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A Question of Taste

August 31st, 2012

Taste is a very personal thing, and not just in wine. One man’s Marilyn is another man’s Mrs. Brown. There is a long list of ladies whom I would have thought were quite lovely during my formative years as a hopelessly romantic teenager. Alas, they didn’t feel the same and to relate it to the theme of this article, they had what I like to call bad taste.


A Contradiction

I appreciate that I have contradicted myself in the first paragraph. How can someone have bad taste, if taste is a subjective and very personal thing? How can people buy the sugar and chemical laden mass market branded wines that are the architects of so many seismic hangovers and then proclaim to love wine? As the old song goes, ‘I know its crazy, but its true’. I should say that some mass market wines, while not exciting are technically well made and do not fall into this group.

I am rereading a brilliant book about wine called ‘The Accidental Connoisseur’ by Lawrence Osborne, a truly unique author who embraces his novice introduction to wine with great gusto. That is a polite way of saying he wanders around the world drunk as a skunk ‘researching’ his book. He also meets some of the worlds great winemakers ( and a few wine dictators ) along the way.


Its all about taste

The book open with a chapter called ‘A Matter of Taste’, so hence the inspiration for the article. He talks about the insecurity associated with trusting your taste in wines. This is why people trust brands and advertising so much. The notes tell us what we are supposed to taste but it doesn’t tell us how we can appropriate that experience for ourselves. The book is a subtle balance of high brow and low brow.

I think that this insecurity is important to understand as a wine merchant. Most of the time people know what they want but find it difficult to articulate so talking it through with them can eliminate 80% of wines within seconds. This is a great advantage I have over the supermarkets – as the Spice Girls sang, ‘Tell me what you want, what you really really want”.


The book also quotes one of my favourite winemakers, the enigmatic Aimé Guibert of Mas de Daumas Gassac. “For millennia wine was the centre of Western Civilization. It has always been a mystery. Today it has been transformed into a commodity”. This fear of taste has contributed to this, albeit with a helping hand from globalization and capitalism.

A Talent for Living

I like Mr. Osborne’s summation about acquiring taste – it is not a result of study, but a ‘talent for living’. You have to try new things and taste new wines to acquire your taste. Wine shows are great for that in the professional world but you should all go to consumer tastings and you will get a good feel for what suits you and doesn’t suit your palate. Our Christmas tasting is always a good one to get a flavour of what’s on offer.

The word taste apparently comes from the old French word ‘taster’, which means ‘to feel’. This descends from the Latin ‘taxare’ which means to evaluate or handle. If you go back further to the Latin ‘tangere’, it means to touch. Taste, as a notion only arrived in the middle of the 18th century. As the Bourgeois created fashion trends, so did they invent the notion of taste.

Some people are more adept at tasting than others, such as US critic Robert Parker and his amazing skills. However, when you break it down, past the twenty long cells, with a tiny hair projecting out of each of them to the surface of the tongue through a pore, the taste buds can only taste four elementary things – sweetness, sourness, saltiness and bitterness.

Mr. Osborne

Mr. Osborne decided that books and science could not aid him in his quest to discover his taste. He decided to ‘go into the world of wine and drink’. His idea was that taste could only be developed by action – ‘by pleasure itself’. The book then takes that theory around the world in a very funny and self indulgent journey. Like I said, I highly recommend the book.

The wonderful world of Banking

As I finished this article, I was listening to the radio, and a piece about Ireland being the second lowest in the EU in terms of granting loans to SMEs. Considering all of the very positive advertising from the banks and the government, I was very surprised by this!

It gave me an idea for a possible future article that would explain the cash cycles of modern vineyards. I’m not sure how I could find any humour in this article however. I am sure most Irish farmers would attest to this as they desperately try to get the corn in at the moment.

The article could be an exploration of how the cash is recycled and how vineyards need help during the lean times of the year until the harvest brings their bounty. The wine business tends to be a cyclical seasonal business at all ends of it.

Don’t forget to get your Loyalty card in the shop. The scheme has proven a huge success and many people have availed of the free wine on the back of their purchases. Every €25 spent gets a sticker on the Silver card, and after 10 you get free wine and an upgrade to the Gold card. The same process gets you even more wine and the much coveted Platinum card.

The new Loyalty card scheme is proving very popular. The Silver cards are free, and after 10 stickers ( earned every time you spend €25 ) you get FREE WINE. You also get a Gold card and at the end of that, there is even more FREE WINE, and you move on to the revered platinum card.

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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”

When Darina met Veronique

July 19th, 2012

We are delighted and proud to be associated with a very special event on August 2nd in Ballymaloe Cookery School. Madame Véronique Guibert de La Vaissière of the iconic Mas de Daumas Gassac vineyard in the Languedoc will present her new cookery book, ‘Savours and Flavours of Mas Daumas Gassac’. To celebrate its launch Darina Allen is having a Long Table Dinner under the unique setting of the Ballymaloe Glasshouse.

A Long table to be filled with food, wine and people

A Long table to be filled with food, wine and people

The food will no doubt be wonderful as it always is in Ballymaloe, but from a wine perspective, the only wines being served at this event are the Mas de Daumas Gassac Grand Cru wines, and they are included in the price.

One of the many rows in the Glasshouse

One of the many rows in the Glasshouse

Two iconic families – one shared vision

Samuel Guibert, Darina Allen and Gary Gubbins

Samuel Guibert, Darina Allen and Gary Gubbins

Aimé & Véronique Guibert, and their family, of iconic French wine estate, Mas de Daumas Gassac, are responsible for what has been described as ‘ The only Grand Cru of the Midi’ , writes Hugh Johnson, and the legendary wine writer, Michael Broadbent described Gassac as ‘ one of the 10 best wines in the world’. Red Nose Wine are proud to represent Mas de Daumas Gassac in Ireland. We have had many a good night with them in the past, both in Ballymaloe and in Clonmel.

Gary Gubbins with Aime and Samuel Guibert

Gary Gubbins with Aime and Samuel Guibert

The Guiberts

The Guiberts

In the introduction to her cookbook, ‘Savours and Flavours of Mas Daumas Gassac, Mme Guibert – ‘… this extraordinary place which had been caringly cultivated for thousands of years and now our home…mealtime around the table are the most special moments, the most beautiful time , deeply imbedded in the memory of all. It is this happiness that I evoke and wish to share with you’

The keeper of the glasshouse

A few weeks ago I called down to see Colm McCan in Ballymaloe, the Tipperary sommelier and a great champion of Gassac wines. He gave me a tour of the Cookery School, the farm and the Glasshouse, which is a very impressive acre under glass. They even have a vine.

A vine in Co. Cork

A vine in Co. Cork

Eileen O Donavan holds court in the glasshouse and we got her to explain exactly what they grow and what might we expect to be eating at the Long Table Dinner..

What exactly is happening

4.00pm Welcome drink and canapés – Mas de Daumas Gassac Rosé Frizant.

4.30pm Darina Allen and Mme.Véronique Guibert de La Vaissière will welcome all with a presentation,

5.30pm/6.00pm Guests move to the glasshouse, through the farm and gardens, to the ‘Long Table Dinner’. Menu by Rory O’Connell, inspired by the cookbook, ‘Savours and Flavours of Mas de Daumas Gassac’ matched with the Grand Cru wines of Mas de Daumas Gassac.

There might even be some music

There might even be some music

Dinner €120 (including wines) – Advance booking essential
Proceeds will go to East Cork Slow Food Educational Project
Please Email the Ballymaloe Cookery School at to reserve a place