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Archive for September, 2009

Tasting with the stars

September 19th, 2009

This week I will ramble on about the life and times of a wine taster, often referred to as one of those great jobs. What is it to spend your day deciding the fate of many a winemaker and their family? Is this wine too acidic, is this one to strong, should I be getting a taste of mushrooms and wellingtons from this wine? Great wines offer great experiences, but poor ones make you sick. Yesterday, I took the train up to Dublin and went to the Shelbourne Hotel, where the Spanish embassy was holding their annual showcase for the country’s wines. The newly renovated ballroom hosted the event and the plethora of tables and the clinking of glasses was on show for all to see. Such excitement at the great old hotel was not seen since the glory days. This year we were given our own entrance, or reading between the lines, not encouraged to mingle with the guests as we made our way into the hotel.

I made the unfortunate mistake of eating pasta for lunch and it had quite a bit of garlic in it. I washed my mouth out with a very nice Rueda but it took quite a few glasses of wine to get rid of the garlic. The tables are set up with existing Irish importers and their Spanish collections out on display for all the world to see ( and sample ). I work almost exclusively with a Spanish native who imports from small quality driven vineyards, much as I do for French and New Zealand wines. I spent some time at his table, sampling the existing wines I carry and trying out some new ones. I then wandered around to some other tables and met with other Irish importers and tasted wines ranging from €9.99 to €90 and a lot in between. What struck me most was the lack of wines in the €7-€9 bracket. The Spanish never really bought into the cheap and cheerful ranges and while these wines do exist, they definitely were not on show for the embassy, or the many critics who were there. I may not have mentioned, but the show is open to the critics and the trade only.


You often see some familiar faces at these tastings, especially the private ones, and John Bowman of Questions and Answers fame happened to be wandering around this one. I have always been a fan of the show, and was looking for a good excuse to annoy him. I did the usual follow him around the tasting area for a while and try not to look too creepy. He was wearing a white suit, and considering the amount of swirling and spitting of deep dark Rioja and Ribero del Duero that was going on, I thought I had my opener. I was going to catch his eye and tell him how brave he was to wear the suit in such surroundings. After the ice was broken we were going to discuss NAMA and the true meaning of life. He would mention me and Red Nose Wine in his next article or on radio and TV, and we would be firm friends. By the end of the day I would be able to ask him for tickets for the match, and all would be well in the world. However, just before I was about to make my move, and compliment his spitting accuracy, I managed to spit out a mouthful of Rioja all over the sleeve of my white shirt. I could no longer stand beside him as his tasting equal and the moment passed. I still don’t know his opinion on NAMA or the Lisbon treaty. By the end of the day, his suit was immaculate and I had added two more stains. So, after over 100 wines, 3 stains and a near miss with celebrity culture, I left the Shelbourne and made my way back to Heuston station having not drunk a drop. My teeth were black, and my mouth felt like what I imagine the inside of a teapot would, all dry tannin. I fell into my seat on the train and was forced to listen to a teenage girl blow kisses and “much love” to her family and friends as she roared into her mobile all the way to Thurles. Yes, a glamorous life I lead and until the next tasting, be it in house at Red Nose Wine or at some hotel in Dublin, I bid you farewell as I get ready to catch the train back to Dublin on Sunday and try and beat the Cats. I am hoping the teenager has taken an earlier train back. I don’t think the Premier faithful will be as patient as I was.

Unfortunately, as I write this little add on paragraph a few days later, my 2nd trip to Dublin was not as successful as the tasting. There is always next year, and hopefully by then John Bowman will get me great tickets.

For anyone who would like more information and can’t make it into the shop, please feel free to contact me at

“Life is much too short to drink bad wine”