The blind leading the blind

An awful lot has happened since the last article. I’ve been to France and tasted grapes on the vine just before they were harvested. I’ve heard an Irish Government Minister talking about things that I actually agree with. Of course there are many more ministers saying things that I wouldn’t necessarily agree with, but that is democracy.

An awful lot has happened since the last article. I’ve been to France and tasted grapes on the vine just before they were harvested. I’ve heard an Irish Government Minister talking about things that I actually agree with. Of course there are many more ministers saying things that I wouldn’t necessarily agree with, but that is democracy.

I have been humbled and embarrassed by my new Bridgestone Guide review (page 524 or our Facebook page for all those interested). John and Sally McKenna were very flattering about Red Nose Wine. “A superb communicator”, “A social media master” were among the nice things said about me. All very nice, but a little bit embarrassing. We Irish don’t do praise well.

I have also dressed up in an 18th century French aristocratic costume to promote the Tipperary Food Producers. Those photos may come back to haunt me but we must promote our county. I have also been busy preparing our new wine course. There has been huge interest and we were oversubscribed.

One of the nicer things I have done recently was to meet up with one of Canada’s most prominent wine writers, a Tipperary man by the name of Billy Munnelly. I hosted a little wine tasting for his visiting group of Canadians in McCarthys of Fethard. Billy brings over a group to stay in a castle in Ireland every year. They bring their own chef and travel around the surrounds of Tipperary and beyond.

He likes to buy a red and white banqueting wine for the duration of the stay and rather than him pick it, or even me choosing it, we let the mob decide. The mob ruled Rome and now they ruled the back room in McCarthys, for an hour or so at any rate. I put 2 white wines and 2 red wines in front of them and they knew nothing about any of them. We even hid the labels. The game was simple. Pick which wines you want to drink for the week with your dinner.

I was delighted how close the votes were. The white that was picked was Cuvee Jean Paul, a great little dry wine from Gascony and a steal at €7.99. It beat the Gassac Classic white by only 3 votes. The Guibert’s got their revenge as the super popular Gassac Classic Red was picked over a new Tuscan Sangiovese wine. However, it was very close and there was only one vote in it. From a personal and professional perspective I was delighted all the wines were so popular. It is easy to look like a fool if they all pick the same wine. It wouldn’t say much for the wines that got no votes.

I think it is an exercise that I might repeat in the shop, especially in the run up to Christmas. It is so easy to be swayed by fashion and labels and price. Trusting your instincts is a big part of wine and while many people say that they hate Chardonnay, I have met very few who don’t like it after they taste it. It is a superb grape when handled properly (I will admit it is terrible when it is not).

Many people tell me they know what they like, but find it hard to articulate exactly what it is that they like. It is easy to see why a crisp dry Sauvignon Blanc is popular. It is refreshing and goes well with and without food. If it is not barrel fermented, it is not too heavy or taxing on the palate, so it is easy to appreciate for even the most novice of tasters.

I try to get people to explain why they like a rich strong Shiraz or light, easy drinking Beaujolais. Can the Shiraz person ever get to appreciate the Beaujolais and vice versa? It is an interesting question and one I believe the answer to be yes. I love the Syrah grape but find it difficult to appreciate in its Australian form, especially the fruit bomb styles. I like the dry austere Rhone & Languedoc versions. It is a personal preference.

Maybe this is because I like bitter foods, as opposed to sweet. I like a square of dark chocolate but don’t really like milk chocolate. I could easily eat a bar of Dairy Milk over the course of 8 days, a square a day. My wife finds this incredible, as does my chocaholic 4-year-old son. I do like sweet wines, but much like the square of Dairy milk, only now and again.

However, I did get to appreciate the big bombastic Australian Shiraz wines when I tasted some of them at the premium level. I could appreciate their elegance and balance through the big fruit and high alcohol. I can enjoy cheap French Syrah but not cheap Aussie Shiraz.

This begs the question whether or not price comes into it when you get out of your comfort zone. If it does, then pick cheaper varieties. The great thing about obscure varies is that they do tend to be cheap, while still staying true to their authentic styles.

Many popular grapes are mass-produced in regions that may not be entirely suited to the variety. Modern technology fills the gap, sometimes with varying results. The fact is the obscure grape variety wines are hard to sell because they are not popular and you can often end up getting a fantastic authentic wine for much less than you would from a more ‘fashionable’ region.

This is where I think you need to get totally out of our usual comfort zones and try the unknown regions and grape varieties. Try Valencia, Navarra, Gascony, Langhorne Creek, Lazio, Entre Deux Mers, Ventoux, Penedes, Alentejano, Lisbon.

Try grapes such as Nebbiolo, Garganega, Ugni Blanc, Rolle, Colombard, Mourvedre, Rousanne, Chenin Blanc, Verdejo, Corvina, Trebbiano, Inzolia, Viognier, Mencia, Carmenere, Friulano, Antão Vaz, Roupeiro, Arinto, Fernão Pires, Touriga Nacional, Aragonez and Macabeo.