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Article – Carcassonne to Bordeaux, the journey ends

August 6th, 2010

BBQ in the Rain

The Irish are a tough bunch. I am just in from a very nice BBQ on the neighbourhood green. It is the 3rd attempt ( in 3 years ) at it, but we would not let the rain dictate us this time. We stood out on the green in defiance until the drizzle stopped and the sun ( almost ) came out. It was a coming together of neighbours and the local butcher, baker and wine merchant supplied the goods. I spent last Saturday at another barbeque with Pat Whelan at his Oakville emporium of all things nice and tasty. I was giving out free samples of artisan wine to match Pat’s artisan food. One lady came out laden down with meat and before I could offer her a taste, she pronounced that she was a pioneer. I looked at her bag of meat and said, “It could be worse, you could be a vegetarian”. She laughed, but still didn’t break her pledge. However, I have no doubt that she was stocking up for a wonderful party with friends and family, and it is interesting to see the change in people’s attitude to eating and drinking at home. What was great at our local event tonight was that everyone pitched in and brought a plate and did their bit. I grew up in Cherrymount in the 70s and 80s and we would regularly be in our neighbours houses. They were dark days but people knew no better is what they tell us. I think that the current recession ( or maybe it’s a cultural shift ) is making people re-evaluate their social venues. I still like a night out, but it’s nice to meet the neighbours as well.

An Irish BBQ


An Irish BBQ

Leaving the Rat Race

The last leg of my French odyssey took place from Carcassonne to Bordeaux with a stop in the Dordogne valley along the way. I visited Sean and Caroline Feely of Chateau Haut Garrigue. Some of you will know them from one of our first tastings with Caroline in 2008. Others will know them from their cover story on the Irish Times or maybe it was the big TV feature on Nationwide last November. They get a lot of press and for a variety of reasons. Tomas Clancy of the Sunday Business Post calls their wines “a dazzling winery which is a model of organic and biodynamic excellence”. Their Bordeaux style blends have often been compared to a top end Bordeaux that sell for much more. If you ever want to try a 30 euro Bordeaux for half the price, try their red wines. Taste them blind and you will find it hard to pick it out. Regardless of all of this, their story is fascinating and they basically left the “rat race” of Dublin to start a new life in the country with their two young children. They somehow made it work and in a relatively short space of time, they have made superb wines that reflect both the land they come from and the people who make them. The really made me feel welcome and I wish I sold more of their wonderful wines than I do.

Gary Gubbins of Red Nose Wine and Sean Feely of Chateau Haut Garrigue


Gary Gubbins of Red Nose Wine and Sean Feely of Chateau Haut Garrigue

An evening with Brando & Pacino

I booked into a cheap hotel in the suburbs of Libourne, near St Emilion for my final night in France. I was expecting the worst, but was pleasantly surprised. My room was modern with a flat screen TV and the hotel was immaculate. I watched the Godfather in French in complete comfort. Both Marlon Brando and Al Pacino are still cool in French. There was a little restaurant downstairs and I had a fantastic meal for 12 euros. The jug of wine cost 4 euros. One thing I have learned on this trip through the cheap hotels of France is that the house wine is worth trying. In Ireland, the general rule is the house wine is not for drinking, unless supplied by Red Nose Wine of course. You are usually better to try the 2nd or 3rd wine on the list. However in France, if you visit places that the locals frequent, then they cannot afford to have bad house wine as the people will not come back. If you go to a tourist spot, you are fair game and you will often do well to get a bottle worth the price. Some of the best wines I drank ( as opposed to tasted for work ) on my trip were carafes of house wines. It’s great to find a cheap wine that you can enjoy.

A morning in St Emilion

Saint Emilion Terrace view

Saint Emilion Terrace view

After my good meal, Italian mafia movie in French and power shower the next morning, I headed to the beautiful village of St. Emilion for lunch. I don’t know if the paper has room to print the photo I will send them, but there was a great view from the terrace of the bistro. If you are planning a wine holiday, and don’t want to go too far, St. Emilion is not a bad spot. There are flights to Bordeaux from Waterford and Cork and the village itself is stunningly picture postcard. I would advise strongly against buying any wine in the village itself. Very overpriced, and it is much more fun to go to the local winemakers. I can suggest some good ones to visit if you are planning such a trip. After my picturesque lunch, I headed to the Medoc region of Bordeaux and found myself outside some of the most beautiful and impressive chateau in the world. The villages of Pauillac, Margaux, St Julien and St Estephe are the money villages of French wine. This is where you will find Mouton Rothschild, Lafite, Latour, Chateau Margaux, Leoville Las Cases, and Lynch Bages. You need an appointment made months in advance to visit some of these places. I was visiting a family vineyard in the middle of all this that I import from and their pricing reflects the reality of market, unlike Lafite who’s opening en Primeur price of 1,150 euros a bottle is aimed at the Chinese market. So, amongst this wealthy land, my trip came to an end and I was happy to be back in Clonmel to meet my customers last week. I met some great people and tasted some great wines on this trip but the big thing that I am taking away is that my instinct of moving away from Bordeaux towards more southern based wines was right. The wines of the south really outshone those of Bordeaux in terms of style, price and originality. I will stock both, but the biggest choice and most exciting wine will come from the south.  I look forward to you tasting them soon.

Decisions Decisions

Decisions Decisions

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“Life is much too short to drink bad wine”

Red Nose Wine Article - Nationalist Aug 06 2010

The SALE goes on

July 2nd, 2010

The weather remains, and the poor old barbecue is wrecked. It never knew work like this before.



The sale has been very popular and the 20% and 15% wine have really been well taken up. If I am to pick my own stars among that batch, I would say

The Pont de Brion Graves - down from €15 to €12 and from the mythical 2005 Bordeaux vintage.

The Chateau Margui Blanc – down from €18.50 to €14.80 and in many a Michelin Star restaurant the world over.

The Michel Bailley Pouilly Fume – down from €19 to €15.30 – we had this last weekend and it drinking perfectly. High end Sauvignon from the Loire.

In Red, the some of the standouts include :

Twiggy - the famous Montepuliciano d’Abruzzo wine withe a piece of vine on the bottle – down from €17 to €14.45

The Cantina di Montalcino Sangiovese – Chianti without the price – down from €14.50 to €12.33

The famous New Zealand Muddy Water Pinot Noir- down from €28 to €23.80

This is all about while stocks last, so now is as good a time as any to stock up. Beat the recession pricing.

Have a great weekend and don’t forget Twitter Blind Tasting ( #twebt) on Sunday night at 9.
You can still buy your mystery bottle for €14.


Article – The Irish are Coming

March 24th, 2010

For the week that’s in it, and even though we are a day after St. Patricks, I will talk about the Irish who have followed the dream and bought the vineyard in the sun. In fact, this topic is so close to my heart, I will even do a quick turn as an estate agent in the hope that Pat, John and the rest of the experts don’t decide to down tools in protest. Fear not estate agents of South Tipperary, as I will only discuss property in France, and in particular, vineyards in France. I can almost smell the lavender.

I mentioned the Irish owned Domaine des Anges in last weeks article and I won’t repeat myself as to the quality of these wines, but suffice to say that Tomás Clancy of the Sunday Business Post agrees and he has just raved about them in last Sunday’s paper. Did he gain inspiration from my article last week? The wines reviewed received huge ratings but unfortunately, he did not tell the Irish Business world that I stock them. If the world is listening, I do. I am also glad to say that they can also be found in one of the best restaurants in Tipperary. Befani’s on Sarsfield Street have the Red and White as part of their new organic section. Their imaginative menu will compliment these wines fantastically and I can’t wait for my next visit. But enough shameless publicity.

Other Irish people making a go of wine making in France include Sean and Caroline Feeley of Chateau Haut Garrigue in the Bergerac region. They are in the process of moving from organic to biodynamic winemaking and their quality rises year on year. You might have seen them on the cover of the Irish Times last year, at a Red Nose Wine Tasting or on the Nationwide TV program before Christmas. RTE sent out a crew to film the harvest and even though it is very hard work, they made it all sound and look very tempting. One of our own, David O Brien from Rosegreen brought the great Chateau Vignelaure back to life in the mid 90’s and it now sits alongside some of the icon wines of France. Their Rosé is also spectacular and if we manage to get a summer this year, this is one to savour. I hope you all called down to the Arches on St. Patricks Day to taste all of these Irish wines. Maybe it will give you a taste for the dream.

As I check my range of websites on current vineyards for sale, the first thing that strikes me is that there is a lot. It is a good time to be a buyer and in particular, a cash customer. There is a very nice Provence vineyard for sale with 100 acres and a large Mas ( farmhouse ) to restore for €1.2million. There is small Loire Valley house and vineyard for sale for €478,000. It also has an orchard, so you could give Bulmers a rattle on the side. However, if my ship came in, I think I would go for an 18th Century Maison de Mâitre with a vineyard and a pool. It has 11 bedrooms and lies near the coast between Cannes and St. Tropez. I think I would feel bad only paying the asking price of €2.6million. I’d offer them €3million just so I could sleep at night. To sleep, perchance to dream.

It is not all one way traffic – some winemakers actually move to Ireland. I have raved about Mas Daumas Gassac on many an occasion and the world famous wine was started by the equally famous Áime Guibert. He finds refuge from the heat of the Languedoc in Ireland, and in Cork to be exact. The family have a house near Bantry and he sails his boat in the summer. His son Roman spent part of his education in Rockwell College, and he tells me that he made regular trips to Clonmel to practice his English in Dannos. His older brother Samuel will be coming to Ireland on April 14th for a very special tasting. As well as the Grand Cru wines, we will taste their full range which starts from €9. I spoke to him this morning about the tasting and he was calling from Japan. I am very serious when I say that his schedule reads something like this: Tokyo – Buenos Aires – Paris – New York – San Francisco – Clonmel – London – Berlin – Madrid. This is a real rare chance to meet one of the very special families in wine and who are almost single-handily responsible for dragging the Languedoc out of the doldrums. It also helps that the wines are superb and really do have something for all budgets. Numbers will be limited so call in to reserve your seats.

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“Life is much too short to drink bad wine”

Red Nose Wine Article - Nationalist mar 18 2010

Trains, Planes and Burping Bacon

February 4th, 2010

Gary Gubbins blogging 'live' from Milliseme Bio 2010

It’s always easier to write about something that has happened to you, as you can hang your little throwaway comments against something tangible. As I mentioned last week, I was going to the Milliseme Bio organic wine fair in Montpellier. I am back and have lots to say, so this article will be stretched over two parts as I feel compelled to talk about the supermodels, paparazzi and the smallest toilet in Paris. Before all of that I need to talk about wine of course. Last week’s article title should have prepared me, but instead it jinxed me. I had all of my planning in place for a very well organised trip. However, the fog on Monday morning delayed the flight from Cork to Paris for three hours and the train to Montpellier I had pre-booked had long since left Charles de Gaulle’s TGV train station. It was getting late when we eventually got to the notice board in the station and I spotted a train leaving for Marseille. I knew it would have to go through Lyon, where there was a chance we could catch a connection to Montpellier. If it didn’t work out, we would end up in Marseille or Lyon, both fine places to find oneself stranded. In the end, after a chat with a very nice conductor, I found out that there was an 11 minute gap between the Paris train arriving in Lyon and the Montpellier train leaving. European trains are great – they actually use the timetables as more than rough guidelines. By all accounts, the conductors will actually enforce your claim for a reserved seat. What a concept. Excuse the slight sarcasm, but I am reminiscing about a trip to Dublin for a Tipperary match where a person would not vacate the seat I had booked online. The fact that I was a little sick on that particular morning did not help the situation. Needless to say, the ‘officials’ did not want to get involved and I am a peaceful man at heart and decided not to physically eject the 6ft 4inch monster from my seat. I digress from my journey into deepest France. We arrived in the hotel for about 9.30 that night, after an 8 a.m. start. Some food and then an early night for there was tasting to be done the next day.

I rose early and had a light breakfast, which was difficult considering the wide array of fried delicacies available at the buffet. When I am doing a marathon tasting I don’t like to be full or even eat anything more than bread or toast, as the flavours can come back at you later. Burping up the scent of an earlier bacon roll while, trying to figure out the subtleties of a good Burgundy is not ideal. Fizzy drinks and mints are also banned. Women should avoid perfume and men should avoid aftershave ( and perfume for that matter ). A shuttle bus was arranged to collect would be tasters near the hotel and I boarded full of enthusiasm. After registration and a cloak room visit, the sleeves were rolled up and I was ready to go. The hall has rows of tables with about 500 exhibitors ( which is actually quite a small show – relatively ), each showing anywhere from 4 to 50 wines. I had a list that I had researched and that needed to be cut again. You need to be brutal in your discrimination, and a simple thing like a bad label will end the visit before it begins. What has a label to do with the quality of the wine you ask? Absolutely nothing but public perception demands a certain aesthetic and I have a list of great wines I could not sell because of the labels. I sell a great Provence wine called Domaine de Tara, but I find it hard to shift, and I constantly get negative feedback about the label. People who taste it in generally love it, and it is very well priced for wines of that quality ( €13.50 and €16.50 ). With this in mind, I attack my list.

Philippe Guillanton of Ch Margui at Milliseme Bio 2010<

I can’t go into too much detail of the actual winemakers I met as I need to go into negotiation stage with some of them and that can be a delicate process and one can’t appear too keen. They might be reading the blog. I can tell you that I met with some really good Italian winemakers and would hope to start bringing in some Chianti, Pinot Grigio, Piedmont, Sicilian wines and others at a really great price. Bringing in the wines direct makes a huge difference in terms of quality but also in terms of price. I am really excited by some of the Rhone Valley wines I found. I have slowly been increasing my range in Rhone Valley and this trip has given me a number of great contacts to follow up on. I tasted some exceptional wines and can’t wait to fly down this spring and negotiate. The easy thing to do at these shows is to decide based on what you taste there. However, you are tasting a lot of wine, you are under pressure for time, and it has been suggested that some people take their ‘special’ wines to these shows. Therefore, if you are serious about importing wines I think it is essential that you go and meet these people in their own house, and see the work they put in on a daily basis. Their passion deserves respect but they also need to know that you will pay them as well. Sitting across the kitchen table from a winemaker (or farmer) and telling them that you will pay them in the agreed time is an important part of the process and travelling to their home to tell them this means a lot to these traditional people. You also need to taste again and be sure of what you are buying.

I also managed to meet some existing suppliers when there. I met with Caroline Feely of Chateau Haut Garrigue and congratulated her on the recent Nationwide feature which has resulted in lots of bookings for the holiday home in the vines as well as big interest in the wines. The video of the show is available on for those interested. The wines are very popular for us, and it’s easy to see why. Great quality at a great price. I also got to meet Philippe Guillanton of Chateau Margui and he introduced me to a very important winemaker. The vineyard in question is famous as its recording studio has seen Pink Floyd, Sting and even the Cranberries record there. More recently it is the home of a very famous Hollywood acting couple, and I have been invited to visit this summer, as it is next door to Margui. I only hope that Angelina is home when I call. I posted a lot of videos and photographs from the trip on - log on to have a peak. Next week I will talk about what happened after the show – a great restaurant and wine list, colliding with the paparazzi and a supermodel in Paris and a dodgy sandwich on the TGV. It’s not pretty and won’t be for those of a delicate nature.

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“Life is much too short to drink bad wine”

Blogs posted “live” from Trip

Red Nose Wine Article - Nationalist Feb 04 2010

Live from Montpellier 3

January 26th, 2010

Back in the hotel and black teeth to the fore. Had a great days tasting and I made some great contacts and look to have found some really excellent wines. It was great to catch up to Philippe Guillanton of Chateau Margui as well as Caroline Feely of Chateau Haut Garrigue. Caroline was still enjoying her recent brush with fame when Nationwide featured them on the program.

Phillipe Guillanton and Gary Gubbins at Milliseme Bio 2010

Phillipe Guillanton and Gary Gubbins at Milliseme Bio 2010

I also met up with Vincent Careme of the wonderful Loire Valley Sparkling Chenin Blanc that we bring in.

Gary Gubbins of Red Nose Wine and Vincent Careme

It looks like I found some great wines from all over and there is still work to be done before they become official, but included was a really great wine with a huge history and the wines matched the stories. Super stuff indeed. More will be revealed when it can be revealed.

A dodgy video of me towards the end of the day with black teeth and a slightly glazed look in my eye, even though i spat all day long.

Live from Montpellier Part 2

January 26th, 2010

“Live” video direct from Millisme Bio in Montpellier

Pilippe Guillanton of Chateau Margui

Caroline Feely of Chateau Haut Garrigue