Friday, March 3, 2017

The Notion of Authentic Wine

A lot has been written about natural wine, a lot of it nonsense on both sides of the fence, but I have found that other people are better than I am at expressing my mixed feelings when it comes to this most controversial of wine topics, so I will start off by pointing you to two good articles:

One of the best articles I have seen is by Craig Camp on his blog, you can read it here.

Hugh Johnson also weighed in with his considerable opinion in an article in Decanter .

Unknown to ourselves, we got off to a good start with natural wine. Azienda COS was the first Italian winery we imported from back in 2002(?) - Liam & Sinead Cabot had discovered them while on holidays in France and thought the wines were great - it was only over the years that Giusto explained his philosophy of biodynamic farming, minimal intervention and their championing of indigenous Sicilian grape varieties to us. We just liked the wines, and we still do. Meticulous winemaking and exceptional hygiene mean that we have really never had a problem with the wines - one time we had a bit of secondary fermentation going on and Giusto replaced the stock, no problem. So these are natural wines, but brilliantly made and with excellent purity and balance.

The most recent natural wines are the aforementioned Liam & Sinead's Roka Blaufrankisch - their most recent foray into winemaking - it too has minimal intervention and nothing added to it so is effectively natural as well. They won't mind me saying they are relatively inexperienced winemakers and yet they can make a wonderful natural wine, clear and bright with wonderful fruit character and lovely balance.

In between these two high points, experiences have been mixed. I have had some lovely natural wines that tasted, well, natural. I am a big fan of these wines and an enthusiastic supporter of producers who work hard to get the raw materials in good condition and then do just enough to make lovely wine without too much messing around. It's the same reason I love good Italian food - Italians are obsessed with food sourcing and the result is that they take great care to source the best ingredients they can find and then put it on a plate as simply as possible. Organic and biodynamic producers, probably because of the extra work they have to put in the vineyard, do seem to produce nicer wines on the whole but obviously not all the time.

I have been at a natural wine tasting a number of years ago where about 10  natural wines from 3 different continents were presented as, because they were "natural", being the best expression of their respective terroirs. The problem was, they mostly tasted the same. To me at least, if you had given me the French Cab Franc, the Argentinian Malbec and the Italian Montepulciano blind, I wouldn't have been able to tell them apart. Nor did I derive any pleasure from any of them.

I have, more recently,  been in a natural wine bar in France and presented with fizzy, cloudy, bretty wines - several of them and nobody apologised - in fact we had to pay for them! I just don't get these type of wines. I always have in the back of my mind "Can I sell this?" and the truth is I couldn't sell these type of wines - my customers would send them back to me and I couldn't blame them. So, these wines are not for me.

Then there is another type of wine that I feel I should appreciate, but don't. These are the trendy orange wines, Georgian wines and other examples of natural wines that taste so weird that I can't figure out if they are supposed to taste like that or not. And so, I fall back to what is always my most basic question - do I like it? And the answer for the ones I have tried so far is no, I don't. So, to my great disappointment, my status as fuddy-duddy is once more confirmed by the fact that I just don't like these wines that all the trendy people rave about.

My mind, like my mouth, remains open to all wine, but I have come to the conclusion that what I really enjoy is authentic wine - wines made by enthusiastic vignerons, proud and passionate wine people - usually smaller producers, often organic but always trying to make the best wine they can from their own little part of the planet. Wine first, philosophy second, just like back in the early days.

The truth is in the bottle.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Truth is in the Bottle

The Truth is in the Bottle

We are, I'm told, living in a "post-truth society".

Quite what this means I'm not sure - has the Orwellian nightmare become real? Has social media taken over as people's primary source of information? How do we know what is true at all any more?

A classic example is the first press conference by new White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer who used the opportunity to berate the reporters present for publishing photos that showed Mr Trump's inauguration ceremony as being somewhat less than full. It was, he said, the most watched ceremony ever, despite the fact that it clearly wasn't. Comical Ali lives on!

Luckily, with wine, the truth is easier to discern. You just have to taste it. Don't listen to so-called experts, don't be swayed by phony discounts, don't look at scores from critics, definitely don't look at online reviews. If you trust the person selling to you and they know what you like, you could listen to them, otherwise you have to try it for yourself and make up your own mind.

Some people actually like being told what to think, it saves them the bother of thinking for themselves, but most of us, I believe, find it empowering to form our own opinions, especially about something as unimportant as wine.

Taste is subjective and I honestly believe that our mood, our surroundings, the company, the food and many other factors have a huge part to play in how wine tastes on any given day. People often talk about having a lovely wine on holidays, taking it home and it doesn't taste as quite as lovely. They say the wine doesn't travel. Unfortunately, it is more a case that they themselves have travelled - from a sunny terrace in the south of France back to damp and drizzly Ireland. The poor wine hasn't a chance!

There are things you can do to give the wine the best chance to express itself - serve it at the right temperature, use decent glassware, serve it with food etc - but there are times when wines will taste better than others. And that is even before we get into a discussion about the merits or otherwise of the biodynamic calendar and its effects on how wine tastes.

So, I urge you to treat wine like people - try to leave your prejudices to one side, be open to new grape varieties and regions, knowing that, though different, they just might open you up to a whole new world. Be open-minded, taste, think and then taste again. Go for quality, not quantity. Think about what you drink.

And then avoid the ones you don't like.

The truth is in the bottle.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

What are we?

Blogger's Law states that the amount of blogging increases in inverse relation to the amount of work available and vice versa, so the fact that I haven't done a post in 6 months is not because I didn't want to, or because there was nothing going on, it is simply a result of being too busy.

First the usual manic Christmas season was made even more busy by the complication of trying to agree legal terms and obtain finance for a move to new premises planned for January/February. January and February was more legal wrangling until we finally signed the lease and got to work on the new premises and we finally got to open on April 1st (no, I'm not joking).

The new place is around the corner from our old place, but is on the main street, is four times bigger and on three levels. My initial idea was to have a wine shop, art gallery and book shop, all in the same premises. It is increasingly difficult for small shops - whether it is wine shops or any other type of specialised retailer - to make an impact and stay in the consciousness of the public and, crucially, get them to spend with you again and again. There are so many offerings out there, from online to large shopping centres with everything in between all trying to convince the customer to spend their money with them rather than with someone else. So, my idea was to have a few different, but complementary offerings all under the one roof to create a retail experience that was greater than the sum of its parts. It was also three things that I like and am interested in -art, books and wine. The other thing they have in common, of course, is that they are all notoriously hard to make a living from.

Nonetheless, I approached the owner of this great premises, undoubtedly one of the best in Dalkey, with my romantic notion and, rather than dismiss it out of hand, he suggested we go look at the building and have a chat. When we saw it again in the cold light of day, we decided to ditch the bookshop idea and keep all of downstairs to ourselves as a wine shop and wine bar and put the art gallery upstairs.

We had tested the wines by the glass idea in our old shop for the last 2 years and it worked well except that we didn't have the space to do it properly, but we felt confident enough in the concept to make the investment to move to a premises four times as big and that was going to need a considerable amount of money spent in order to get it to the standard we wanted.

So, we set about planning layouts, d├ęcor, furniture, kitchens, equipment and spending money to beat the band. The results of a couple of months of frantic work are below, we hope you like it.

So, what are we? We are a wine shop still, first and foremost, with a wine bar attached and an art gallery upstairs.

Wine Shop
We want to have a great wine shop with a range of wines to suit all tastes and budget with the core of the range made up with the wines we import directly from small, quality minded producers. We have 3 members of staff with the WSET Diploma under our belts so we know what we are talking about and have the expertise to guide you on whatever wine journey you wish to take.

Wine Bar
We serve great wines by the glass in proper Riedel glassware and in a comfortable environment and a nice atmosphere. We serve light food - cheese boards, cold meats etc to accompany the wines as well as soup and sandwiches at lunchtime and great coffee all day long.
 You can choose any bottle off the shelf and enjoy it in the wine bar for corkage of only €7.

Art Gallery
The gallery is curated by Siobhan Bastable who is a real art expert and is very well-connected in the art world. The work is an eclectic mix of well-known artists from near and far and is constantly changing. We also use this space for private tastings and corporate events.

We think we have created something special and hope you can join us soon at 26, Castle St., Dalkey.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Our Favourite new Bordeaux - Chateau Brande Bergere

An unscheduled visit to Huntsworth Wine in Kensington led us to being introduced to one of the best wines we have found this year. Tuggy Meyer, entertaining and knowledgeable owner showed us the Cuvee"O'Byrne " from Chateau Brande Bergere and told us it was his best selling wine in the shop (which was full to the rafters with really good Bordeaux and Burgundy). We happened to be going to Bordeaux the following week, so I set up an appointment.

Situated a good half hour north of Pomerol, we drove deeper and deeper into the countryside until we came across a beautiful house surrounded by impeccably kept vineyards, some already harvested, others with plump ripe grapes waiting to be picked.  It is situated on a hillside overlooking the Dronne Valley. It is a small, family-owned estate, owned and managed by the charming Denis and Edith Dalibot since 1997. The estate makes 3 wines - a very small amount of a rather delicious Rose that we will look at next year and 2 reds, both Bordeaux Superieurs.

The Cuvee Tradition is a blend of 40% Merlot, 35% abernet Franc and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon - it is aged for 18 months in cement vats. It is a gentle, well-made, classic claret - ripe, soft with great fruit character and good length and complexity. An absolute joy at this price.

The aforementioned Cuvee O'Byrne (named after an Irish priest, one of the Wine Geese!) has the same assemblage, but the best grapes go into it and it gets 18 months of oak aging. this is a full-bodied and rich wine, but with perfect balance - again a great example of how Bordeaux should be. If it had Saint Emilion on the label, a wine of this quality would be twice the price.

It is an estate whose wines regularly feature strongly in the Guide Hachette, Decanter and Jancis Robinson have both given great reviews and it was ranked Number 1 of all (however many thousand) Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieurs by "Revue de Vins de France" for the 2013 vintage.

For more info see

Friday, November 6, 2015

17th Annual Wine Fair

Hard to believe, but our 17th Wine Fair is on next Thursday, November 12th at 6pm in Fitzpatricks Killiney Castle.

We have just gone through the list and, out of about 100 wines, over 40 are new from last year. Most of our own imports are there, of course, but we have some great wines from all over the world, sourced from some of Ireland's best wine companies.

It's not only a great chance to try a huge range of amazing wines, but it is generally a good night out as well.

You can avail of great discounts too for orders on the night.

Hope to see you there - tickets are €10.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Top 10 reasons to reduce excise duty

Top 10 reasons why Michael Noonan should reduce excise duty on wine in Budget 2016


There are so many reasons to reduce excise duty on wine, it is hard to narrow it down to just 10, but here goes:

     Irish politicians see wine just as money

1.       Excise duty on wine is the highest in the EU, completely off the scale at €3.19 per bottle and a bubble-bursting €6.38 per bottle for sparkling wine. Our nearest rivals are the UK and Scandinavian countries, but we have raced into the lead in the last two years. Think about this – we pay 106 times more than the French while the Germans pay no duty at all. Zero!


2.       Excise duty has increased by 62% in budgets 2013/2014 – with the government now raking in an extra €150million per year just from wine. Why has it been targeted in this way? Is it because it is a soft target or because policy is being made by beer-swilling troglodytes who know no culture aside from agriculture? Soft target, probably.


3.       Wine is taxed more,  proportionally, than other alcohol products. Even though beer and spirits have stupidly high taxes on them, wine has been singled out and taxed higher than everything else.


                                      Michael Noonan talking to wine drinkers

4.       It’s tough on small businesses. Small wine shops and independent off-licences have families whose livelihoods are dependent on them being able to compete with supermarkets, who are able to sell wine below cost and then overcharge you for milk or whatever to make up the difference. Small businesses can’t do that and have to pass on wine duty increases in full.


5.       It’s anti-competitive and anti-European – entry level wine costs at least double in this country than in France or Spain. Why should Paddy have to pay double what Pierre or Carlos pays? Why?


6.       It’s anti-jobs. Wine companies in Ireland have been shutting down or shedding jobs directly as a result of the increases in wine duty. Conversely, imagine the boost to cross-border trade if wine was cheaper in Dundalk than Newry?



7.       Wine is both civilised and civilising – it is a drink to be enjoyed in moderation and with food. It makes food taste better and your friends better company.


          Civilised wine shop


8.       Wine is not the enemy. The sight of people drunk in the street, fighting and clogging up A&E is obviously a menace to society and a concern for us all. However, I don’t think these people have been drinking a nice glass of Gevrey Chambertin or a crisp, fresh Sancerre. More likely beer, cider, vodka, tablets, cocaine – maybe all of the above. But not wine. It’s a mentality change we need, not more tax on  wine drinkers.


9.       Wine is good for you! Not in a makey-up “Guinness is good for you” way, but actually, scientifically-proven good for you. In moderation, of course. A glass of red a day is rich in anti-oxidants and helps your digestive system. It’s practically medicine, except it tastes good.
10.    Just like the rest of the country, the wine trade needs a break. It's been a tough 7-8 years with many casualties along the way. Some breathing space would be nice...


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

My take on Natural Wine

 My Take on Natural Wine

The Natural wine movement has been gathering steam for a number of years now,  as a growing number of winemakers are choosing to go down the natural route and many consumers are seeking out these wines in the hope of finding a more authentic and natural wine experience.

So, what is Natural Wine?
As with many things in the wine world, a definition that everyone can agree on is somewhat elusive. However, most agree that for a wine to be described as Natural with a capital N, it needs to have the following attributes:
  • Vineyard practices need to be organic (no chemicals, pesticides etc) or preferably biodynamic (that’s another story)
  • Only natural yeasts used in fermentation
  • Minimal intervention in the cellar – no chaptalization (adding sugar) or tinkering with acidity levels (which is often legal, depending on local regulations)
  • Minimal or no filtration
  •   Minimal or no SO2
The theory is that by intervening as little as possible with the winemaking progress, that the wines will express fully and more accurately where they come from and the characteristics of the grape variety. This sounds like a worthwhile aspiration although I’m not convinced that the average consumer is that bothered about whether a wine reflects its terroir or not – most just want a nice glass of wine. Anyway, the idea is to get a more authentic wine and that is probably a good thing. Fans of natural wines also argue that, because the product is made with no chemicals it is easier on the planet and easier on the person drinking the wine, more digestible and without the nasty side effects (headaches etc) that some people get from drinking wine. This could well be true, it seems to make sense, although there is little empirical research to prove it conclusively.
Does the wine live up to its noble aspirations?
This is where it gets complicated and it is an area of considerable controversy. There are many people in the wine trade who argue that natural wines are riddled with faults and that, far from being an improvement, they are actually a step backward in terms of winemaking.  David Gleave, the owner of large UK importer Liberty Wines (he knows what he is talking about) went as far as to dedicate the introduction to last year’s wholesale list explaining why they were not embracing  natural wines. Tim Atkin, a respected writer with vast experience (he also knows what he is talking about) is always banging on in favour of natural wines.

In Ireland, the natural wine drum is being banged most loudly and successfully by Pascal from Kilkenny-based importers Le Caveau and they have probably the widest range of natural wines in the country – see .

What do I think?
My own focus has always been on what is in the bottle rather that what the winemaker believes. On one hand, I think the extra care and attention that is required in the vineyard to make this work does sometimes result in better wine. On the other hand I have been at natural wine tastings where maybe as much as 50% of the wines are faulty to the point where, if I ordered them in a restaurant I would send them back, and yet the winemaker is unwilling to admit that there is anything wrong.

So, as with anything to do with wine, there are good and bad wines under the natural wine umbrella – I would never buy a wine just because it is natural, but I do often seek them out because when they are good, they are very good indeed. The good news is that tasting them to find out is good fun.

Here are three  reds that are made using natural wine principles but are really great wines in their own right.

Gran Cerdo Tempranillo (imported by Le Caveau) €15

Gran Cerdo means “big pig” and is
dedicated to the bankers who refused to back his winemaking vision. Unoaked tempranillo – clean, juicy, fruity and balanced. Great with ham (seriously!)


COS Cerasuolo, Sicily (imported by On the Grapevine and Cabot &
Co) €30

Giusto Occipinti has been at the forefront of quality Sicilian winemaking for many years now and was making natural wine before anyone had even heard of the term. A blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato, this is delicious, fresh and juicy but complex and long with a perfect balance of fruit and tannin. One of those wines where one bottle is never enough.


Foradori Teroldego, Trentino (imported by Sheridans) €28

Elisabetta Foradori (good friend of Giusto from COS)
 is a great winemaker and makes this amazing wine
 from the local grape variety, Teroldego. Intense,
concentrated but elegant and very easy to drink, this is super stuff.