to ‘cut and paste’ techniques where the last person to be employed at the office is told to stitch a list together from a file of previously written descriptions. The results are often hilarious, embarrassing and completely inaccurate such as when a white wine description ends up beside a red wine!

Useful List: Accuracy and legibility help this to work. Short, snappy with some opinion such as food pairing and/or style of wine.

Food is so well described

Helpful List: Give reasons as to why the wine was chosen in the first place! These might be personal, amusing or whimsical but they add context and legitimacy to the choice of wine in the first place and on to the customer as a consequence.

Best List? Has a little Nerd, a dollop of Helpful, a liberal sprinkling of Useful, an occasional Technical and a very careful twist of the Poet otherwise the whole thing will fall flat and end up being Rubbish!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWines are genuinely different!
   Wine writing is required to write wine lists Whoever said it was supposed to be easy or otherwise? The results of a fabulous list may look like they have been thrown together with little thought or analysis. In essence, however, that is what makes them great.

My advice to the list above? Drop the word Chile and you at least drop back to three wines that begin to display differences. Difference and a distinct complexity of what constitutes wine is what we are putting into our mouths. They are also what makes wine great and interesting in the first place. If we don’t make it interesting and accurate in how we set out our stand then we may as well be selling bananas described as jewellery and listed as perfumes.

Wine and its customer deserves a lot more respect than they often receive on wine lists.