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Article – Confirmations & Communions

March 6th, 2010

The churches are getting ready and the new clothes are being bought in households up and down the country. The boys and girls of Ireland are preparing for their first holy communion and their confirmation. Mammy and Daddy are weighing up the options of a bouncy castle and a house party or maybe they will fill up the local pub. The pub is definitely my memory. There are pictures of my grandfather and myself having a drink in Carey’s Lounge circa 1981 – I was on the Lilt in case you are wondering. Bars of chocolate from Ma Welch’s shop and a 50pence piece were the presents of choice, if you were lucky. I am not sure how that would go down now. The level of expectancy may have grown with the Celtic Tiger. We have all seen the shows highlighting the fake tan and the horse drawn carriages for the princess and the huge bouncy castles that literally squeeze into the back lawn. I still like Dairy Milk and now and again, I have been known to nostalgically sip on a Lilt. I think though, you will see a little bit of restraint crawling back into society and the humble ham sandwich might make a comeback.

Whatever about the castles, I know that the increase in the popularity for wine will not fall back into the history books. We have a taste for the good stuff now and a person’s palate has a memory and there is no turning back now. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it. With this in mind, my topic for this week is wines for a large family gathering where you don’t really want to break the bank. A communion, christening or confirmation would fall into this category. There are a few do’s and don’ts that I will attempt to cover and also suggest what wines might best suit this occasion. I am sure my colleague in the Tipperary Food Producers Network and in the Life section of the paper, Pat Whelan will have a plethora of food on offer for any of these auspicious occasions. Assuming the food in question is something along the lines of pork, chicken or beef, and with a curry, tomato or casserole style sauce, you can have some fun with the wine selection. God forbid we get some weather and attempt a barbeque. I am assuming fish is too hard to time successfully for a large group. Greater chefs than I will manage it in style, I have no doubt.

What you want to avoid for a mixed gathering of people, whose wine tastes you are not fully aware of, is being too adventurous. I personally do a serious background check on any potential friend or future family member and their wine tastes. I had to break off all communication with numerous friends and family over the years for careless comments made about certain wines and regions. But then I am very passionate when it comes to wine. One wine to potentially avoid is Chardonnay, and for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it can be a wine that people love or hate, and the cheaper versions of it are not quite as good as the cheaper versions of other varieties. If you are spoiling your guests with Chablis, Macon or Burgundy, then Chardonnay is an option, but if you want to keep it under €10 Euros a bottle, avoid the cheap stuff. Sauvignon Blanc is more neutral, but not always a great wine for a buffet style. It can be too dry for the general public. Another tip – never drink it the day after a wedding, as it will exploit your dodgy stomach at every opportunity. I would love to suggest my favourite white wine style, Riesling, but it is not for everyone. So, with a budget in mind and a large group to please, I would suggest Pinot Grigio, as it is easy drinking and is both dry and fruity at the same time. I will be doing a big promotion for the upcoming communions and confirmations with an easy drinking €8 euro bottle of Pinot Grigio one of the main attractions.

And then there were the Reds. I do not mean the mighty Reds of Old Trafford, or even the other mid table variety. I refer to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz or maybe even Malbec, but not Pinot Noir. Much like my beloved Riesling, this might also be a step too far. I did serve it at my wedding though, and got many compliments, but whether it can justify the price is a point of contention. I think you can be a little more adventurous with the Reds, and a blend is always a good option. Bordeaux Cabernet/Merlot can be too dry, but the spicy Shiraz/Grenache from the Languedoc offers a fruity vibrant red that should stand up nicely to most of the sauces. Unless you are having a barbeque, I think some of the bigger Australian Shiraz wines are too big. The softer Chilean Merlots are another option of course, but they might be more suited to sitting down to dinner, as opposed to the rough and tumble adventure that is balancing fighting children, trying to the sneak a peek at the match on TV, holding a plate and enjoying a wine. The joys of a family buffet dinner where seats are a luxury for the under forties and time passes so slowly. I will have a range of these reds as part of my promotion – coming soon to a local newspaper near you. Full details will also be online and deliveries nationwide. Now that the sales pitch is over, whatever occasion causes you to break bread with family and friends is a good one, and I hope yours passes without incident and that you enjoy a nice glass of wine to celebrate a very important part of a young person’s life. My grandfather passed away in 1986, but I still remember the Lilt in Mick Careys Lounge and being allowed to sit on a big stool beside my Grandad.

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“Life is much too short to drink bad wine”

Red Nose Wine Article - Nationalist Mar 4 2010

Latest Article : Sacre Bleu – The French caught cheating!

March 3rd, 2010

A little bit late, but it was topical when it was published in the paper.

“A frosty mist gathers over Tipperary and I am tempted to talk about the informality of an age that forgets the greatest of the lessons from the past, but I would just be ranting and my anger might even surface, and I am just too old to be an angry young man. Does that sentence even make grammatical sense or will my old English teachers from the Ard Scoil come looking for me in the shop. To be honest, I hope they do. I listened to them for long enough, so they can endure my ranting and correct me as they may. In fact, let them call and we will discuss why Hamlet is the greatest of the bard’s plays. It should be compulsory every year for Leaving Cert students, as should basic driving ethics. There is a shadow that is now nudging my fingers towards a subject that I am supposed to be writing about. Could it be wine?

I will discuss an incident that may shock some of you. Disbelief will leak from the pages through the ink smudged fingertips of North and South Tipperary readers, and the world will stop to listen, as you scream from the rooftops : “Sacré Blue – the French have cheated”. Have you read the words properly; have I, a card carrying lover of France and the French lifestyle written them? I have, for I cannot ignore the biggest story in wine for the last number of years. Every self respecting wine writer is discussing it, so I will fall into line and do my duty. The single biggest wine producer in the world, E&J Gallo of California, has a very famous brand called Red Bicyclette, which takes an American commodity view of French wine. After the success of the film Sideways, which preached the virtues of Pinot Noir, they decided on the need to capitalize on the American nation’s demand for a cheap version of this grape. They bought truck fulls of the stuff from local French coops through a negotiant, or agent. It was all running smoothly and sales were up until a recent development came to light – 12 local figures from the Languedoc region of France were convicted of masterminding a scam where 18 million bottles of plonk were sold as Pinot Noir. Instead of the much more expensive grape that Gallo thought they were buying, they in fact were sold Merlot and Shiraz, and by all accounts, not particularly good versions. The problem with Pinot Noir is that its yield is very poor compared to its compatriots, and it is also very difficult to grow, as it needs a very balanced mix of cold and heat and rain. If you were to sell the farm and move to France and become a winemaker, and some of us hold that dream dear, you would be foolish to start making Pinot. You would be pretty much guaranteed to be poverty stricken by year 2. With other grapes, you might make it to year 3 or 4, for as the old saying goes, “in order to make a small fortune in wine, start with a large one”.

The scandal’s big deception took place from January 2006 until March 2008 and 13.5 million litres of wine were consumed in America. The French negotiant who duped Gallo was caught like many a person or company gets caught, by greed. Their books showed that they were paying 40% under the going rate for Pinot Noir and further investigation showed that eight different wine cooperatives were in on the scam. It does not reflect well on the palates or decision making of the Gallo buyers, for there is a very distinct difference between Merlot, Shiraz and Pinot Noir. They are the victim in this case, but the reality is that their customers are.
The big danger now is that the greed of these commodity grape growers will reflect badly on the small artisan wine makers of the region who give their lives to their vines. These are the small family wine makers who cannot compete against Gallo and the other corporate wine brands that you see on supermarket shelves. Gallo will invest millions to defend their image after this scandal, but the small winemaker who had nothing to do with it might now also suffer. The timing is poor as the Languedoc Roussillon region is now finally being seen as one of the great value regions in the world. I have slowly being increasing my range and they are proving very popular. After my first contact with the winemakers I always get samples sent back to Ireland to re-taste and then I travel to see the winemakers’ cellar and walk in their vineyards and identify the grape varieties on the vine. I then know that the wine that I bring back to Ireland is the real deal and the feedback that is growing all the time justifies all the work involved in making sure that the customer can taste the difference. I firmly believe that by making the customer the focus of your business, you will reap the rewards in the long term. With this in mind, I am preparing for yet another portfolio wine tasting as it is the season for these things. I think I have tasted over 400 wines this month ( and spat them all I may add ), so my dentist is due a visit. Before that however, there are many more wines to taste – Wednesday sees an Italian and Australian tasting in Dublin. Have wine glass, will travel.”

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“Life is much too short to drink bad wine”

Red Nose Wine Article - Nationalist Feb 25 2010

Icons of the World Stand Up

December 18th, 2009

It’s that time of year when we reflect on what’s gone before and we look forward to what’s on the way. Considering what has passed, may I quote the great Bob Dylan, “Let me forget about today until tomorrow”. Any by tomorrow I mean many years from now. Onwards and upwards and all of that type of positive sentiment. During the heady days of my youth when I was not as ‘sophisticated’ and insensitive to criticism as I am now, I used to read a little bit. Once I got used to the language I really enjoyed Shakespeare. I found it all very relevant to the modern world and that is probably why it is held up so high in literature. To quote the hip kids of the street, he was down with it. By writing this last sentence I have condemned myself to never having being in anyway hip. Well I don’t care and never have, so that probably makes me hip in a different sort of way – what do the hip kids think? Are they reading this article, do they read the blog or do they follow me on twitter? Maybe I am needy after all. Anyway, there is a famous speech in Henry V where the good king rallies the troops as they face almost certain death on the battlefield. His cousin Westmoreland had a moan about the situation and Henry launched into speech which by its end had made you feel sorry for anyone who wasn’t about to die in this battle. They would not have this chance at immortality. “We happy few, we band of brothers.. on St Crispin’s Day”… Some retailers might feel that this year has been one long St. Crispin’s Day, so that is why I suggest we look forward, not back. With that in mind, I will leave the best of the year lists to the papers and magazines. I will talk about wine, and in particular – very expensive iconic wines that most of us can never expect to taste, at least not this year. But once St. Crispin’s Day has passed and until that day shall come, I will give you an alternative that is affordable.

First up, the famous Chateau Pétrus. This is a wine from the right bank of Bordeaux and in particular the village of Pomerol. Considering all the bad press that Merlot gets, it is strange that one of the worlds most sought after wines is predominately Merlot. It is only 11 hectares in size and produces on average 2,500 cases per vintage. The wine has many fans, and sells for huge money. The current price in London for a bottle of 2005 is 2,800 sterling. I have held it in my hand but never tasted it. I have tasted its next door neighbours and hold a very good 2005 Pomerol from just down the road in the shop that sells for 26 euros. Alternatively, I have a very good Lalande de Pomerol for 19 that gives you the idea without the pricing. However, if you get invited to a party and they are serving Pétrus, don’t miss the chance.

Next up is Burgundy’s famous Pinot Noir, Romanee Conti – I covered this in a previous article but suffice to say, this is the one I want the most in my collection. I have a 1er Cru Nuits St Georges for 55 euros that gives you an idea of what to expect. This will be my Christmas dinner wine.

From Chateauneuf du Papes there is the famous Au Vieux Telegraphe or the new icon Clos du Papes. I have tasted these and even own a few bottles. Clos du Papes is owned by the Avril family who’s daughter is married to Bill Kelly of Kelly’s in Rosslare. For such an iconic wine, it is very reasonably priced. You can pick it up for about 55 to 60 euros a bottle. A very nice alternative is Bosquet des Papes which I sell on offer for Christmas for 24. Both are the traditional style wines and typical of the real authentic wines of centuries gone by.

Italian wines are less well known for iconic wines and vineyards, but more for iconic wine types and chief among them are Brunello di Montalcino, Amarone della Valpolicella and Barolo. These are very different wines from Tuscany, Veneto and Piedmont respectively. What they all share is a necessity for food and age if possible. At our recent Italian tasting, we had a huge response to the Amarone and it was easy to see why it won the Decanter World Wine Award Gold Medal, as did the Barolo. There are countless other icons from around the world and to list them all would be a book – in fact, many such books exist. I have a few of them in the shop if you want a peek.

The good news is that we are taking the excise duty off all wines immediately, even though the wines cleared customs at the top rate. Our little Christmas gift to you, and also, in the run up to Christmas we are open 7 days a week and will be opening many of the wines I have just mentioned. Come in and taste the difference. Thanks to everyone for reading the articles all year and especially for those of you who called in and ‘tasted the difference’. Remember, we deliver nationwide, so don’t get caught without good wine this Christmas. Log in or call in – you are more than welcome.

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“Life is much too short to drink bad wine”

Red Nose Wine Article - Nationalist Dec 17 2009

The Latest Article – “Baboons like Pinot”

November 26th, 2009

Depression has overtaken me this week and after the robbery in Paris, I am finding it very difficult to find any joy in sport, so I must find it in wine. We had a very well attended tasting last week in the middle of the floods. I was amazed at the turnout considering the conditions. Nuala’s café in Hickey’s Bakery proved a fantastic venue where Nuala, Paddy and Helen put on a great spread with some help from Paul Smith earlier in the day. A huge thank you to all of them. The great food really complimented the wines. Joyce Austin, who was over from New Zealand wants me to convince Nuala to sell wine by the glass, as she thought the place was an absolute gem. Negotiations will begin in earnest next week. I was personally delighted that the tasting was not a French one, as it could have proved a hard sell with the week that was in it. It now looks like I won’t fashion a wine trip to South Africa next summer, so based on my last trip there a few years ago I will tell you all about the history of its wines. Not that any of us really care about South Africa anymore. Thierry, you broke the heart of a nation.

Historically, a large part of the wine trade in South Africa was controlled and oppressed by a national cooperative called the KWV and they had universal prices and quality simply was not an issue. The 1970s changed all of this and the winemakers were free to do what they wanted. The end of Apartheid in 1994 offered them a world market, and their popularity has been steadily growing since. The Mediterranean style climate paired with the cooling Benguela current from Antarctica offer fantastic conditions. The Cape Doctor wind sweeps through the mountains and blows the fungi away, much like the Mistral does in the Rhone Valley. A problem the French winemakers don’t have are with monkeys, or as Inspector Jacques Clouseau would say, “minkeys”. Baboons love the delicate Pinot Noir grapes, and electric fences must be used to protect them. Baboons it would seem have good taste, and have a definite preference for this noble grape. The other grapes that are grown in South Africa include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Cinsault, Merlot, Shiraz and Zinfandel. There is also a particular hybrid that was created by a Dr. Perold when he crossed Pinot Noir and Cinsault in 1926. We know it as Pinotage. On the white front, we have Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Colombard and Sauvignon Blanc.

In terms of areas of production, the main player is the Cape, which can be broken down into Constantia, Stellenbosch, Paarl and Tulbagh. An interesting fact (or not), about Constantia is that its desert wine was recommended in Jane Austin’s “Sense and Sensibility”. The area we would all be familiar with would be Stellenbosch, and the famous Waterford Estate is well known to Red Nose Wine customers. The Deise have their own wine it would seem. Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz are the blockbusters here. The granite based soil offers quality reds that mirror Bordeaux and the sandstone to the west offer fine whites. Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc are the stars in this regard. South Africa has a huge diversity of choice but is really still playing catch up on the world market. After the World Cup, they might move to the next level, unless there is another travesty of justice of course. Don’t forget to log onto the blog at or follow the ranting on Twitter –

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“Life is much too short to drink bad wine”

Wine Photos 234


Provence – the next big thing

November 4th, 2009

There is always the next big thing in every walk of life… music, cars, food and especially wine. These days the race seems to be to the bottom, especially in terms of price. It is getting very hard to get an interesting bottle of wine in a restaurant. House wines are all the rage these days of course, but what you get for your money is very questionable. One option might be for the proprietors to move from their classic choices. A Brave new world… well why not Provence.

They are making some really super wines now, and not just Rose. The reds are spicy and full of life and the whites can be both delicate and full bodied. Having lived in that part of France, I got to taste quiet a few and since buying them for Red Nose Wine, I get to visit and taste again. It’s a hard knock life.

Among the most interesting i have come across is Chateau Margui, made by Marie-Christine and Philippe Guillanton. They make Red, Rose and a fascinating white. They bought a derelict old house and vineyard and are making organic wines that are now on the restaurants of many a Michelin star chef, including Alain Ducasse, with his 3 star Cafe du Paris in Monte Carlo. The reds are Syrah and Cabernet and are full of upfront fruit. The nose promises much and the palate delivers even more. Huge coverage all over France.

Philippe and myself outside Margui

Philippe and myself outside Margui

Among the other wines that we have come across are Chateau Paradis which Robert Parker absolutely adores.
Then there is the Irish connection wines, including Domaine des Anges and up to recently, David O Brien’s Vignelaure. Domaine de Tara has an Irish name at least and a huge following in the Luberon, and growing.

“Life is much too short to drink bad wine”