Category Archives: Sunday Business Post

Pulling On The Green Shirt – Nationality and Wine

Pulling On The Green Shirt – Nationality and Wine

With the St. Patrick’s Day, a wine lover’s thought naturally turn to alarm at how quickly our national holiday has rolled around again, and of course the idea of pulling on the Green Shirt and seeking out Irish wines and maybe some Irish spirits.

As I set off to root out those Irish wines, it quickly became clear that Ireland really is an idea, a spiritual and cultural construct more than a mere set of geographical co-ordinates.

A walk to find Ireland and Irish wine brings us to shelves over which swing a large French tricolour, a Diamond shaped yellow road sign with a Kangaroo poised for action and a stern faced USA sign somewhat softened by a dash and the come-hither, sunshine infused word, California leaping out a jaunty angle.

I was surrounded by a cacophony of nationalist identities.

Moving across the supermarket and out across the large shopping complex you find as you walk along the aisles of breakfast cereals, jumpers, cosmetics or expensive trainers, as you will in the majority of our shops and supermarkets from Cork to Castleknock, that you absolutely will not see are large signs with the names of countries emblazoned on or over those other products.

You cannot walk over to the South Korean tracksuit section and compare the products to Indonesian tracksuit section. There are no flags or small cultural logos decoratively displayed over breakfast cereals.

The reasons for not doing this are complex, but it is probably best for our easy digestion not to know that Brazilian chickens, Mexican Pork or German Eggs fly back and forward across the globe, having one process done in one country, spending time in haulage containers on route to another country for the next process and finally being offered up as fresh, edible food to us.

In some products like clothes it may be possible to find, after a committed search a tiny tag giving a hint of national identity.

In the wine business, and in the ill defined artisan food section of our stores, the story is very different. Argentina and Chile battle out a fight over hardy red wines in the €10 category with vigour and panache. Argentina’s proud Malbec derived wines are frequently to be found emblazoned with the blue and white of Maradona and the Pampas.

They are not hiding their origins, it is a source of pride and a guarantee in many offerings of passionate, delicious winemaking.

Meanwhile further down the wine aisles, sits Austria, its red and white capped wines, standing stoically tall and poised in their high fluted national bottles. The Austrian flag is stapled carefully around a row of Gruner Veltliner and Riesling that wants Irish wine consumer’s to know that, yes, it was true that in the past bad quality wine was made and Austrian Wine’s name was bruised, but these new wines here are something to be proud of and quite different from anything Alsace in France or Rheingau in Germany are producing.

What is clear is that whatever the benefits of denying or concealing the origin of many wines, wine producing nations have made it a part of their credo and in many part of their laws to proudly stand on their national identity.

In the wine lover’s world, national identity is a vital component, as is history and the story of the people who are involved in making any wine.

This is because wine has always, for over 3000 years been seen as a window on the world beyond the table of the wine lover.

Wine is a lens through which a wine other can see other cultures, and even other times.

Time Travelling St. Patrick’s Day Treasures

This, Time Travelling claim, is not all bluster. I used to read the opening chapter of Robert Parker’s Bordeaux and feel that I knew what he meant when he suggested that at a particularly fine tasting, he was suddenly caught off guard, when he opened a venerable bottle which had the same vintage date as the year of his mother’s birth.
He inhaled the wine and realised that it had not seen the world since that day, it was travelling directly from that time to him, directly. He burst into to tears.

Now, unfortunately, I do not just understand it, I feel the truth of it too.

There is a lovely phrase in the spirits world for a distillery that has ceased to be, it is called silent. Not extinct just very, very quite. In the Celtic Whiskey Shop on Dawson street, you can find Silent Whiskey, bottles from distilleries that have disappeared. The market for such whiskey is a rarefied sub-world of reserve and icon whiskey buying, itself a very expensive hobby.

The thrill of the hunt and the exotic time travelling pleasure to be able to taste the work and passion of generations long dead, as a living experience comes with a high price. A rare bottle of Jameson Crested Ten, distilled at the Bow Street Distillery in Dublin is selling for €399 for the bottle. That time travel jaunt is only back to perhaps 1971, the year the Jameson Bow Street Distillery in Dublin went silent.

While Dublin’s Bow Street Distillery is a pretty expensive travel through Ireland’s past, but for €89 you can sample the Bushmills 1989 Single Bourbon Cask, sealed up when Samuel Becket was still alive, he died in December that year, or when Charles J Haughy was eyeing up fine French shirts as Taoiseach.

You slip back to the Ireland of 10, 15 and 20 years ago, with Jameson, Bushmills and Cooley contemporary offerings for more reasonable prices.

Desperately Seeking Ireland

With all this emphasis on times and flags you mighty expect wine lovers to be some sort of class of little Irelanders, trapped in the past, but in fact the exact opposite is the reality.

Wine lovers are driven to explore other wine nations, to enjoy the complexity of their wines, their history and perhaps their culture. Wine tourism is a fact, huge swathes of travellers annually travel to regions they know only through a wine bought in their local wine shop or supermarket. They make pilgrimages to Napa Valley, the Loire, Champagne or Chianti.

Wine tourism is a billion dollar business, with almost every wine region on the globe now spending a part of their budgets letting people know that many wineries are also artisan hotels, with restaurants and of course a very large wine cellar attached.

It is here that Irish Wineries have been making the most noise and where the concept of an Irish wine is shown to be a reality and not a figment of the history books.

Chateau Montelena, is probably the most famous US winery. As winner of the 1976 Paris Olympics, the legendary blind tasting where New World wines first broke through as equal and superior to European wines, Montelena and its owner Jim Barret found themselves on the cover of Time magazine and a bottle of their Chardonnay on display at the Smithsonian Museum.

Chateau Montelena is located at the very top of Napa Valley, a three hour drive from San Francisco along small, un-US like roads. Yet hundreds of international and US wine lovers make the pilgrimage to see the famous winery, every day.

It is of course, an Irish Winery, with Jim Barret having Irish parents and having spent part of his youth in Ireland.

The film Bottleshock tells his story, Ireland could not provide for him or his parents who made their life in the US working in the hotel business, for low but liveable wages. He enlisted in the US Army during World War II, fought in Europe, landed and survived Normandy on D-Day. When he returned, the GI Act gave him a free university education from which he became a successful lawyer and subsequently bought Chateau Monetlena.

In every sense, Jim Barret is the icon of the American Dream, a self made man, given the tools and opportunities by his home, the USA.

“I have an Irish passport, it is, perhaps my proudest possession.” Said Jim Barret sitting in his office directly across from the entrance to the main and oldest part of Chateau Montelena.

Visitors to Chateau Montelena have to park in a beautifully concealed car park amongst dense woods then trek the last 500 or 600 yards uphill to the winery, unless of course, they are Irish, when they will find two spaces reserved for them, marked and clearly sign-posted, right at the front door.

“My children are of course fully American, and I am not sure if it is as important to them, I certainly will not be pushing them to look for passports. That’s something they might want to consider, but I know that they understand their heritage and we are Irish. In every sense.” Says a proud Barret.

Ireland, gave Jim Barret nothing. No opportunity, no money, no work and even today, damn little recognition on any official level.

Yet this is one of the wines that I feel most represents, Irish Wine, that I would want on my table on St. Patrick’s Day.

Jim Barret gives us an idea of Ireland and Irishness that is based on people and an approach to living, not some 19th century map maker’s idea of nationality.

In the middle ages, people used to carry their own laws and customs with them, we still have this idea today, in the world of diplomacy.

Each Irish Embassy is regarded not just spiritually, but legally as a piece of Ireland resting on a foreign shore.

We understand and indeed strive to protect that idea almost every day. Irish men and women in trouble look to that slice of Irish soil for protection, security and comfort. Not having an Embassy in Libya recently, left Ireland and Irish people at the mercy of the kindness of strangers.

Every winery, where Irish men and women have established themselves and proclaim their Irishness should be embraced by Ireland, as an outpost of the Ireland of the imagination, our true heritage.

I would love to see, as part of the rebirth of this fine country of ours, the government, particularly the Department of Foreign Affairs, reach out to these fixed outposts of Eire even in something as simple as a national wine cellar, with examples from each of these other Irish.

Across the world next Thursday, almost every one of these wineries will be raising the tricolour, donning the Green shirt and doing their bit to keep Ireland’s reputation alive and vibrant.

Irish wine lovers can reciprocate by engaging in global exploration, crossing endless borders, with the wave of their hands between nearby shelves, to seek out the Irish-of-soul wines this St. Patricks Day.

Irish Wine
Michel Lynch Blanc 2007 (88) around €12.49
Echo de Lynch Bages, 2nd Wine of Chateau Lynch Bages, AC Pauillac 2008 (89) around €39
Chateau Lynch-Bages, AC Pauillac 2008 (92) around €76

Chateau de La Ligne, Prestige, AC Entre Deux Mers, France 2005 (89) around €17.95

Thomas Barton Reserve, AC Sauternes 2005 (90) around €23
Thomas Barton, AC Graves Blanc 2007 (88) around €10.99

Domaine des Anges, Archange Blanc Cotes de Ventoux 2009 (91) around €21

Chateau Haut Garrigue La Source Cabernet Merlot 2006 (90) €15.99

Chateau Kirwan, AC Margaux 2006 (91) around €59

Les Charmes de Kirwan, 2nd Wine of Ch. Kirwan, AC Margaux 2007 (89) around €28

Chateau Phelan Segur AC St. Estephe 2006 (92) around €42

Frank Phelan, 2nd Wine of Chateau Phelan Segur, AC St. Estephe 2005 (90) around €25

Chateau de Fieuzal Blanc AC Pessac Leognan 2001 (91) around €55

Chateau Leoville Barton AC Saint Julien 2004 (92) around €60,

Concannon Winery, Petite Sirah, Livermore, California 2006 (90) €14.99

Chateau Montelena, Chardonnay, Napa Valley, California 2005 (92) around €45

Leeuwin Estate, Prelude Chardonnay, Western Australia 2005 (90) around €28

Leeuwin Estate, Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon Western Australia 2003 (91) around €50

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Posted by on March 17, 2011 in Sunday Business Post


Beyond Pink – Valentines Day Wines

Valentine’s Day is at last upon us, and after almost a month of having to hack your way through the layers of pink cards, pink bows, pink and satin boxes of chocolates and of course, the almost ocean-like walls of pink wines that miraculously appear for the 14th of February, no one who has ventured from their home can legitimately say they did not realise it was happening.

So by the end of today, the object of your affection is likely to be festooned, along with the rest of the country with chocolates, red roses, pink wine and of course a well crafted or well chosen card.

Such is the effort put in by all of our retailers that not buying into this orgy of very conspicuous consumption is going to have to be supported by very convincing explanations.

And frankly if you are going to survive romantically at all, you will have to show that your rejection of the Pink Orgy of Valentine’s Day is philosophical and not just laziness or evidence of joyless rejection of all frivolity.

It certainly is not necessary to reject Valentine’s Day on monetary grounds, a hand written declaration of love, or breakfast in bed, or even a planned romantic stroll signal effort and intent that will usually be understood and well received. Though for completeness no wine lover should miss the opportunity of sharing a well chosen glass of wine with the object of your love and affection.

One of the absolutely central joys of wine is sharing, it is what separates it from a galaxy of chocolates that urge you to hide the treat away and enjoy it in secrecy on your own. No, wine loves company and it is one of the reasons why it has become a central part of the modern Valentine’s Day experience. An experience with a very direct and physical connection for Ireland as we shall see.

The Valentine’s Day Myths

The first myth is that Valentine’s Day is a myth invented by greetings card manufacturers in the 19th century.

This is not true, there is clear evidence that Valentine’s Day has been a day on which to celebrate love, before Valentine even entered into the collective consciousness.

Most ancient societies, particularly those with strong agrarian roots, have religious festivals which are a celebration of the annual rebirth of the plants and crops of the earth. These fertility rituals occur in the northern hemisphere in February and March. These festivals early in the year are to encourage and celebrate fertility. A second set of festivals occur in the autumn to give thanks for the bounty of that fertility, harvest festivals.

Where as the autumn festivals concentrate on the produce, the early spring festivals always had a more earthy obsession with reproduction, orgies encouraged by wine drinking which was though by the Greeks for example to be given by the god Bacchus for this specific purpose took place.

In Roman society this eventually became a formal, more sedate annual week long festival called Lupercalia, it began on the 15th of February. Fraternising by young men and women was not just permitted during this period, but actively encouraged.

So far there is little controversy in this, such festivals and rituals were common place.

However, sometime around the 3rd century AD, the Catholic Church, just as it had done for the 24th of December, hijacked these older pagan festivals and dropped in artificial replacements for those festivals and rituals.

The replacement for the potential lewdness of former Roman fertility festivals became a chaste and religious event brought about by the martyrdom of a Saint called Valentine.

There are several potential candidates for whom St. Valentine was including an early bishop. The current church view to be found in the Catholic Encyclopaedia 1967 and offered by the Carmelite Order in Ireland which has a very close link to St. Valentine, is that Valentine was a priest who helped young Romans marry during a ban on marriages by crazed Emperor Claudius. Claudius thought love and marriage was sapping his men of their will to fight.

Valentine was eventually caught and sentenced to death which took place in and around 14th February 269 AD, happily just a day before Lupercalia.

It was 200 years later before Valentine’s Day was formally set as the 14th of February. By that stage, the connection between martyrdom, marriage and loyalty to the faith celebrated on the 14th of February was set. And yet, it is not until the 18th century that we have any regular mentions of declarations of love on the 14th of February.

St. Valentine, A Dub At Heart

The connection between Ireland and St. Valentine is very strong and unusual.

The Heart, some blood stained vessels and some small other body parts, the relics of St. Valentine, now rest in the Carmelite Church on Whitefriars Street, in Dublin city centre.

They were transported there in 1836, at the direction of Pope Gregory XVI, as a gift to a leading Irish Carmelite.

Today in the Carmelite Church on Whitefriars Street, St. Valentine’s relics will be moved, as they are every year, in a sealed wooden box, from his reliquary on the right hand side of the Church and placed on the main altar, in celebrayion of his martyrdom all those centuries ago for preserving and marrying secret lovers behind the Roman authorities back.

That, is essentially the connection with was previously the central idea of Valentine’s Day, a time for revealing a secret love, often in verse.

So, although the greetings card industry has of course built the day into an annual postal Tsunami to rival Christmas, there was some, patchy underlying historical precedent.

And, although like the card manufactures, wine producers and retailers do exploit the event for their own purposes, specifically selling a great deal of pink wine, Wine too has always been at the heart of the spring festivals that Valentine’s Day now echoes.

So by giving wine, wine lovers are tapping into the ancient wine consuming past, where the key idea is good wine to share and not the passing fad of wine of any particular hue.

Romantic Valentine Wine Selections

There are two approaches here and really this will have to be a personal choice that the wine lover makes about their amour, conformist pink or radical red and white.

It is so obvious that you could forget the central truth a bout why rose or pink wines are such a feature of Valentine’s Day. They are wines chosen for their looks, their beautiful appearance, rather than their underlying or innate virtues.

To me that speaks volumes about the whole exercise.

Of course just as with people, so with wines. We should not condemn a wine simply because it looks gorgeous, there are happily for the world, many people who are also rounded, witty, virtuous and wise, as well as physically beautiful.

In wine this tends to occur in some of the world’s best and oldest rose wines and in sparkling wine, rather than in the more confected pink wines that grace our wine shelves.

Conformist Selection – Some Fine Wine that is Rose

Tavel in the southern Rhone is a small but not quite beautiful town not far from the clearly beautiful Avignon. Tavel makes a very unique rose wine, that is not pink, but rather has a soft orange hue, with gentle rose coloured edges.

The Appellation Controllee Tavel is also unique in that it only allows rose wines to be made, so the wine here is not a by-product of blending red and white wine or saignee the French method of making rose, by bleeding off light red juice from vats of red wine in order to concentrate the red wine that is left in the bottom of the vat. It is a bit like pouring out water from a cup of tea when the teabag is till in, the lower volume of water will eventually brew into a darker tea. In this process the bled juice is sold, often as an after thought as a rose wine.

Another outstanding rose wine are the sun drenched wines of AC Bandol, the costal wine region on the Mediterranean shore between Marseilles and Nice. Good examples are the nearest thing to renaissance scientist and philosopher Galileo’s saying that wine, was sunlight, held together by water.

Meanwhile in the Loire Valley the rose wines frequently made from Cabernet Franc also share the mark with Tavel and Bandol of high quality wines that just happen to be rose wines.

Rose D’Anjou from the Loire like Tavel and Bandol, are essentially dry wines, this is also what tends to disappoint those wine lovers who first tasted them on holidays. In the summer, with deep blue skies and dusty scorching roads, our taste buds pick every nuance of the refreshing wine, often fooling the palate into thinking it is a sweeter, fruitier wine than it is. In fact the wines tend to be light, quite austere and even crisp.

The other source of very high quality rose wines tends to be the sparkling wine segment. Here Champagne does seem to be out in front of its sparkling rivals, with New World Spain’s Cava and Italy’s Prosecco following closely behind.

There are exceptions, Chateau de Sours’s Sparkling Rose is a delicious, slightly sweeter, but still essentially off dry offering, while

The Big Gesture

Champagne Billecart-Salmon Rose NV (93) around €67

Champagne Veuve Clicquot Vintage Rose 2002 (92) around €64
Champagne Bollinger Rose NV (91) around €75
Champagne Laurent Perrier Rose Brut NV (91) around €85

Champagne Taittinger Rose NV (91) around €55

Champagne Perrier Jouet Blason Rose NV (91) around €56

The Comfortable Traditionalist

Champagne Montaudon Grande Rose NV (91) around €34
Champagne Beaumont des Crayeres Brut Rose NV (90) around €33.95
Champagne Moet & Chandon Brut Rose NV (91) around €47

The Savvy Operator

Champagne Cattier 1er Cru Brut Rose NV (90) around €33
Champagne H.Blin Brut Rose, NV (90) around €30.99 – on sale in Superquinn at €23 until 23rd of February

The Rebel Heart

Chateau de Sours, Sparkling Rose, Bordeaux NV (90) around €15

Langlois Cremant de Loire Sparkling Brut Rose NV (90) around €18.95
Jacobs Creek Sparkling Rose, Australia, NV (89) around €16 – on sale in Superquinn at €14.09 until 23rd February
Beringer Sparkling Zinfandel Rose, California, NV (88) around €13.99
Freixenet Rose Cava, Spain NV (89) around €16.99
Sachetto Pinot Rose Frizzante, Italy NV (87) around €10.99

The Zen Warrior of Stillness

Rose de Tourelles Longueville, AC Bordeaux 2006 (90) around €14.95

-Rose wine of classed growth, Chateau Pichon Longueville
Rizzardi Rosa Rosae IGT 2007 (88) around €12.45

Chateau de Sours Bordeaux Rose 2006 (91) around €13
Gran Feudo Rose 2007 (88) around €10.50

Radical Valentine’s Day Selection – Great Sexy Wines, Bought On Their Ability, Not Their Looks

The Big Gesture

Champagne Pol Roger NV (93) around €52

Champagne Taittinger Brut Reserve NV (92) 53.00

The Comfortable Traditionalist

Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvee, NV (92) around €45 in Tesco

Champagne Montaudon Brut Reserve Premiere NV (91) around €34

The Savvy Operator

Tesco Blanc De Noirs Champagne NV (90) around €27.25

Bisol, Jeio, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene NV (89) around €18.75

The Rebel Heart – Really Perfect for chocolates

Chateau Dereszla, Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos 2003 (91) around €29.95

Kracher, Trockbeerenauslese NV (9) around €14

The Zen Warrior of Stillness

Domain Olivier Leflaive AC Puligny Montrachet 2006 (92) around €39.85

Glaetzer, Bishops Shiraz, Barossa Valley, Australia 2007 (93) around €26

Widely available at Independent Off Licences and wine shops such as Searsons Wine Merchants, Monkstown Crescent, Blackrock, County Dublin; Fallon & Byrne, Exchequer Street, Dublin 2; Redmonds Of Ranelagh, Ranelagh, Dublin 6; 64 Wines, 64, Glasthule Road, Sandycove, Co Dublin; Sweeney’s, 6 Finglas Road, Harts Corner, Glasnevin, Dublin 11; Greenacres, Selskar, Wexford, Co. Wexford; Cases Wine Warehouse, Riverside Commercial Estate, Tuam Road, Galway and the O’Donovan’s Wines chain throughout Cork County and city as well as O’Briens Wines, nationwide.

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