Friday, February 24, 2012

A Spanish Bargain and an Italian Deal

Carol and myself tasted this wine yesterday, a wine which comes to us at a great price as a result of a "misunderstanding" between a certain wine importer (not us) and a certain customer (also not us). The wine was ordered in specifically for this customer who then decided they didn't want it because it didn't have the net you so often see on Spanish Gran reservas. And so, the importer was left with it and is now clearing the stock at a knockdown price. Clouds, silver linings etc.

So, what is it? It is a 2004 Gran Reserva from Catalunya - a blend of low-yielding Tempranillo, Cabernet and Grenache grape. Fully mature, smooth and rich with spicy notes and dark fruits - altogether a very pleasant wine indeed with lots of interest and complexity. This would, we are told normally retail in the high teens - but we are able to offer it at €8.99.

It is a one-off, won't be seen again deal, once it's gone, it's gone, as they say....on tasting this weekend.

Ireland v Italy
20% off Italian wine if we win. If we don't win this one, I promise I will stop undermining the efforts of the national team! To get the discount, just mention the rugby deal - it is SATURDAY ONLY!!

Friday, February 10, 2012

The real reason why drink crisis gibberish gibberish

"Never trust a man who doesn't drink" - a renowned philospher*

If you want to get yourself annoyed today, I suggest you get hold of the Irish times and turn to John Waters' column which has a headline not dissimilar to the above. Sometimes, it is difficult to know where to begin but I suppose the beginning is as reasonable a place as any.

The first line reads "We are used to politicians running scared of proposals to tackle Ireland's lethal relationship with alcohol". It is a popular myth that successive governments are under the evil control of the drinks industry, just as in the USA, right-wing commentators constantly moan about the 'liberal media" which they themselves dominate. If governments were so scared of publicans, why did they introduce the absolutely correct policies of smoking ban and rigorous enforcement of drink-driving laws? Correct as these policies are, the result has been a drastic and continuing reduction of the number of pubs, especially in rural areas.

Last Friday's Irish Times ran a report saying that alcohol consumption in Ireland reduced by 17% in the years 2001-2011 and yet today John Waters tells us that alcohol consumption increased by the same magic figure between 1996 and 2007, the "decade of the Celtic Tiger" (John very subtly links alcohol with the CT and with the EU/IMF bailout to make it seem even more evil). So which are we to believe? Are both correct, just different ways of looking at the same figures? Is it more relevant to talk about figures to 2011 or 2007, given that in the intervening 4 years, the country has changed utterly?

He goes on to say that poor people spend a greater proportion of their income on alcohol than rich people. What a massive surprise. I suspect the same is true of food expenditure, utilities and everything else, because guess what - rich people earn more than poor people! But no, John uses this completely random and useless fact to argue that Irish people use alcohol to "even out the effects of felt-inequality and to ameliorate social pain".

In John's world, the whole country is in some sort of alcohol-induced reverie that stops us from thinking straight. Foreigners are apparently queuing up to avail of John's wisdom about the lack of riots on the streets in Ireland, compared to, say, Greece and John tell them mysteriously to "look at the drinking statistics". Given that we are drinking less than we used to, I presume the foreigners deduct that we need to drink more!

No, despite the facts, we are all, politicians and plebs alike, under the malign spell of the publicans and can't think straight, that's John main argument today and the job of the government is to keep us that way.

I don't know why some Irish people drink in the pattern that they do - nothing all week and then get plastered at the weekend - but we are not unique in this; if you don't believe me spend a weekend in Newcastle, Manchester, Liverpool or, indeed and British city and you will see scenes that make Temple Bar look like Salt Lake City. Binge drinking seems to be concentrated mainly in countries that have high taxes on drink and bad weather - Ireland, Britain, Scandinavia. As I have said before, it is a culture thing, not a price thing - how that is to be solved is another question entirely, but attitudes can be changed through education. The current generation of twentysomethings largely regard drink-driving as a major no-no. Surely a distaste for being drunk could also be instilled in people?

The only thing the government fear from the alcohol industry is a reduction of the massive taxes that the industry creates. I have a small shop, operating in a small sector of the market, yet even we feel we are more tax collectors than wine merchants, handing over staggering (to us!) amounts every month in duty and VAT. Increasing duty will drive people north of the border, the Dept of Finance will testify to that. A ban on below cost selling would stop the use, by supermarkets, of alcohol as a loss leader. I believe alcohol is not like other grocery products and does need to be viewed seperately and hopefully this is what the government has in mind.

The newspapers are involved in quite a lot of hand-wringing about the future of their industry - and rightly so. One of the main arguments is that any old eejit like me can voice their uninformed opinion on the internet, whereas you have to go to the traditional media to get intelligent, informed opinion.

John Waters does his best to undermine that argument today.

As Valerie Clarke, in the letters page opposite says "A light hand from parents rather than a heavy hand from the government will be more effective in the long run".

* My father, whose philosophy was renowned really only in our house.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Wine Weekend with the Eurostars

Wow, what a great weekend. We had some brilliant winemakers over showcasing some really interesting and different wines over the weekend at a series of events.

Firstly, we had a trade tasting in The Cliff Townhouse on Stephen's Green on Friday afternoon, followed by a tasting and really good dinner for about 60 punters in Beaufield Mews. An early start on Saturday morning led into a consumer tasting and masterclasses on Saturday, followed by an 8 course tasting menu with matching wines, with the food prepared with the much-feted Seamus Commons in the Knockranny Hotel.

The Wines

Wines were as follows:

Kunstler , Rheingau
Riesling Herrnberg - perfect example of Rheingau Riesling
Riesling Stielweg - my favourite of the range - amazing concentration and balance
Rieling Domdechaney

Verus, Slovenia
Pinot Gris - still proving to be a massive hit
Furmint - also known as Sipon, another star of the range
Sauvignon Blanc

Moric, Burgenland Austria
Blaufrankisch - perfectly poised, mineral example of this little known variety
Blaufrankisch Reserve - wowed many with its power and balance

Jean Marc Millot
Cotes de Nuits Villages - a wonderful example of purity and elegance
Vosne Romanee (Saturday) - stunning

Guillot Broux
Macon Blanc "Les Genievres" - complex wine, v nice
Macon Cruzille Rouge - made from Gamay, nice wine
Bourgogne Pinot Noir - serious, austere style, great food wine

Cantina del Pino
Dolcetto - elegant, pure and delicious
Nebbiolo - soft and supple, very drinkable
Barbaresco - stunning balance, power, but still with trademark elegance

Poggerissi Bianco
Poggerissi Rosso - great value house wine from Tuscany
Renzo Masi Chianti - remarkable quality at its price
Basciano Chianti Rufina - the best value Chianti on the market?

So, the wines were great, the producers were happy, thank you to all who attended the various events and aslo a HUGE thank you to Beaufield Mews who showed once again that they are turning out some great food, have probably the best-priced wine list in Dublin and are well worth checking out.

We were also blown away by the Knockranny House hotel in Westport, beautiful hotel with great service and stunning food.