Best of wine in 2011

Random reflections on wine in Ireland in 2011:

Most memorable wine of the year: Piper Heidsieck 1990 champagne, which I showed at a private wine tasting.  Its toasty maturity, delicate balance and length of flavour was remarkable.

Best wine under €10: Domaine Caude Val Merlot, available from Molloys Liquor Stores.

Most impressive wine at wine tastings: Gruner Veltliner always amazes people. Its name, the fact it’s Austrian, and the appealing style is a huge hit.  The one I usually show is Domane Wachau, a super producer. 

Most unusual style tasted: Brancott Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. Acid drops!

Most unusual grape variety: to discover (and spell!): Txakoli from the Basque region. Crisp semi-sparkling apple!

Best new wine website:
Best new Irish wine website:

Best Irish wine app: I am told by several that Pocket Wine is pretty good. 

Even now, I still get a buzz when I see people’s eyes light up as ‘the penny drops’ and they begin to recognise flavours when tasting wine, and are able to describe what they like. And I in turn learn a lot from listening.  I met some great wine advocates in Next Door wine shops, many of whom are now much more confident through my customised WSET wine course.      

‘A-ha’ moment: trying to describe minerally flavours, someone piped up “Hot rain on stones!” – I couldn’t have said it better myself!

Funniest moment in a wine class: when a student tried to change the room temperature, and ended up switching off the lights, leaving us in darkness. Trying to get the lights back on, the curtains opened, the screen went up – everything went haywire! Hate to see what might happen if we didn’t spit out the wine!

Best wine-course feedback: Someone at my one-day wine tasting course thought highly enough of their day to write a glowing review of my course on  I don’t know who the person was, but appreciate his goodwill.  I like to think good karma is self-perpetuating. 


Best food & wine pairing: I’ve just discovered mince pies & LBV port in the last week! 

Most memorable reaction to a wine: a lady’s reaction at Gibney’s wine tasting to Tussock Sauvignon Blanc from Nelson, NZ: “OMG!, it smells so nice they should make a candle out of this.”  Wonderful to see that wine can still elicit such enthusiasm.

Restaurant wine experience: I love seeing more fantastic value wines from the southern Europe on our wine lists. More of these please! I also love the fact that eating out is now more bite-sized, and also more affordable. However, the offer is invariably limited to house wines.  Hats off to Ouzo’s in Blackrock for their premium wine initiative.

Worst wine service fault in a restaurant: being served warm red wines. Giving wine training with restaurant and bar staff, I show how warm temperatures make red wine taste soupy.  Dirty glasses have not gone away either…

Wine on TV: Blind tasting (as on The Restaurant) is required only in a handful of occasions by a minority of skilled people in the wine business, so take it off TV & leave it to the experts!  

Wine on radio: loving Movies & Booze on Newstalk’s Moncrieff show (every second Friday).

Reading about wine: I miss being able to immerse myself in wine articles in the weekend press, as the editors have culled space from our wine writers. Can’t wait for The Sunday Times new wine feature in 2012!


Best wine marketing: O’Brien’s stand out for me in terms of how they communicate effectively with customers, through their staff knowledge, tasting notes, window displays, advertising & sponsorship, website, email & text offers.

Best trade wine tasting: Central Otago Pinot Noir tasting – really well-structured with excellent examples illustrating the points.  Just how wine education should be. Mackenzies Desert Heart, Mount Difficulty, Tarras ‘The Canyon’, Felton Road stood out.   

Best wine idea: putting QR codes on a wine bottle.  I haven’t seen it yet, but I am sure it is out there!

Most impressive up & coming country promoting its wine in Ireland: currently, I am very impressed by the price:quality ratio of Portuguese wines, the variety and the generic marketing of Portuguese wines in Ireland.  Monte de Peceguina, Palha Canas, Pegos Claros, Dom Rafael, Cistus & Quinta do Vallado stood out.      

Low point of the year: for me this was seeing Wolf Blass Eagle Hawk and others advertised at €6 per bottle.  Using cheap alcohol to create footfall in supermarkets is damaging the wine business, by creating unsustainable pressure on supply. It has also created a culture where wine drinkers pride themselves on discovering the cheapest possible bottle of wine.  Already for some brands which I won’t mention, the quality has deteriorated noticeably.

A spin-off effect of this cheap wine is realising that wine is in danger of becoming the cider of the 1980s – a cheap way to get drunk. It’s time for the wine business to reinstate the delight in appreciating good wine. 

Looking forward to doing my bit in 2012!