Friday 31 July 2009
I read a tweet from Tom Doorley today which said, 'It seems that Conrad Gallagher is returning to Dublin and opening in La Stampa in mid-August.'. I re tweeted and added that perhaps hard neck will be on the menu. I wasn't trying to be smart but there are many wine merchants in Ireland who are struggling to make ends meet today whose businesses were badly affected by Conrad Gallagher's inability to pay them before his departure to foreign lands. He has apparently done well (and Googles well) and now wants to come on home. God bless him. Well, good luck. He is, after all, a very talented chef. And isn't that all the muck savages need to worry about?
Recently the Town Bar and Grill ceased trading and proved its inability to pay its creditors. It then reopened as the Town Bar and Grill and is doing nicely thank you.
It seems that in Ireland there are ways to avoid paying your creditors and at the same time to keep flogging yourself as honest, hardworking and worthy of support. Sure isn't MenuPages using Town Bar for its members night out this month!! I wouldn't be too happy seeing this go on if I was just around the corner paying my wine suppliers what's their due and supporting MenuPages at the same time.....
Is there never a right time to say STOP and NO. The same small suppliers are getting ripped off again and again. Some accounts should never be supplied by anyone ever again.
Well that's naive. Conrad is coming back to work for la Stampa and they're a good lot. Everything that happened at Town Bar etc was legal and above board. We are a democracy, after all, with an independent judiciary that wouldn't dream of feathering it's nest with anything immoral or grey.
The culture of a fat society where certain practices are forgiven and where morality is seen as a weakness kills me. How bad must it get before we are truly disgusted? How far will we allow ourselves to be pushed before we say, No, now that really is unacceptable? It seems that we haven't even come close yet.
We're a docile lot and lambs to the slaughter and NAMA - Nothing Angers Me Anymore is a fitting tribute to many hardworking, ripped off wine suppliers, who have been forced out of business over the years; or maybe it's holy Ireland where we say Nothing Against Mon Ami. No, now that I think of it, it's definitely, "Now, Anyone Moaning Again? 'cos we'll get the old National Anti Moaners Association to shut you up and confine you to the trenches. The rest of us are up in the sunshine working, shoulder to shoulder, to rescue the mess we landed ourselves in. Have you tried the Hard Neck? It's a worthy starter to the new regime".
Posted by firstpress at 2:29 p.m.
Wednesday 15 July 2009
Last night Simon Tyrrell of the very excellent Tyrrell Wine Merchants gave a short speech at the launch of Aperitif a la Francaise at Donnybrook Fair on Morehampton Road. The occasion, and indeed Bastille Day itself, meant that Simon was encouraging us all to think French wine and to buy French wine. Why? Because he said, French wine offers the most diverse and genuine fine wine making in the world. It takes a bit of time to understand it but the reward of endless drinking pleasure is out there waiting for us to find it. Fighting words.
Just so we got the point Simon gave us an analogy of a punter going into a record store packed with fantastic music, picking up a CD at random, by price or maybe because the jacket cover had nice colours on it, and hoping that he would like the music. Well, every now and then that might work but in general, said Simon, our punter would not only not realise his ambition but would have no hope of maximising his buying potential. In plain English - he wouldn't like the music. It was a good story and it was well told. But is it true?
Photo: The Wine Buff - Naas
Why we buy wine and How we buy wine are two very different propositions. Very often they are confused.
10 Reasons WHY We Buy Wine
We like it
(Fill in the blank for your own reasons)
10 Reasons HOW we Buy Wine
Region of Origin
By Awards and Parker Points
(Fill in the blanks for your own reasons)
The Vineyard in Galway
As it happens when you cross the HOWs with the WHYs you can see that the music analogy doesn't always apply to wine at all! Sorry Simon but if I buy wine for refreshment, and I buy by price, does it actually matter if I know anything about the wine at all? I will be refreshed.
Will I get more refreshment if I buy by region of origin? Maybe. Maybe not. If I turn on the radio for light relief does it matter if its Johnny Cash or John Prine. Not to me it doesn't. If a wine is recommended for my health does it matter how much it costs or whether I like it?
Timing therefore is everything. If you want to listen to John Prine and not to Johnny Cash then your reasons for listening to music will dictate which CD you will get a better return from. It's the same with wine. To maximise your return you need to know the reason why you are buying the wine in the first place and then decide whether you want to maximise this and to concentrate on how you are going to make the purchase.
Thomas Woodberry - Galway
Best way to work how to buy wine and to get it right every time is to know something about wine. Take a wine course. I can recommend mine! Otherwise shop where you know the staff have the knowledge that you don't have, where they tell the truth and where they actually like talking to you.
But, and this is a biggy, even in those stores do not be afraid to buy on price or on the fact that there's a fabulous pink looking wedgie on the bottle. Its your choice and your enjoyment that matters.
Monday 13 July 2009
Interesting that the title of this blog is the longest title I have written. I feel like I'm stammering my way to explaining why I have just accepted four bottles of Australian wine at my front door on a rainy Monday morning in Dublin. Maybe the title should just have read - Sampling the Wine Trade. That way I would have found it very easy to explain a few facts about the trade, how enormous it is and how incredibly expensive it would be to figure it all out WITHOUT accepting samples and the occasional invite that drops into my lap. I would have justified my acceptance of free bottles of wine on the basis of professional objectivity and let anyone prove otherwise!
The debate that's smouldering around the blog spots these days however in relation to objectivity and blatant bribery and corruption, with respect to 'independent wine reviewing', goes deeper than a few bottles here and there. It is attempting to bring closure to broad questions as to where the wine trade is and where it might be going to. It is seeking out (genuine) opinion formers and wondering, out loud, whether they are being bribed to say what they do on a weekly basis.
I like Jancis Robinson's take on this where she explains that she segments the multitude of offers that come her way. She then tells us why she accepted some but will always reject others. Closer to home Ernie Whalley joined the debate in ForknCork recently.
There are countless pointing fingers (see DrVino) and some fine points are being made. This is a healthy debate. I fear though that there is no single answer and I am sure that no answer is going to make wine reviewing an objective exercise in all cases. My hope is that it will squash a few rotten apples along the way.
Anyone who says that all offers should be rejected will most likely be left alone, at home with nothing to say! Anyone who accepts all offers, or worse, courts offers, should be left all alone at home with nothing to say. Alas, there are reviewers in the latter camp reporting in every wine drinking country in the world.
It is of course a major, but obvious danger, that blog reviewers who have no editor or filter cannot on the whole be trusted. This should be obvious to most readers. In this neck of the woods the only blog reviews that are influential are written by writers whose credentials are regularly tested elsewhere, such as in weekly newspaper columns, magazines or through the wine distribution trade itself. This latter category of course should always be assumed to be biased! A good example would be the Tesco Wine Club newsletter - not only are the slots bought for by the producer but the magazine is trying to sell wine and to be informative; nobody would accuse it of trying to be objective - I hope.......
It is entirely a personal choice if a reviewer decides to accept nothing at all. I don't think its possible. Parker has always insisted he accepts nothing but then insists on private and semi private tastings when he's visiting a region. Can tastings be considered in the same light as free samples? They can if you want them to be, but then you would have to consider wine fairs and their attendant marketing budgets as places that should be avoided by 'real' and objective wine reviewers also. That really would be silly. Wine must be tasted. Places must be seen. It would be a bit like saying that the sports writer shouldn't go to the match!
So, where do we draw the middle, and honest line, where the wine reviewer is both accepting and objective in the same life time? How indeed can the reader know and in some way not allow his wine knowledge, and possibly his wine drinking also, to be informed by something other than a marketing budget?
First, if a reviewer has a commercial relationship within the trade it should always be brought to the attention of the reader. It is just not acceptable that someone who consults, say, to a super market buying department should be allowed to write an independent wine review for a weekend newspaper without telling the reader of his commercial status within the wine trade. Editors note: it is your responsibility!
Second, and very simply, whistle blowing should be encouraged. Perhaps this is a role for the blogging community. Flog to death anyone caught with their pants down. If a reviewer has been give a credit card on the west coast of the US and told to 'have a good time' by a wine producer and then proceeds to review that producers wine someone needs to tell about the credit card! You don't have to libel yourself - be careful - but get the story out. Ask questions.
Generic budgets and generic marketing initiatives should be encouraged to the detriment of brand and commercial interests. So, nothing wrong with Wines of Australia or Wines of Chile, for example, bringing a journo out but don't only allow the 'big' firms to decide the agenda. I once overheard a journo insisting that when he visited the faraway country he was being brought to he only wanted to visit the big brands because they were the only ones who would advertise with him when he got back!
A distinction must be made between 'Samples' and 'Freebies'. This is not an easy one but at one end of the scale it's obvious that full cases of wine delivered to a journalists home are bribes while single bottles requested by the journalist are not necessarily so. I very often follow up wines that I have tasted at wine fairs with a request for a further bottle. My notes might not have been concise or I might be asking new questions of the wine that hadn't been obvious at the fair or someone was talking into my ear at the time, or wine fairs are sometimes miserable places to taste properly and on and on and on and on. I just want to taste the damn thing again and I am not being bribed! I let everyone who sends me samples know that they have arrived safely and then, later, I let them know when and where I have written about the wine. I encourage the trade to ask me why I might not have written about a particular sample. I accept samples. I do not accept freebies.
Encourage Education. When the Association of Wine Educators (of which I am a member) or the Institute of Masters of Wine (of which I am not a member) writes, speaks and tastes wine and visits wine producing regions it is seen as being positive. The same can be said for many wine club visits. Journalist visits should be seen in the same light. If however the journalists visit is seen more in the light of a commercial wine buying visit or a paid holiday to the sunshine then there is problem. If we encourage education, and its attendant purpose, and apply similar standards to our wine journalists we should be able to progress with a greater confidence than we seem to have at present.
Wednesday 8 July 2009
I went to an incredible seminar last week. It was organised by John McDonnell of the Australian Wine Board and had the attractive title, 'Wine Faults: Recognition, Causes, Cures.' Not everyones cup of tea. A broad section of the wine trade turned up to show that we would be wrong to take it for granted that at least the wine trade knows about these things. Not necessarily so. Scary? No, read on...
First of all I must make the point that if anyone gives a class on wine faults and doesn't put these 'faults' into some sort of context then they are missing the point. Wine faults are the exception and you cannot appreciate wine by looking for faults first and wine second. It must be the other way around.
Swirl the glass, take a deep sniff and appreciate the fruit and the wine making style. Pour it onto your palate and check out the structure and how it all knits together as a drink. If something seems out of whack then look to see if the wine is faulty or simply unfamiliar or indeed just not to your taste. Well, that was a long health warning!
The point is to enjoy wine and not look for problems until they are actually in your nose or in your mouth! Back to the seminar.
Con Simos of The Australian Wine Research Institute gave this seminar. He gave us control samples of a Chardonnay and a Shiraz. He also poured 13 whites wines and 13 red wines spiked with various wine faults. We were asked to analyse the wines and to identify the faults/taints. Just to keep it interesting Con left one unadulterated wine in each of the white and each of the red wine flights!
This was cutting edge tasting and showed that certain individuals are useless at smelling some compounds but brilliant at others. No one person is brilliant at picking out everything and each individual needs to check and recheck their own tolerance or tasting/smelling threshold on a regular basis.
(I reckon I found out why I am such a lush with sparkling wine! I'm quite poor at identifying Indole which is associated with stuck chardonnay fermentation's and poorly completed secondary ones in the bottle.)
Just when you thought that a mouldy bouquet was all you needed to know to be the expert. Many of the 'experts' outside of the Show system in Australia, or research institutes in other countries, are not regularly challenged by seminars such as this one. I know I'll be the first in line when this come to town again!
Now for the lesson. A wine fault was defined as 'a characteristic which leads to spoilage attributed to poor wine making practices or unsound storage conditions. Many of these compounds are naturally present in wines at sub threshold levels.’ A Taint on the other hand was defined as, ‘an odour or taste that is foreign to, and reduces the acceptability of the product.' This shows us that many faults, and some taints, are actually very acceptable in a wine. Finding them does not mean that the wine should be sent back! Maybe this is how the wine was supposed to be made and a bit of taint makes it all the more interesting, more typical of the region or even better than its whistle clean cousin from down the road!! It's about balance. If the taint is too obvious then the wine will be deemed to be faulty. Otherwise leave well enough alone.
Never let a little bit of knowledge spoil your enjoyment 'cos as we all know how dangerous a little can be.
Round Things from the AWRI web site
Monday 6 July 2009
EasyFood is Ireland's biggest selling food magazine - by a country mile.
This month I recommend Blossom Hill Pinot Grigio from Italy. Yes, Italy! Blossom Hill has brought out an international range of varietals. The Pinot Grigio is accompanied by a Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. The range also includes a Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon from South Africa.
Following this I have included Vina Esmeralda from Torres. This is a real dazzler made by a Moscatel and Gewurztraminer blend. All summer patios should have one!
I then include a soft and fully ripe shiraz and I actually recommend it as a summer time drink! This is the Benchmark Shiraz from Grant Burge. It's just great guzzling wine.
Continuing the summer time (quite rich) reds I feature Oyster Bay Merlot from New Zealand. You know I really do think New Zealand will be very famous for this grape in years to come. Soft and voluptuous.
Quite brilliantly I then drift in to a new 50cl wine bottle packaging brought to market recently by Febvre and Co. The range is called Wine for 2. The bottles are as tall as a 75cl and so are tall and slim . Fine design and good idea that might help to promote sensible drinking.
Budweiser gets a thumbs up for two new products where the beer can be delivered at very cold temperatures. Outstanding aluminium bottle packaging and a revolutionary cold tap design will deliver the product cooler than any other beer on the market.
Finally I give my friends the Curious Wines in Bandon credit for their blog mention of Wine Wipes - a new product from the States to wipe off red wine stains from your teeth. Too late for me I'm afraid!
Friday 3 July 2009
Sopexa is a marketing and communications group that specialises in promoting French food and beverages. This is the sixth year that it has been involved in the promotion of Aperitif a la Francaise.
Aperitif is great fun. It re introduces us to the joys of French food and drink. As if we need it I hear some of you say! It seems that we do as we slide into more pasta and tapas and everything non French with a great deal of ease. It's great fun because the whole idea of an aperitif has been lost for a few years now.
Maybe if I hadn't been brought up in a cultural bog/desert where an aperitif was usually referred to as, 'will you have a pint before the dinner?' or 'let's line the stomachs boys,' it might not have come as a surprise to hear that an aperitif is supposed to be part of the meal. It's supposed to be a beginning and a good opportunity to chat. Now why do the Irish always equate the idea of an aperitif as another opp to get some more drink into system? God, I hope it's not just me?
Aperitif a la Francaise is where Sopexa manages to bring hundreds of food producers together to promote French produce in 37 cities across 21 countries in a relatively informal manner so that the stuffiness and formality often associated with french food can be left at the door.
It's a great and an ambitious undertaking.
Aperitif is currently running for the whole month of July in Ireland and centres on the Donnybrook Fair stores in Dublin, the wonderful http://www.greatfood.ie/ and a wide range of media types.