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Archive for September, 2010

Article – The Social Media Harvest party

September 24th, 2010

Maggie May picks the grapes

“It’s late September and I really should be back in school”. So sang Rod Stewart in his little ditty about Maggie May. Wouldn’t it be nice if one could make a living out of playing pool? I must admit to being a little jealous of the people who are heading back to college now for another year of learning and a bit of fun on the side. Youth really is wasted on the young. Before I choke on another cliché I must confess to being in a panic. I am sitting in the shop on a Saturday and I am leaving for Italy early Monday morning. No recession here you are shouting, but I assure you that the recession is alive and well. However, it shall be put to one side for a few days, as I am delighted to say I am being brought away for a few days by one of the importers I work with. They are paying for everything, and all I have to do is be at the airport at 5.15 on Monday morning, which is a little obscene in my eyes. It’s not the early morning or the late of night. It is like a parallel universe where nobody is really awake. I can confidently predict I will be like a briar for the first few hours. Needless to say I will squeeze a few articles out this trip, and hopefully some nice pictures from the Venice/Verona area.


Talking it up

Before this I have a list of jobs to get through and the clock is ticking. One of those jobs is this article, so here we go. The harvest is currently in full swing across the vineyards of Europe and I am waiting on many a winemaker to get back to me on varying issues and orders. I don’t see them doing so until the hay is saved, so to speak. The harvest is the whole point of their year and as usual the whisperings of the potential crop is varying. Bordeaux are talking it up as normal, but they are alone as other parts of France are not so excited. The others don’t have a new and cash rich group of customers in China who are driving prices of the great Cru Classé wines even higher. The sad part is that many of these great wines are now out of the reach of most people and only a privileged few get to taste them. During the interviews for my MBA thesis, I had the great pleasure to meet and taste with the winemakers in Châteaux Palmer, Leoville Las Cases and possibly the most famous of them all, Chateau Margaux. These wines are phenomenal but I can’t even write down the prices for the good vintages, such is my fear of being ridiculed. If you are curious, go to, the online fine wine exchange to see the market prices for these classics and others. You have been warned – the prices are crazy.

Gary Gubbins of Red Nose Wine at Chateau Margaux

Gary Gubbins of Red Nose Wine at Chateau Margaux

The vineyards communicate

I’ve written about the harvest in a previous article so I won’t repeat myself, but will talk about it from a different point of view. The social media world ( Facebook, Twitter)  that I have embraced so warmly lets us look into the fields and the Vignerons at work. Many of the vineyards that I work with are posting photos and updates from the ongoing harvest. Chateau Paradis in Provence have decided to delay the harvest until September 19th, their latest ever start. Basile Guibert from Mas de Daumas Gassac has posted lots of photos from the vines and regular updates on progress. These are just a handful of the vineyards posting their progress back as it happens. I only hope that they continue this into the final evening’s harvest party where many a row of vines has known to be visited by a courting couple at 2 in the morning. They feel no rocks beneath them and do not realise that the bare vines hold no cover from the prying eyes of the other workers. Ah, the stories that they tell me on my visits. By all accounts, many a long distance relationship was forged over the backbreaking work that is a harvest. Other people give false addresses and disappear from the romantic setting of a harvest, never to be seen again. A winemaker will give you all the gossip if you order enough wine.

romantic vineyards

It tends to be migrant workers who return each year from different parts of the world and the same people in general return every year to the same vineyard. If any of you would like to partake in a harvest, please let me know and I can try and arrange a job in the sticky hot vines for next year. The pay is terrible, the work backbreaking but the harvest party is supposed to be great. The harvest will be in full flow for my trip to Italy, but I might be too early for the party. I am willing to offer useless advice from the comfort of the tasting room, but I have no intention of using my back. It’s already in a bad way from lifting cases of wine. So, with this in mind, I have a few more jobs to get through before I can head off to Dublin and a flight to Venice. I hope to report back with lots of stories next week. Ciao for now.

The Tipperary Food Producers are organizing a Food Extravaganza on November 10th in the Clonmel Park Hotel. We hope to get one of our winemakers over to talk about wine and food, so keep that date in your head. It could be a great night out with lots of food and wine and interesting conversation.

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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”

Guest Blogger – Billy Lyons and his trip to Bergerac

September 18th, 2010

The famous Billy Lyons from Cork gives his thoughts on Bergerac and Monbazillac


During this summer’s holiday in the Dordogne, there was always going to be a trip to the Maison de Vins in Bergerac and our Sat-Nav took us from our base in Sarlat right to the door but the quayside parking area (once used for loading barrels of wine) was full, though there was ample within walking distance.

Pigs Roasting

The House of Bergerac Wines is in an old religious building, the Cloitre des Recollets and, if you enter from the back, you will be in the old courtyard. A long panel tells the story of wine through the ages in French and English and then you go downstairs.

Here you may take in a video, again in English or French, on the season in a vineyard. Then you must do your sniffing test. All the “parfums” are in little glasses (with lids). Check how good your nose is. Mine was dire.


The next stop is the shop. There is a huge stock as all of the local AOCs: Bergerac sec, Bergerac rosé, Bergerac rouge, Côtes de Bergerac Blanc, Côtes de Bergerac Rouge, Monbazillac, Montravel, Côtes de Montravel, Haute Montravel, Montravel Rouge, Pécharmant, Rosette and Saussignac. Many of the producers have a small display with order leaflets.

The shop is very well laid out with the bottles numbered and priced around a centre stand. I had already purchased bottles from most of the AOCs, so I concentrated on the Montravel whites and went to choose a few bottles. The assistant was very helpful at this point.

This building is situated in an old area of Bergerac and nearby you have the possibility of visiting the Museum of Tobacco and the Museum of Wine and on the roads out of the town there are many opportunities to visit the vineyards and we took advantage to purchase some Pecharmant, my favourite red of the area.

Wine Museum

Another highlight was a visit to Monbazillac. Built around 1550, the Chateau of Monbazillac stands today almost exactly as when built by the Aydie family more than four centuries ago. This was a very interesting visit indeed, highlights including the drive through the vineyards and the views out to Bergerac town, the Grand Salon, the Mouney-Sully Hall, the Grand Staircase and the Hall of Bottles.


The world renowned vineyard was first cultivated in the 11th century and is famous for using “the noble rot” method to make its sweet wines which draw thousands of visitors every year. We availed of the tasting service, naturally, and purchased some of the golden nectar along with some Bergerac Rouge and Bergerac Sec.

“In entering this place, you are entering a part of the History of France”. So says one of the chateau’s leaflets. Today, the Wine Cooperative of Monbazillac owns the chateau and makes every effort to look after the monument and open it as much as possible to visitors. For €6.40, we thought it was very good value indeed.

Billy writes about the Cork restaurant, food and drink scene, at and you may read much more about this year’s month long trip to the Dordogne at

Article – There’s a hole in the bottle

September 18th, 2010

Deal with him Hemingway, Deal with him

Ernest Hemingway always tried to write 500 words a day and contrary to his reputation as a big drinker, is not known to have ever written while drunk. He liked to rise early and avoid the heat ( he lived in Cuba for a long time ) and embrace the early morning peace in order to write. One must assume though, that considering his great discipline for writing was matched only by his great discipline for drinking, he must have written a fair amount whilst hungover. Now I am not comparing myself to Ernest Hemingway, although I did live very near his old apartment in the Mouffetard area of Paris. I must confess to a number of “manuscripts” lying about that tiny apartment on rue du Fer a Moulin as I tried to conjure up the great mans spirit. “To sleep, perchance to dream”. My fellow Tipperary Food Producer member and Nationalist columnist Pat Whelan is living that dream as his first book is about to be published. Huge congratulations to Pat and I look forward to the book signing. I promise not to throw shoes or eggs, as long as you don’t invade a country in the meantime.

George Weah applies the CC

Tower of Song

The reason for such a literary infused first paragraph? Like Ernest must have done on many an occasion, I am writing this article with a hangover. The Jim McGrath Perpetual Trophy care of Careys Arch Bar is the reason and a great night was had by all. I even got up to play the guitar and sing – Michael Carey wanted to clear the bar. “All my friends are gone, and my hair is grey. I ache in the places where I used to play”. Leonard Cohen’s words, and a song for all seasons. I should be going red thinking about my “performance” but I’m too hungover. I never really got a good run at it after the big match, so I was due a couple of pints.

My brother Robert warms up the crowd for my performance

My brother Robert warms up the crowd for my performance

You’ll be glad to know I am going to talk about the wine now and in particular the little dimple, hollow or punt as it is known at the bottom of the bottle. There is no definitive reason as to why it is there, but there are a number of probable ( and improbable ) reasons as to its existence. History plays a part and the old style of glass blowing with a blowpipe and pontil left such a punt. From a practical point of view, the punt makes the bottle more secure and less likely to fall over. Wines with large sediment remnants tend to use bottles which have even larger punts, as the sediment can form at the bottom of the bottle, and careful pouring can keep it out of your glass. On a similar note, while aged wine should be stored on its side, it is important to stand the bottle up at least 24 hours before you open it, to allow the sediment to fall to the bottom of the wine. We’ve all made that mistake.

The Clonmel CoEfficient

In sparkling wine, the punt is important as it increases the strength of the bottle. The famous monk Dom Perignan did many experiments with bottles whilst trying to find one that would not explode while holding his new discovery, Champagne. There are a few other stories about the origins / reason for the punt, but they may have a touch of the Clonmel Coefficient. What’s this you ask? I was in university in Limerick and in the year I started there were a large number of Clonmel people there. Over the years we ended up with quite a few characters from Clonmel and some of these were known to embellish a story. It varied based on what they could get away with, but the non Clonmel people finally quantified it and the Clonmel Coefficient was introduced. If a story involved a football match and beating 2 players before scoring, the Clonmel Coefficient might raise that number to 3 or 4.

George Weah applies the CC

It is still in regular use and can often be seen on Facebook messages from London, Sydney and New York. So what does the CC as we will call it have to do with the punt in the bottle of wine? Quite simply, many of the proposed reasons for its existence have a faint whiff of the Clonmel Coefficient. These include taverns having a steel pin set up in the bar so the barkeeper could thrust the bottle into it in order to puncture it and ensure that no refills were possible. Another one I really like is the servants giving signals to the masters during a dinner party. They would often know a lot of the happenings of the town and could let the master know if a guest was reliable or not via the way they held the bottle during a pour. I think I will try it at my next dinner party. Anyone who brings rubbish wine will get it poured with my finger firmly positioned in disdain. Actually, I’ll just serve them their own wine as a punishment. It’s amazing I am not invited to more parties.

September 11th 2001

As I write this article I have just realised it is September 11th. On this day in 2001 I was in an airplane with my future wife and moving to Paris. I left Dublin after enjoying Tipperary’s victory in the All Ireland and the world was a normal place. We flew with Ryanair and a coach dropped us in Paris near the James Joyce pub with 11 bags. There was no baggage charge back then. My French was not good enough to understand what the taxi’s radio was talking about and it was only when we arrived in the hotel that we saw the images on the TV. It then dawned on us that we were staying beside the Tour Montparnasse, one of the potential other targets identified. If ever we needed an incentive to find somewhere to live quickly, this was it. Whilst always interested in wine, it was from this day that I started my journey into the heart of it. It all seems quite surreal now.

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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”

Article – How much does a bottle of wine cost?

September 17th, 2010

Darkness at the break of noon

I wrote the original version of this article on Saturday from a very dark place and I was sure I would submit it for publication. It opened with some Bob Dylan lyrics, “Darkness at the break of noon, Shadows even the silver spoon …. Plays wasted words, proves to warn, That he not busy being born is busy dying”.

Dark stuff on the eve of an All Ireland final you might think. But then I travelled to Dublin on Sunday and swayed in my seat to the Galtee Mountain Boy after an epic final and a truly inspiring win for the men from Tipperary. In these dark and dreary days, isn’t it great to have some light shone down on us? Of even greater importance is the lesson we can all take about facing difficult times and coming back stronger and more determined. So thank you Liam, Eoin, Lar and the rest of the boys for a wonderful day out, and here’s on to the Under 21s later this week.

“An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all”

The original article was triggered by some silly comment by a public figure that really should know better and I would suggest, should serve the public a little bit better. The article turned into a very hard hitting dissection of wine pricing by large multiples and their so called half price sales. I also questioned the government’s protection of small business at the moment and how they could be helping local people trying to survive. It was in danger of becoming a rant, so I will leave out the vast majority of it, and focus on the wine part. I will offer some facts about the price of wine, and leave any conclusions to you. All I will say is that there is such a thing as great value wine for €20 euro and a waste of money for €6 euro wine. I also had the chance to use a great quote in the article that won’t mean too much in this one, but is still a great quote. So here it is – “An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.” – Oscar Wilde

The Truth – You can’t handle the Truth

So, here is the truth, or at least my truth. I’ve wanted to write this down for a long time. I am going to tell you exactly how the cost of a bottle of wine breaks down. I will break it down into 3 price points. A wine that retails under €10 works out like this. Let’s assume I am buying the wine ex-cellar ( which means at the cellar door free of VAT ). If the price is €2, then I need to transport that wine to Ireland which can range in cost depending on how many pallets are moving and from which part of France etc. A good average is 75 cents / bottle. We are now up to €2.75 and we need to add on the cost of putting the wine into a bonded warehouse. This works out at about 50 cents a bottle. We add on excise duty which is €1.96 / bottle for still wine ( sparkling is double ) and we come to €5.21. At this point we haven’t put on a margin and if you are an importer you need to add on a decent margin to counter against the cost of holding the wine for a sustained period of time. If you are buying by the case, you can take less margin, but you have to hold large stocks if you are selling it into trade. We will take an average margin of 35% which brings you up to €8 a bottle. When this wine is sold into restaurants this margin would be drastically cut. Even though you paid the revenue the excise duty of €1.96 they are not satisfied and you must now pay VAT at 21% on top of the €8 bringing your bottle of wine to a shelf price of €9.70. It should be noted that the VAT was on top of the excise duty so in effect the tax you paid was also taxed. So, a bottle of wine that cost €2 at the vineyard door now comes in at €9.70. That’s a fair price for the wine but it should be noted, if you buy a €12 bottle of wine, you end up paying your vineyard owner €3.24 and I can tell you there is a huge difference in quality for that €1.24. The duty is the same, but you are getting a lot more wine for your price. If you buy a €17 bottle of wine, the vineyard is getting nearly €6 and you are getting a wine that is 3 times better ( in theory ) but costing you €12 euros less €9.70 euros / bottle x 3 = €29.10 euros.

With a merchant you can trust, the more you spend on a bottle the better value you should receive. That is why my current 15% and 20% sale is the very best I can offer. I am making no money on that and am just trying to clear stock ahead of the new wines coming in. If you put on proper margins, you should not be able to offer 50% sales. You need to ask how much the original price is for the wine, and is that a fair price for the quality. In saying that, I do think there is a ceiling here and I do not think wines that cost €200 / bottle are 10 times better than a €20 bottle of wine. Once again, it comes back to trust.

On a slightly different note, here is an interesting fact for you. At the recent Tipperary Food Producers Long Table dinner a member of the group spoke of a startling statistic. For every €10 spent with a local merchant, €34 goes back into the local economy, while for every €10 spent in a supermarket, that figure is only €14.

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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”

Article – Salt, Bitterness and holding it in

September 7th, 2010

Coffee for one

I was reading last weeks article over a coffee and I noticed that it rambled a little bit more than usual. Did the new Wednesday delivery of the paper to the people of Clonmel push me away from my normal controlled prose? An interesting and sober thought that I will ponder over my next coffee. Wouldn’t it be great to have an article about coffee? I personally love my coffee and have a very nice old style La Pavoni coffee maker that I received as a wedding present from my sister. I should add I dropped a big hint, including the model number and the best website to purchase it on via a very detailed email prior to the wedding. Ireland has greatly changed since I came from France all those years ago and great coffee is to be found all over Tipperary now. I still wince when offered instant coffee and find it hard to hide my disgust. Luckily I don’t find it on my travels as much. Some great Clonmel spots for a good coffee include Hickeys at the Westgate, Befanis, The 19th Hole and the Clonmel Golf Club of all places. Tommy Ryan of Ponaire coffee, and a member of the Tipperary Food Producers supplies the coffee and it is superb and fresh. The club are giving away free golf to visitors from September 12-18 so I hope they all try the coffee. When I am out and about, trying to flog wine, I find myself in need of a good cup, so please drop me a line and recommend some good coffee spots around Ireland or even Tipperary. I get even crankier without coffee.

Salt ( no vinegar )

That’s enough coffee talk until the Nationalist gets an official coffee writer. As the kids ( and teachers ) head back to the books this week, so will we return to our learning about wine tasting. After the rambling repose of last week, we will focus on the other basic tastes ( after sweetness and acidity ). Our tongue is put back to work once more and saltiness and bitterness are on the agenda. When we talk of food, saltiness is vital and very easy to spot. Try finding a salty wine and you could be searching for a while. According to our lady of the vine, Jancis Robinson, dry sherry, Chilean Red wine, New Zealand whites and the wonderful Syrah’s of the northern Rhone can offer traces of salt, but in essence it is exceptional to find it. Salt is one of the 4 basic tastes so is here for completeness rather than concrete wine reality.

The bitter fruit

Bitterness is the fourth basic taste and it is the flat back part of the tongue that will be most sensitive to it. It is not very common or important in wine when compared to acidity and sweetness but those of you who like your Italian reds, especially from Chianti, Barolo and Barbaresco should find a bitter taste to the wines. This is not a bad thing and the Italians are known to very much appreciate bitter wines. There is medical evidence to suggest that it aids digestion and helps the body cope with the alcohol. The next time you are tasting wine, take what you have learned about sweetness, acidity, salt and bitterness to make a calculated description of the wine you are drinking. It should help you to decide upon your favourite wine style. Therefore, when you come in and ask for a wine you will be able to tell me you want a dry wine with high acidity, no trace of bitterness. I’ll give a choice at different price points and a happy customer is born. Deciphering the style might seem impossible the first time, but it gets easier as you practice. That first time you asked to go to the toilet in Irish in school was excruciating, as the teacher usually wouldn’t let you go unless you said it right. As you bobbed and weaved on the spot trying to get the words together and your bladder about to burst, you thought your teacher a cruel person. However, it got easier to say, and to this day I can still remember, “An bhfuil cead agam dul go dtí an leithreas, Más é do thoil é?” It’s easy change your school pants after an accident, but look what I got as a reward. The gift of language. I am never nervous when I visit the Gaeltacht area, as I know I have the ability to politely source a toilet if the need arises. The Christian Brothers and their strict rules were behind much of my future academic discipline as well as my mortal fears. I never had a particularly bad time from them but learned early not to take them on in public. I’m reminded of Pat Shortt and his drunken bar character Dan telling the story of the two boys having the “simple auld salad” in Hassets field and the terrible beating they got. “Was it the Black and Tans Dan?” asks the barman. “No”, says Dan. “It was the Christian Brothers”. A special hello and good luck to all the children who started school today including my niece Elise, who has a wine named after her. I hope the country is fixed by the time you get out the other end.

The Tipperary Food Producers Long Table dinner was a huge success and if Tipperary beat Kilkenny next weekend, it will be even better. As I mentioned last week, I asked the Kilkenny owner of Domaine des Anges, Gay McGuiness to sponsor a case of his wine for the night, and he kindly agreed, but on condition. If Kilkenny win the All Ireland, I pay for the sponsored wine, and if Tipperary wins, he does. So, for all of you, who enjoyed this wonderful organic wine from Provence, be sure to shout for Tipperary on September 5th. Please visit the website to see highlights from the night. If there are aspects of wine that you want to know about, please feel free to contact me. I’d be delighted for an excuse to write something someone wants to read.

Don’t forget to log onto the blog at or follow the ranting on Twitter –

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”

Red Nose Wine Article - Nationalist Sep 1 2010