Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Bank Holiday wines

Continuing from the theme below, we tried some mid-price samples from Bordeaux yesterday - we are always looking for good clarets that we can sell in the €15-20 region, but the wines really need to over-perform for us to commit to buying a pallet of the stuff as it is a big commitment to buy the wine, pay duty and vat upfront and store the stuff at home. We really need to be happy with the wine and, as a result, we have to taste a lot of dross before we find the needle in the haystack. Unfortunately, yesterday's tasting was more of the usual stuff - 3 hard, tannic wines. 2 of the 3 were not bad - well made, reasonable wines, but hard enough to drink. The last one was rough out, nice presentation but it was like something you would get in the Superquinn French wine "sale" - it might be "was €24.99 now €14.99" - it has the name, nicely presented but the wine was poor.

We also had a bottle of Castello di Brolio 1997. At the time, this was as good as Chianti got and I decided to stash a bottle of the famous 97 vintage away and see what it was like. And so, on Sunday, we tried it. It still had plenty of life, nice secondary fruit but it was as austere as anything. Those tannins will never soften, I think. Fresh Chianti acidity and bitter cherry fruit made this a very typical Chianti. Did we enjoy it? Yes, but we didn't finish the bottle, as when the food was gone, we just couldn't drink it on its own.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Romantic Bordeaux

I'm a big fan on Bordeaux, I really think, when they get it right, they are possibly the best wines on the planet. When it comes to Bordeaux, the five First Growths - Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild, Latour, Margaux and Haut Brion - reign supreme. These are the best of the best and they aren't shy about it. Each year, they pretty much set the price levels for all the wines below them in the 1855 classification as they magically (I'm sure it is a coincidence) all release their en primeur prices around the same time and within a euro or so of each other. It really is a wonderful example of competition at work.

Anyone who can't detect the sarcasm may need to reboot their computer.

I have been disenchanted with en primeur for a while now, but on a recent trip to Bordeaux, I was told something interesting. Latour have just bought vineyards (within Pauillac, but not adjacent to their own vineyards) and the even bought some land with a newly built house on it, demolished the house and will presumably plant vines. The interesting about this is that it all falls within Chateau Latour and so the land automatically becomes First Growth. Now, it may be that they will use the vines for their second or third wines, but they don't have to. In fact, they could buy the land of a neighbouring second growth, for example, at a price of around €2M per hectare and "convert" it to first growth land, which is worth around €5M per hectare. Not bad.

Now, I can talk terroir as much as they next man, but what will the grapes from the demolished house site taste of? I can see the tasting notes now: cassis, cigar box, spice and a hint of breezeblock....

As I said, I am a huge fan of Bordeaux, but the truth is that very few can afford to drink the top wines and lower down the scale, quality can be mixed. Huge strides have been made to improve quality across the board, but they need to continue to work hard as good wine is being made all over the world these days and basking in the reflected glory of the first growths doesn't really cut it any more.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I am a taxman

I worked out the other week that, in an average year, our company would pay more than a quarter of a million euros to the government, when you include duty, VAT, PAYE etc. Duty makes up the bulk of it. Now, we are a tiny, insignificant speck on the Irish wine map, so imagine what the likes of Gilbeys, Irish Distillers or even O'Brien's must cough up. It doesn't bear thinking about.

I have no problems paying VAT or income tax, but duty just seems so archaic and out of touch with the reality of our EU membership, free movement of goods etc. Then, to increase it when it should be phased out, just goes to show what cultured and sophisticated leaders we have.

At least the money is put to good use with our world-leading health system and our well-equipped schools, not to mention our 21st century transport system....

I promise from now on, I will get back to waxing lyrical about the romance of the wine trade. I promise.

And as my 3 year old son says - "You can't break a promise".

Unless you are a politician.

Sorry, couldn't resist one last swipe. Romance tomorrow.

Monday, October 20, 2008


The U turn on medical cards is almost complete; the only thing that makes me think that maybe the whole medical cards fiasco wasn't a deliberate red herring, designed to take the public's mind off all the other calumny contained in the budget is that I'm not sure they are as clever as that. It seems now that Brian Cowen is a bumbling incompetent, just like his predecessor(s).

Anyway, back to wine....we had Paleo Rosso 1999 on Friday night, a blend of 85% cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, made by Le Macchiole from Bolgheri in Tuscany. This had really nice Cabernet fruit, but with acidity and tannins that spoke of its Tuscan roots. Delicious wine that demands good food, this has real character and the bootle seemed to empty itself with startling speed.

On Saturday, we were at a friends house and I had spent the night on Chateau Noaillac 2004, a very decent, mid price claret, drinking perfectly now. Later the night degenerated into more dangerous territory with grappa, mini guinness (whatever that was) etc, but I tried to behave as best I could.

Off the booze now for a few days....

Friday, October 17, 2008

Wine Fair November 6th

Our Annual Wine Fair is on Thursday November 6th in Fitzpatricks Killiney Castle from 6pm to 9pm.

As usual, we will have lots of stuff going on:

- Over 100 great wines open for tasting,
- Sheridans Cheese will have a table
- Gift Ideas
- Discounts for orders on the night
- Raffle for a magnum of Louis Roederer champagne

This is our 10th Wine Fair and we would really like a big crowd this year to help us start our tenth birthday celebrations!

So, put it in the diary, bring all your friends and come and have a great night! (The government can go and jump!)

Tickets are €15, available now in the shop.

Bordeaux stuff

I was in Bordeaux this week and visited a few different properties over the space of a couple of days. Chateau de Pez was first on the itinerary and I think their wines are really excellent now after 10 years or so of ownership by posh champagne house, Louis Roederer. Their sister vineyard, Haut Beausejour, is also good, but lighter in style. Their 2004 is drinking very nicely at the moment.

We had lunch in Pichon Lalande (I know, I know), a second growth in Pauillac whose chateau is surrounded by the vines of Chateau Latour. We had a very nice lunch accompanied by their second wine - Reserve de la Comtesse - from 1990, and from magnum. This was drinking really well, elegance personified. The next wine matched it for elegance, but trumped it for concentration and power - it was the Pichon Lalande 1989, also from magnum. Delicious and it kept flowing! Our gruelling agenda didn't involve any further engagements for the rest of the day. It was really the only way to survive the budget.

The next day we visited the charming owners of Rauzan d'Espagne in Entre deux Mers. This was a chance to try wines of more humble origin, but in surroundings that were much more "sympa". We had a lovely lunch and the wines were also very good, they are really committed to quality and they are a very smart operation.

The life of Brian

50 cents inclusive of VAT and not a whisper. Do you think the medical card thing is the red herring? I reckon it will be voted down by the backbenchers and then forgotten about. Meanwhile they will sneak in loads of other stuff while we are on the phone to Joe Duffy....

Do you think Brian Cowen is much of a wine drinker? I don't want to judge a book by its cover here or anything, but I would be surprised if he was. To hit wine and not beer or spirits just sends out the wrong message, doesn't it? It's like saying to the binge drinkers to keep getting stuck in to the vodka and red bulls and starting fights and getting their stomachs pumped in A&E. Meanwhile, you and I sitting at home having a nice glass of our wine with dinner are being penalised. Why? Because there is no wine lobby and so no-one to complain about it. Touch beer and spirits and you will have the publicans on the phone. Hit wine and you just queue up for your free flu jab with no fear of interruption. Once again, the government do the easy thing and not the right thing. Why we keep voting for these morons is beyond me.....

Monday, October 13, 2008

What's it going to be?

What do you think? 10c per bottle, 20c, 50c, more? With current duty running at 2.04 per bottle, not forgetting the 21% vat that gets thrown in as well, you would think we are already paying enough tax on wine, but it looks like it will go up tomorrow.

This isn't just a revenue-generation exercise though, although it will be presented as such. There have been anti-alcohol reports in the media all year and this is the predictable end result. There will be bigger and worse news in the budget, of course and a few red herrings thrown in to divert out attention away from the details, but a hike in excise duties will make a difficult market even worse.

Of course, I might be wrong, I will be quite happy if I am. I will be in Bordeaux tomorrow, missing the bad news. I will decide on Wednesday whether or not it's worth coming back.

Monday, October 6, 2008

How's business?

The "credit crunch" has taken over from the "celtic tiger" as the most overused cliche going around these days. In fact, I never thought I would say it, but I'm almost getting nostalgiac for the celtic tiger. The markets are tanking again today, it's like dealing with a manic depressive these days - elated one day and suicidal the next. The drugs don't seem to be working.

Almost everyone who comes in to the shop these days ask the question : "How's business?". There are any number of ways of answering this question, but I have started answering it with alarming honesty (alarming for them, not for me).

The truth is, since the middle of this year, consumer spending has fallen through the floor. There is an unwillingness to spend, even amongst those who have money. There is a nervousness about the near future and what it holds, understandable really with all the shit that is hitting the fan at the moment. July was ok, August was shockingly bad and Sept has been ok again. We will trade at a level lower than in recent years for the foreseeable future and we will just have to work hard to keep our customers and pick up new ones. We have always prided ourselves on high levels of customer service, but we need to up the ante on all aspects of our business.

People are still coming in, but are buying fewer bottles and are looking at the prices a bit more closely and looking for value. Our 10% off on Italy (in Sept) and France this month have been really well received, whereas we have done sales in the past with little or no reaction. The key will be to keep the quality as high as ever as this is THE most important aspect of value for money for us and without a focus on quality, we lose our raison d'etre.

So, bottom line? Reduce expectations, work harder and keep the quality higher than ever. Good news for our customers and if they are happy, we are happy. The wine trade (as any of you who work in it will know) is not particularly profitable; it is marginal at the best of times. We didn't make a killing during the boom times (we made a living!) and we would hope to see out the current downturn and come out the other side stronger than ever.

So, my response to people with the question outlined above is: "Support your local shops, they need your business". Not quite the "grand, not too bad" they were expecting, but they did ask...

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Basic Bourgogne

John Wilson's article in today's Irish Times extols the virtues of entry level Bourgogne from good producers. He has our Darviot-Perrin Bourgogne blanc in the article, but I know from visiting Burgundy that this is a really good area for value, because these wines get the same TLC as the more famous wines by the same producers at prices a fraction of the cost.

By coincidence, I felt like something decent last night, so I had the Bourgogne Rouge from Mugneret Gibourg, who are one of the very best producers in Vosne Romanee. The estate is run by 3 very charming sisters and they produce beautiful wine with concentration, balance and a silky texture that runs through all their wines. This wine was from 2003, so slightly atypical, ripe but still beautiful balance and wonderful complexity. It is a wine that could easily have Vosne Romanee on the label, cost twice the price and you would still think it was great.

I think the 2005 vintage of this Bourgogne will be reviewed by John soon, interested to see what he thinks.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Credit Crunch wines

We had 10% off all our Italian wines last month and it got a really good reaction because everyone wants a little saving here and there and people realised and appreciated that it was a genuine 10% saving as opposed to a bogus 40% of 50% you get in supermarket sales.

Aaanyway, we are doing the same in October, but on French wines. It is linked with tastings on French wines each weekend, hope you can make it in at some stage.

This weekend we are tasting a Gewurztraminer from Dopff & Irion. This is a grape variety that, I have to admit, I have no great desire for. However, people who do like it, love it. This one is dry and is pretty decent example. We also have a bordeaux called Chateau Segonzac - this is very cleverly packaged beacuse all you can see on the label is "Grand Vin de Bordeaux", "Vieilles Vignes" and "Cru Bourgeois". The lowly appellation of Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux is in tiny writing on the bottom of the label. The wine, however, is very decent in the modern, fruity, forward style.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


We had agreat trip to Northern Italy last week (it has taken me a few days to get back to the computer), courtesy of Liberty Wines. I was going to do a big spiel about all the wines we tasted and all the food we ate, but I don't have the energy to write it and, to be honest, you probably would have the energy to read it, so I will spare us all the torture. Suffice to say, we were very well looked after with a packed schedule of tasting and 6 course lunches and 5 course dinners, lots of bus driving and not really very much sleep. The important thing is the wines so here is a very quick, top-of-mind impression af the places we visited.

Lorenzon - straight off the plane to visit this very nice family in Friuli, best known for their I Feudi di Romans label, from vineyards bordering the famous Vie di Romans. the wines were all clean, fresh, pure and good for their style and price. We were treated to a massive feast there for lunch which was just fantastic.

Livio Felluga - one of the historic names in Friuli. This winery was very different, very swish, stylish and looked like a lot of money had been spent on it (Lorenzon was much more earthy, which I prefer). The wines here are excellent, but very expensive and the reds underwhelmed.

Cantina Valpantena - this is a co-op in Valpolicella where Matt Thompson makes the Alpha Zeta range. It was fascinating to see a winery of this scale in operation, especially at harvest time. Wines are mixed.

Pieropan - one of my favourite wineries in Italy. We first visited their new red winery in Valpolicella where they have bought new vineyards and invested in a new cellar. It all looked very impressive and expensive. Their new red is called Ruberopan and, while very nice, I feel they are pitching it way too high in terms of price (it would be higher than their top white, La Rocca). I just feel they should launch it at a more reasonable level, let it develop a reputation and then rise the price as demand goes up (if it does!). The whites back in Soave were all impeccable, as usual. The Calvarino is still my favourite.

Allegrini - always a highlight, we visited all their most important vineyards, La Poja, La Grola nd Palazzo della Torre. We also went into their newly acquired Palazzo (after which the vineyard is named) which looks spectacular but needs work. we tasted the wines with dinner and they were all fantastic - I am a huge fan of these wines. The Valpolicella is an excellent example of its type; Palazzo makes otehr ripassos seem clumsy, La Grola is the epitomy of power and balance, La Poja is nice, but underwhems at the price, the Amarone is a classic in the modern style and the Recioto is excellent. Pretty sound range all round.

Ca dei Frati - into Lugana the next morning and I really liked these wines. The whole range, including the oaked ones were very well made, clean and long. Very nice people as well.

Monteforte - over lunch we tasted the wines from Monteforte, the smaller co-op in Soave and I liked the basic Soave Classico, but wasn't mad about the others we tasted.

Then it was off to the airport, tired but happy!!