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Article – The corked bottle of wine and the IMF

October 15th, 2010

The Revolution is coming

The wind is howling and the fires are being lit all over the country. I suppose I could wax lyrical about the leaves as they succumb to the call of nature and make their final journey, before the inevitability of decay. Am I talking about the weather or about the country itself? Will there be a general election or does it really matter? Will the guilty face justice or is revolution and anarchy a foregone conclusion in these crazy times?

Matt Cooper & the IMF

That first paragraph started off with such hope, and was really supposed to be a fancy way of telling you all that staying in with red wine by the fire is the new going out. Somewhere along the way, I got distracted and sucked into Matt Cooper style Last Word political comment. I am waiting for the call from Matt for an entrenched small businessman’s take on the economy. I have an MBA so if he needs it, I can get into all of the numbers and the IMF question. During the MBA, our economics lecturer brought over an economist from the IMF and he told us about what happens when they move in. It not a discussion to have during daylight hours or without some liquid courage, so we might need to combine it as part of an on air wine tasting. We’ve tweeted on Twitter, so Matt, you know how to contact me.

The last two articles have seen me squeeze many words from my trip to the Veneto area of Italy. The Pinot Grigio I spoke so highly of last week went down a storm for tasting this week. Rather than introduce another winemaker to you so soon, I will wait a little bit and talk generally and tell you a story from the trip that caused me great anxiety and to question my wine tasting abilities. But first, some background is necessary to suitably build tension and pathos towards the central character.

Masters of Wine

Jane Boyce MW with the Liberty gang on recent trip to Veneto

Jane Boyce MW with the Liberty gang on recent trip to Veneto

I have referred to people with the title Master of Wine a number of times in the past, and suffice to say it is a very difficult title to achieve. Many aspire to it, but most fail. There are only four of them in Ireland, and Jane Boyce MW is one of them. She was invited on the recent trip to Italy, as she writes freelance for a number of publications (including Food & Wine magazine and The Irish Times) about wine.

On the 2nd night of the trip we were taken to this very famous restaurant in the centre of Verona. An elderly man prepared cold cuts of meat in open view, as he has done for decades, and everyone squashed into the corners of the small dining room. Space was at a premium and we had a big table in the middle of the room. I was sitting at the corner, closest to the kitchen. Jane was on one side of me and a lady called Lizzie, who worked with the importer, was on the other side.

Plate of Cold Cut meats in Verona

Plate of Cold Cut meats in Verona

Tasting Corked Wines

The wines were ordered for the table and the sommelier came out with the reds to taste. This being Italy, the man was given the wine to taste. There is a Master of Wine on side of me and one of the people paying for the trip on the other, so I played the coward card. There was no way I was testing my nose and palate against these people. So, Lizzie tasted the wine, and low and behold it was rejected. A corked bottle is not as uncommon as you would imagine and the reason why so many people are pushing for screw caps on all wines. A replacement bottle was produced and once again, inexplicably, it was put in front of me to taste.

A Table full of empty glasses and full bellies

A Table full of empty glasses and full bellies

Once again, my cowardice showed its yellow face and I passed the honour to Jane. If you have a Master of Wine at the table, it makes sense to use them. As fate would have it, the second bottle was also corked, so I was delighted I had passed the glass. A third bottle was brought by a very contrary sommelier and his chauvinism knew no bounds, for he once again thrust it in front of yours truly. There was no way that the two ladies were gong to let me away this time, and I had no choice but to taste. I said to myself that it is not possible that three bottles could be corked, so I grabbed the glass and gave it a swirl with the confidence of a man who had statistics on his side.

Nowhere to Hide

I smelt the wine and I broke out in a cold sweat almost immediately. The wine wasn’t corked but it was not right in my very humble opinion. I was expecting lots of fresh fruit on the nose, but it was dead. I started to panic and doubt myself. Maybe this is what it is supposed to smell like. I tasted some and there was still nothing there that I would have expected to find. Mr. Red Nose was turning into Mr. Red Face. I remembered what I was always told when learning how to taste wine in France all those years ago. Trust your first instinct.

Delighted to say this was NOT corked and was fantastic - Txs DG

Delighted to say this was NOT corked and was fantastic - Txs DG

I took a deep breath and sucked in my belly and stuck out my chest and declared this wine to be “not quite right”. The sommelier wilted before our eyes and the rest of the table looked at me with a sense of impending doom. I quickly passed the offending glass to the Master of Wine and within a few seconds she confirmed my judgment. I could hear the fanfares blowing and the slow planning of a ticker tape parade in Clonmel to greet the returning hero. However, within a few minutes the conversation moved on and I was mortal once more. In saying that, it is very rare to find three corked wines in a row.

Food & Wine Extravaganza

If you would like to check the validity of this story, I am delighted to announce that Jane will be part of the Tipperary Food Producers Food Extravaganza in the Clonmel Park on November 10th. Held in conjunction with Bord Bia, this promises to be a great evening. I have already had a number of requests and enquiries for tickets and they are now available in the shop. Jane will work alongside the chefs on the night and do a food and wine pairing talk. This is not to be missed.

Don’t forget to log onto the blog at www.rednosewine.com/blog or follow the ranting on Twitter – www.twitter.com/rednosewine

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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 info@rednosewine.com

“Life is much too short to drink bad wine”

Red Nose Wine Article - Nationalist Oct 13 2010

Article – The Groucho Marx of Wine

October 8th, 2010

The poster of Franz Haas we all received as we left

The poster of Franz Haas we all received as we left

Another Day, Another Lunch

That tasting I mentioned last week in Ballymaloe was fantastic and with the risk of Silvia Allegrini thinking that I am stalking her, I think I’ll wait a while before the next wine dinner. Two Allegrini dinners within a week and in two different countries is a lot. As promised I present a new tale from my Italian odyssey and. One of the longer bus journeys of the trip took us up towards Austria and the Alps. It was to a meet a man named Franz Haas in a place called Montagna, which lies half way between Verona and Innsbruck.

Gary Gubbins of Red Nose Wine visits Franz Haas in Alto Adige

Gary Gubbins of Red Nose Wine visits Franz Haas in Alto Adige

James Bond Elevator into the mountains

An impressive winery greets us, built into the side of the mountain. It looks tiny from the dangerous mountain road where it sits. However, the modest façade hides a labyrinth of cellars and tanks and an elevator that brings you high into the mountain and a dining room and tasting room that hangs over the edge of the world. Am I being a touch dramatic? Perhaps, but the wines were of a quality that really surprised me and made me wonder why I had chosen to ignore the Alto Adige region for so long.

Have you ever had Pinot Grigio? – Real Pinot Grigio

One of my best selling wines is a cheap and cheerful Pinot Grigio from Italy. It only costs 8.50 Euros and is all apples and pears and easy to drink. It is well made but not overly exciting but I understand why it is so popular. When my Pinot Grigio fans are in the shop I am going to ask them to taste Franz Haas’s version of Pinot Grigio. We will have it open from this weekend and on special. This is real Pinot Grigio just as Chablis and White Burgundy are real Chardonnays. By real, I mean the grapes are grown in a place where they belong and the full luscious fruit that Pinot Grigio is known for is fully expressed.

By all means, people can go back to their old style Pinot Grigio, but I would love them to at least know what it is supposed to taste like. Mr. Haas’s Pinot is straw yellow in colour with perfumes of flowers and rich almonds as the wine develops. On the palate it is ripe and full-bodied with a lifted acidity from the high vineyards, and has a lovely depth from the lees ageing. I will be running a special price on this to celebrate its arrival into the shop. Please call in to taste it.

Franz Haas treats us to a great dinner

Franz Haas treats us to a great dinner

So, other than his Pinot Grigio, what else is so special about Mr. Haas and his mountain wines? Well firstly, he has what we like to call pedigree or heritage. His family, and in particular each firstborn son (called Franz) has been doing this since 1880. The current Franz is the 7th in the long line.

The view from this vineyard is possibly the most beautiful I have ever seen, and I have been lucky enough to see lots of them. The man himself is quite a character and wears a Groucho Marx like moustache on this bald head. His mannerisms and movements are more like Harpo as he curtsied and bowed. He pretended not to speak very good English and came in and out of the visit as he was very busy.

The view from Franz Haas vines

The view from Franz Haas vines

We were gate crashing the harvest it must be said, so it would not have come as a surprise if we given the road. Instead we were treated like royalty and the panoramic vineyard tour was followed by a cellar visit and a chance to taste some freshly picked Sauvignon Blanc must from a fermenting barrel. Basically, it is like very concentrated sparkling grapefruit juice. A taste is enough, as it is very harsh on the stomach. A refreshing glass of Pinot Grigio brought us back to life. God Bless the bus driver. I normally spit my way around vineyards, but I could enjoy it a little bit more on this trip.

The cellar was followed by a delicious dinner in the aforementioned dining room. To all of my Tipperary Food Producer friends, can I suggest a new product? We had fennel bread with the lunch and it was just heaven. It may have something to do with a local saying, “Pane e vino fanno un bel bambino” which means “bread and wine make a beautiful baby”. Both are seen as essential nourishment. I am not recommending wine for a baby by the way. This magic bread was followed by the obligatory Risotto of course and a range of other local delicacies.

More Risotto ....

More Risotto ....

The Alto Adige region is strong with German roots but also with Venetian history and this offers a very different take on both styles. The Rhaetian Alps and the Dolomites wall this region in, and this is evident by the photo I took from the vineyard. Even if you don’t like wine, it is a beautiful place to visit. The wines of Mr. Haas are typical of the area and Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Nero (or Noir), Traminer join local varieties such as Lagrein, a delicious red wine.

I always enjoy being surprised in the wine business and for everything I have learned about new wines and areas, there is so much more to learn. I know that most people will stick to their cheaper Pinot Grigio but all I can do is show you the difference, and ultimately it is up the consumer. Never was the old adage about the customer being always right truer than in wine.

Keep a date in your diary free. There is a Tipperary Food Producers Food Extravaganza in the Clonmel Park on November 10th with Bord Bia involvement. As well as the chefs on show,  Jane Boyce MW, once of only 4 Masters of Wine in Ireland will be giving a talk on food and wine pairing talk. She is not to be missed and will be worth the price of admission alone. She was on the trip to Italy and I tried to convince her to travel down for this important local event. On another note, another Tipperary Food Producer, Nuala Hickey has just won Gold at the Blas na hEireann Food Awards in Dingle. Well done to Nuala.

(There are much more photos available on Facebook and we will be posting video very soon )

Don’t forget to log onto the blog at www.rednosewine.com/blog or follow the ranting on Twitter – www.twitter.com/rednosewine

Please have a look at our Facebook site and ‘Like’ Us so we can share all the photos with you. Feel free to share this page with your friends and enemies.

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

“Life is much too short to drink bad wine”

Red Nose Wine Article - Nationalist Oct 06 2010(

Article – La Dolce Vita a Allegrini

October 1st, 2010

Some more Risotto Sir?

What a week, what a trip, and what an obscene amount of risotto consumed over a short period of time. I am of course talking about my trip to Italy with Liberty Wines, the Italian importer I work with. They brought a handful of their favourite customers to the Veneto area of Italy. This strict selection criteria aside, I still managed to get invited, and I was very quick to respond in the affirmative. I was tempted to register a letter with this acceptance in case they suddenly realised they meant to invite someone else. Either way, I was delighted to go and meet some of the most iconic winemakers in Italy. Over the next few articles I intend to introduce some of these people, their wines, history and their status in the wonderful world of the vine. Our base for most of the trip was Verona, and the regions we visited included Valpolicella, Lugana, Alto Adige, Pressano, Soave and fabled Rosazzo hill within Friuli. I am hopeful that the importer will offer me, and by default you, the consumer, some incentive to showcase these wines. At the very least, you will have a chance to taste them in Red Nose Wine, but I am confident we’ll be able to wrangle an introductory price as well.

For everyone who is feeling a little bit nauseated by my joyous description of this freebie trip, before you run to the local supermarket for a case of industrial wine, you need to know a number of facts. We had to be in Dublin airport for 5.15 in the morning. We went straight to the vines and didn’t let up for the 3 days. The turnaround when we finally got back to the hotel in the afternoon was between 10 and 20 minutes. There were some serious choices to make in the short window. Would it be a shower, a shave or a quick look at the best that Italian TV has to offer? Tick tock, tick tock. The bus is leaving.

 

The 'Wine Gang' entering Palazzo della Torre

The 'Wine Gang' entering Palazzo della Torre

Icons

The first wines I would like to introduce are ones that already have a following in Red Nose Wine. For those of who you know them and for those of you who don’t, let me introduce The Allegrini family from Valpolicella. They have not one but two icon wines, and while I sell La Grola, I only got to taste La Poja for the first time on this visit. If you are going to taste a famous wine for the first time, then why not taste it beside the owner of the vineyard. In this case it was the charming Silvia Allegrini. I had met Silvia at a tasting in Dublin briefly, but it was great to visit the famous vines that make the famous wine.

Silivia Allegrini and her grapes

Silivia Allegrini and her grapes

Is Val Policella named after Val Doonican?

I think a little background into the type of wines we are talking about is called for. Basic Valpolicella is made primarily from the Corvina (but also Rondinella, and Molinara) grape and at its purest will be vibrant and taste of black cherries and have an innate freshness. They are round and supple wines that when done well are very approachable and enjoyable in their youth. Allegrini’s single vineyard wines are not technically part of the DOC, and embrace the freedom of IGT classification. This means that Palazzo della Torre and the iconic La Grola can do as they please and reflect the purest expressions of the vineyards. To go and visit the actual vines makes this statement so much easier to comprehend. As the group stood looking down on the vines from the top the hill after a very winding road, the darkness fell and the temperature dropped. We knew it was time to move this party to the restaurant, and a sleepy little village housed an unassuming eatery whose name escapes me now. You must remember I was up since 4am, having visited and tasted a number of vineyards and was now on my 9th course of food of the day and my 25th different wine. It was a wonder I was still alive. This restaurant’s name is known outside of this village however; as it is here that the River Cafe people (of London restaurant fame) learned how to make fresh pasta all those years ago. The best of the wines were paired with some fantastic food. Even though I was up at a ridiculous hour to catch the flight and was getting tired, it’s not a bad way to spend a Monday.

Dinner with Silvia in the restaraunt with no name

Dinner with Silvia in the restaraunt with no name

The pasta melted in the mouth - fresh as a daisy

The pasta melted in the mouth - fresh as a daisy

Do you dry your grapes?

The true superstar wines of the region are those known as Amarone della Valpolicella. This is a type of wine that many people claim to like, but are unwilling to buy. Also, the wines are made a little differently to normal red wine. As we were there the harvest was in full swing and the some of the grapes were picked. Rather than start fermentation now, the wines are placed on small plastic trays and huge fans are used to dry them in a big warehouse. This goes on until January and the sugars in the grapes are concentrated and a lot of the water is lost – the grapes become raison like. The wines are also aged for a number of years and when eventually released are high in alcohol (but very balanced when done right) and offer bitter sweet chocolate, raisin, dried fig flavours. Bottle aging can help these monsters of wines. Allegrini’s Amarone is regarded as one of the very best. Their other icon wine is a single vineyard Valpolicella known as La Poja. It is 100% Corvina and once again taken out of the DOC. This is an increasing trend among the very best winemakers in France and Italy. Rather than be restricted by ancient rules, they are relinquishing their appellation (or DOC) status and producing wines that they believe best reflect the land.  

The grapes are picked and dried until January

The grapes are picked and dried until January

A Tasting missed ( except by me )

For those of you who would like to taste these wines in the presence of Sylvia Allegrini, I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that she is doing a tasting lunch in Ballymaloe House and a dinner in the Cliff House in Ardmore. You will get to hear her describe the wines and you will enjoy them with some top class food. She is passionate about her wines in that wonderful Italian way and you should not miss an opportunity like this. So what’s the bad news you are wondering? Well, by the time the paper comes out on Wednesday, she will be on a plane back to Italy. The tastings are planned for Tuesday September 28th. Don’t worry, if you call into me in Red Nose Wine I will tell you all about it and show you some photos and videos. Also, we will have a very special promotion on the wines. 15% OFF these wines for the week… Hurry up, the bus is leaving. Tick Tock Tick Tock

Allegrini lunchmenu at Ballymaloe House

Allegrini lunchmenu at Ballymaloe House

Gary Gubbins of Red Nose Wine and Silvia Allegrini

Gary Gubbins of Red Nose Wine and Silvia Allegrini

( There are much more photos available on Facebook and we will be posting video very soon )

Don’t forget to log onto the blog at www.rednosewine.com/blog or follow the ranting on Twitter – www.twitter.com/rednosewine

Please have a look at our Facebook site and ‘Like’ Us so we can share all the photos with you. Feel free to share this page with your friends and enemies.

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

“Life is much too short to drink bad wine”

Liberty Wine Tasting Feb2010

February 25th, 2010

I am back behind the desk after a very tiring jaunt to Dublin. I decided to kill two birds with one stone and stay overnight. Tuesday night saw a bit of smoozing among my MBA fraternity colleagues as we listened to Robbie Kelliher of Davys Stockbrokers wax lyrical about all things equity. Fascinating stuff, lots of value out there with anyone who has a few pounds – although fine wine is a far better investment. Little too many ‘what ifs’ for my liking in his speech. God help us all if interest rates rise before we are ready, and some economists argue that they have to. Robbie didn’t think so. I hope he is right. Before and after that, I did a tour of wine bars and restaurants to see how the big smoke enjoys a wonderful array of choice when it comes to their wine night out. Ely was great and so was Olesya’s Wine Bar on Exchequer Street. I was with my brother and the night wore on a bit, so after all the wine and the prospect of more the next day, I decided i needed to detox. So I had a lovely pint of Guinness.

pint of Guinness

On to the reason for the post – The Liberty Wines Portfolio Tasting. While i import a lot of my wines myself, and have to say much prefer this route, the reality is that you can’t be all things to all people, and I rely on other experts to prop up the list. Liberty are definelty one of the better ones out there, and they have a huge selection, and I think that we benefit greatly from the fact that they are UK based, as it offers us a choice we might not see otherwise. We had an Italian Tasting with them in December and it was a huge success.

It was great to meet Lar Veale of Sourgrapes.ie and The Sunday Tribune and Kevin Crowley of Fenns Quay Restaurant in Cork city. We have been tweeting for a while now. Lar kindly asked me for an interview and i made it onto his blog post. Kevin was also interviewed, but there were creative differences about the script, judging on the photo.

Lar and Kevin in debate over content of interview

I also got to meet some of the people behind some of our most popular wines.
The utterly charming Victoria Curatolo of Villa Tonino in Sicily.
Victoria Curatolo of Villa Tonino

I only started stocking Allegrini before Christmas but even at the higher price point, they are very popular. The La Grola and the Palazzo della Torre are great wines, but I finally got to taste the Amarone yesterday and it was really special. They also had the Corte Giara range which were really interesting as well, and at a better price point.

Silvia Allegrini shows off her Amarone

Silvia Allegrini

We sell a lot of Chianti and Sangiovese in general. It was great to chat to Giacomo Alari who is behind wines such as the great value Cantina De Montalcino Sangiovese di Toscana, Da Vinci Chianti,Chianti Classico and both the Rosso and Brunello di Montalcino.

Giacomo Alari

The other stand out wines for me were Domaine Nicolas Girard Sancerre – very different with all of the grassy notes you would expect from a Sancerre, but still a little bit of a change from the norm. Domaine Pfister’s Riesling was long, dry and delicious. There was a Cotes du Rhone called Domaine Richaud that was mind blowing, but at an RRP of €21.99, too expensive to sell. There was a Primitivo di Puglia that was really interesting at the price. The Costa della Sesia and Lessona from Sperino were great examples of both blended and pure Nebbiolo. The Innocent Bystander Pinot Noir really surprised me and offers good value. The Capezzana Olive Oil really finished off a wonderful days tasting.

A little video tour of proceedings …

As well as Lar, I also managed to bump into some other members of the Irish Wine press and it was great to talk with the men behind the words. Tomás Clancy of the Sunday Business Post told me a great story about his meeting with Robert Parker, whom I studied inside and out for my thesis. Unlike Tomás, I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting the man. It was also great to meet Kevin Ecock of the Free Running blog who gave me some good advice about the workings of the Irish Wine World.

Huge thanks to Gerry, Ben, David and the rest of the Liberty team who put on a great show. The lunch was delicious and the red wine Capezzana Barco Real, was one i stock as well, so great to see.