Archives for the month of: January, 2012

NO PRESSURE!

At the beginning of the year I was delighted and, above all, honoured to be asked to be a member of the jury asked to judge the wines from the 2009 and 2010 vintages in Côte-Rôtie at Le Marché aux Vins d’Ampuis. This annual show is one of the most important dates in the calendar for the producers of Côte-Rôtie and the neighbouring appellation of Condrieu. Over three and a half days 14,000 private buyers and professionals attend the fair with wallets at the ready, eager to secure what are sometimes miniscule allocations of some of the world’s most sought after wines.

Almost all the region’s producers are in attendance, including the large scale, well-known names of Guigal, Chapoutier and Jaboulet. In fact as with every year the only notable absentee was René Rostaing but then Rostaing has always marched to the beat of a different drum. For the private buyer it represents an incredible opportunity to taste all the top wines of the top producers under one roof. Generally speaking the wines that are on show are those that are commercially available from the estates but the growers are also expected to show the wines of the two most recent vintages that are either in bottle or ready to go to bottle, in this case 2009 and 2010.

As a regular visitor to the region I am fortunate to know who is making good wine and who is perhaps a little or, on occasion, a long way behind the play. However a quick visit to the fair will bring you up to speed in no time. Certain stands are thronged with visitors, each stretching over the next, holding out their glasses for a taste of the rare nectar whilst at others the producers stand forlornly behind their bottles waiting for a passer-by to stop out of curiosity or pity to sample their wines. This may sound harsh but just because Côte-Rôtie is a highly regarded appellation in terms of quality doesn’t mean that all the producers there make good wine. Year after year it is the same stands that are empty and it is on occasions like this that one realises the parochial nature of wine production in France and that for some producers it is just a basic agricultural activity in which they take part and from which they rarely look left or right to see what is happening around them. It’s a tough world out there making wine and sympathy won’t put food on the table for very long.

The competition for the wines of the vintage takes place on the Monday of the fair and the two vintages are divided amongst two tasting panels. The panels themselves are made up of winemakers from other regions, oenologists, barrel merchants, sommeliers and this year one Irish importer. This year each panel for the different vintages was made up of twelve people, split in turn, into groups of six. On my table were three sommeliers, one oenologist and one regional sales manager from Seguin-Moreau, the barrel maker. We were allocated the already highly rated 2009 vintage with an initial fifteen wines to judge (our fellow 2009 judges on the next door table having another, different fifteen to assess). Marks were to be awarded out of twenty with no specific direction from the organisers  to give marks for typicity, colour etc as the judges were already deemed to be experienced tasters. All the wines were tasted blind, labelled alphabetically A to O, and in a separate part of the building to the main fair. For me, the overall quality of the wines was excellent bar a few real shockers (see empty stands reference above). A lot of my scores were around the 14-15 point mark whilst the highest scorer was 17.5 and the lowest 8 ( I’m not totally lacking in sympathy). If I were to be critical I would say that the over-use of new oak was the main problem, giving the wines a sweetness that I find slightly sickly as well as contributing rough wood tannins. The best just shone like beacons – pure fruit, mineral backbones, lovely use of oak and overall great balance and always with a sense of understated majesty – in way that only the Northern Rhône can make Syrah appear.

(above: the Jury. Photo courtesy of www.leProgres.com)

An interesting element to the tasting itself was how different tasters score wines. Tasting opinions, I think, are sometimes reflective of people’s personalities. The introvert/pessimist taster is just much more severe than others often regarding a high score as being 12/20 whilst the extrovert/optmist throw scores of 18/20 or 19/20 around like confetti. Ultimately it didn’t matter as our scores were added up and averaged out but this thought struck me most obviously when  a sommelier scored one wine 17/20 whlist the barrel sales woman gave it an 11/20. His highest score was for a wine was 19, hers 13.

Once we got through the initial round the top three scoring wines from our table were put together with the top three wines of our fellow 2009 judges for a taste off. This time the two tables tasted the same six wines with the scores being averaged out. The top three wines from this second tier would then be awarded gold, silver and bronze, the places announced that lunchtime, followed by an unseemly scramble from the assembled masses in the main hall to purchase the winning wines. At this point it was interesting to note that there were three clear winners – no need to protest, re-taste, lie kicking and screaming on the ground or pull one’s hair out at the injustice of the results. Amazingly we all agreed on the winners. And the results…..well now that would telling. Suffice to say D came first, E second and B third.

Only kidding. Christophe Pichon placed first, Yves Cuilleron second and Patrick et Christophe Bonnefond third.

(above: The Winners – 2010 on the left, 2009 on the right. Photo courtesy of www.leProgres.com)

We’re coming to Cork and are very much looking forward to it. The venue is upstairs in the new star on the block, L’Atitude 51 on Union Quay.

The date is  Monday, 5th March and we’ll kick off at 7.30 pm

Simon will be talking you through 6 wines mainly from the Rhône Valley, but we may just hop outside of that area for one or two of these, and there will be tapas served to match each wine. The cost of the evening will be €15.00 per person and numbers will be limited to a maximum of 40 people. There will also be the option to stay on and avail of a set menu dinner; main course, dessert and coffee for just another €15.00 – if you are interested in this please be sure to mention when booking.

To book your place please call L’Atitude 51 on 021 2390219

Upstairs at L'Atitude 51

Upstairs at L'Atitude 51

Does climate change, even if we’re only talking about a temperature increase of 0.81°C, make a difference to what ends up in your bottle – or is it that simple?

The letter below was published in the Irish Times letters page of 24th January 2012. It was written in response to another letter, printed in the same pages on 16th January, which in turn was prompted by an article by John Wilson in the Irish Times Magazine of 7th January, 2012:

Sir,

In response to Jim Ryan’s (January 16th) letter on John Wilson’s article “Now for something different”, I would strongly disagree with his claim that a 0.81 increase of a degree Celsius is “hardly enough for…plants to notice.”

Whilst the increase seems insignificant in the greater scheme of things, it is actually the hotter temperatures during the growing season and in particular more frequent spikes in temperature that are causing problems for grape producers. Grape growing conditions are a complex subject and are affected by numerous macroclimatic conditions. Sunlight, rainfall, altitude and continentality as well as what is referred to as heat summation, all have a role to play with heat being responsible for 75% of the grape growth and ripening. Grape growers refer to the amount of heat generated during the growth season as growing degree days (GDDs). Added to this, mesoclimatic factors such as aspect, soil, wind exposure and bodies of water also have an influence on the ripening of grapes on the vine.

GDDs are calculated by taking the mean temperature for a month, subtracting ten and multiplying this figure by the number of days in the month. The GDDs for each month are then added together across the growing season (April-October in the Northern Hemisphere) to get the heat summation figure for the whole year. Typical GGD readings for well known grape growing areas are: Bordeaux 1440, the Barossa Valley, Australia 1680 and Burgundy 1100. These figures are used by the grape growing industry to help assign the correct grape variety to the correct area. For example the Syrah grape requires 1250 GDDs to ripen to a stage where it can be used to make dry table wine and therefore whilst not suited to Burgundy, it would easily ripen in the Barossa Valley.

Having obtained even fairly recent historical information from the weather station at Frankfurt airport in Germany it is clear to see that Mr. Ryan’s assertion that a small overall temperature increase has no affect on grape production is wrong. In 1997 the GDDs recorded at the station were 1317 and yet for the following fourteen years they were recorded at an average of 1474. In fact only 2010 had a lower reading with 1287 whilst the memorable heatwave summer of 2003 came in at 1700 GDDs. Under the 1997 reading a grape grower would have been recommended to plant varieties such as Chenin Blanc for whites and Merlot or Syrah for reds. In the intervening period that same grape grower would have regretted their decision as the advice today would be to plant traditional Mediterranean grape varieties such as Grenache Blanc and Mourvedre for whites and reds respectively such is the climatic change in the growing season. As for the traditional Riesling grape so commonly found in German vineyards, has Mr. Ryan not noticed that these wines are no longer found to be at the previous alcohol levels of nine or ten percent but more likely at twelve to thirteen percent? Riper grapes equals more sugar which equals more alcohol.

In addition, I don’t think any wine lover would dispute Mr. Ryan’s claim that Germany has been making good Pinot Noir for a long time but with the change in growing conditions I think it is safe to say that they are now doing so more regularly!

Yours faithfully,

Simon Tyrrell

And we love the reply in the paper today, 25th January 2012:

Sir, – I have just calculated the GDD (growing degree days) of my “Château Garage” 2011 utilising Simon Tyrell’s very helpful guide (January 24th) and using the mean temperatures from the Malin Head Weather Station, April to October 2011. It comes out at 656.1. I have one question: will it improve with age? – Yours, etc,

CORMAC MEEHAN,

Main Street,

Bundoran, Co Donegal.

This is a rant that was originally sent out as a Newsletter in July 2011. It prompted a lot of conversation for us and we feel it’s worth posting here. We’ve updated and edited it slightly (vat rate has changed etc.):

How do we compete with the large chains? Is it a matter of educating our target consumer? And if so how do we do that? Do we need to rely on word of mouth to promote our services (as opposed to advertising to promote our brand) and if so how do we maximize on this?

Ten years ago the independent off licences of this country had about a 50% share of the total off-premise sales of wine, beers and spirits but in the intervening years this has been steadily eroded to about 30% and continues to slide. Who have they lost out to? Well it’s of absolutely no surprise to know that the shift has been towards supermarkets and convenience stores such as Centra, Spar, Londis etc as well as newer arrivals Lidl and Aldi. Every time one of these opens it just continues to nibble away at what is left of the market for independents. If you were a true economic liberal you might just say ‘hard cheese, it’s the market that dictates’. We think the reality is more sinister and that the drinks business, particularly the wine side of it, is in danger of monopolised by a small number of extremely powerful retailers who not only control the domestic market but who also, due to their significant buying-power, have an adverse effect on grape production and winemaking.

Supermarkets are liable to mislead people regarding the true cost of a product. Below cost selling, a tactic to get customers through the door, is misleading as to the true value of a product. Items that are made in respectful and authentic ways naturally cost a certain price and if for example you find a bottle of wine in a supermarket at €4.99 or even €3.99 (and they do exist) you should question not only the quality of what is in the bottle but also the production methods that have been used by the winery to manage to get the juice into the bottle and for there still to be enough margin to satisfy the large retailer. A bottle of wine at €3.99 attracts 23% VAT, so remove 75 cents from the price. It also is subject to import duty of €1.97 (ex vat). Remove transport costs of approximately 20 cents and we get to €1.07. What are known as the dry materials cost at the very cheapest about 50 cents per bottle for the glass, the label, the capsule, the closure (plastic / cork / screwcap) and the carton. By now we have arrived at €0.57 and we haven’t taken into account advertising and promotion let alone a margin for the retailer or the producer. The message is pretty clear; wine can be had for cheap, but we are led to believe that this is all quite o.k. and that everyone is happy. Substitute wine with meat say and it isn’t nearly such a palatable idea. Think of what smoked salmon has become in the last 20 years, or going further back, even the humble chicken. Both used to be a luxury product, eaten on very special occasions and usually of very high quality. An average chicken on the supermarket shelf is apparently only 30 days old and pumped with goodness knows what to get it from egg to shelf so quickly. Smoked salmon fills lunchtime sandwiches, is mass produced and fed a diet of antibiotics. These foods are practically affordable on a daily basis if you buy the cheapest quality. Who was responsible for this degradation of such wonderful foodstuff – the salmon and chicken farmers or the large retailer, or maybe the consumer? (Do we deserve what we get?)

the steep terraces at Côte-Rôtie where alll the vineyard work has to be done by handThere are apparently means afoot to get wine producers to state on the label all the ingredients that have been used to make a wine. This could potentially help the smaller, quality focused grower (for example someone in Côte-Rôtie, see image, here all the work in the steep terraced vineyards has to be done by hand.) How palatable will it be to the consumer to see that their favourite bottle of cheap white wine has additions of ascorbic acid, sugar, pectolytic enzymes, sulphur dioxide, tartaric acid, cream of tartar, bentonite, maybe a touch of copper sulphate and some more sulphur dioxide. Admittedly some or all of these may be used by quality focused growers but rarely in the systematic way employed by large scale industrial growers. In fairness it should be said that despite the chemical sounding names not all these added ingredients are ‘bad’ but it does take away from the romance of it all.

The other obvious issue regarding the retailing of wine and the difference between the small independents and the large scale retailers is the level of service. Unless you are exceptionally well-read on the subject of wine your chance of picking up something really interesting in a supermarket has to be severely limited by the fact that no one is on hand to advise you. Therefore the obvious choice is to reach for a recognisable brand, instantly putting you into a zone of bland, heavily manipulated wines. The dedicated independent on the other hand has often spent years honing their range, and their knowledge of that range, in order to better guide you, the consumer. An independent merchant could well carry up to a thousand different wines but if he or she is any good they will have probably tasted the vast majority of those.

We should never underestimate the desire of the large groups to wipe out the competition and we all know it’s not just in the areas of food and drink retailing (however the availability of cheap alcohol is another whole kettle of fish – just to mix the old food and drink mataphors up a bit – and another day’s blogging). Their thirst to do so though leads them ultimately to join forces with the large scale producers. Imagine there are, say, 300 branches of supermarket inIrelandand each store sells twenty cases a year of a given wine. That means for the Irish arm of this supermarket alone a winery needs to be able to supply 6,000 cases or 72,000 bottles in a year. Most small or medium-sized producers don’t even make that amount.

Individuality, high quality, knowledge in wine and great service is not going to be found amongst the shelves of a supermarket. However it is more likely than not, be found at your dedicated local independent off licence or wine shop.

A fewmonths after we had first sent out this in newsletter form two other very interesting blog posts appeared, sparked by a Lidl promotion. One by Kevin Ecock (which was then followed by an article by Conor Pope in the Irish Times) and the other by Liam Cabot, of Cabot & Co in response to that article, both well worth the read.

We’ve been thinking about blogging for some time now, and reckon that it’s probably a better way to keep customers and those interested up to date with what we’ve got going on. We’ll continue with the Newsletter for the time being but will post some of the older ones here, that way you can easily have a read of older ones. So without wanting to start with too much repetition we would like to wish you a Happy New Year (it’s still January after all) and to give a little advance warning of the upcoming Bin End Sale which will be this February. Subscribers to our eNewsletter will have advance notice of the sale, so if you would like to be included please fill in your details in the box on the website, or send us an email ( wine@thewinestore.ie ) and we will add you to our emailing list.

We have a few bits of good news, including the four wines that were included in the Irish Times Wines of the Year by John Wilson (Friday December 2nd 2011) which will still be available at the old vat rate until the end of the month at least:

Domaine de la Renaudie, Chenin Blanc, Touraine 2009

Dominio di Bibei, Lalama, Ribeira Sacra, 2007

Domaine du Monteillet, ‘les Hauts du Monteillet’ Syrah, 2009

Domaine de la Sarabande, ‘Misterioso’ 2010 Faugères

We are also delighted to be included again this year in John and Sally McKenna’s Bridgestone Best in Ireland Guide 2012 and are equally thrilled with our parent company, Tyrrell & Co. (Wine Importers) Ltd,  being named Best Fine Wine Importer of the Year 2011 by Tomás Clancy in the Sunday Business Post (Agenda Magazine, January 1, 2012)

As mentioned on the home page of the website we have not yet applied any price increases as per the new vat rate, so you can still avail of the old prices for a little while longer.

Up coming dates for the diary include:


Tastings at ely – many tastings arranged for the New Year
Including Thursday 2nd February: Châteauneuf du Pape (€40 per head) featuring Simon Tyrrell.(This event is now sold out but contact ely using the details below to find out more of other tastings on offer)

For details of this and more see www.elywinebar.com.
Tastings start at 18:45 sharp and take place in ely bar & brasserie, IFSC.
For more information or to reserve your place please contact wineclub@elywinebar.com or call 01 678 786