Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Irish Wine Buff

As expected the Guinness in Ireland was smooth and creamy, and came in pint glasses. The wine experience was a little different. I took four bottles of 2002 Australian Shiraz as well a 375 ml bottle of Seppelt’s DP 59 Rare Rutherglen Tokay to share among relatives and friends. The reception these wines received was interesting. Friends from England were quite willing to taste the wines and express an opinion. But my wife’s Irish cousins seemed more interested in the alcohol content than the taste of the wines. Initially I put this down to a lack of experience with wine, after all alcohol is not the only component that goes to make a balanced and structurally sound wine.

However! Toward the end of our week among the green hills and stone ruins of southwest Ireland I was asked to purchase wine for a birthday party. And this was not just any birthday party; it was the reason for being in Ireland. The wine selection would have to rise to the occasion but there was only one bottle of Aussie Shiraz left. Having seen what wines were being sold in the supermarkets I was keen to find a specialist wine store. But this is Ireland. The land of Guinness. Small villages with narrow streets. And peat-smoke filled pubs! Quality wine is it, ya say? Hmmm, let me tink now. Fortunately some of the other Americans who were visiting for the party, and were staying in GarryKennedy, had seen a wine shop, The Wine Buff, in nearby Nenagh.

A brief glance around the shelves of The Wine Buff and I knew that I wasn’t going to be buying any New World Wines. But the owner Alexis Kelly was very accommodating once she knew I liked Syrah. And she opened a couple of bottles of other wines for us to taste as well. In the end we came away with a six-pack of wines that turned out to be quite popular among the party goers. Maybe I’ll post on them in the future.

But what of the Irish and the alcohol content of wine? To try and learn more I chased down the web site for The Wine Buff because Alexis had said in passing that The Wine Buff was looking at Australia. And there it was, Update from Australia. And there it was again, the concern over high alcohol content. This time the comments were a little more informative. The alcohol level was clearly a concern but so was the heavy extraction and lack of freshness. With comments like “At this stage I have tasted about two hundred wines and there were only about six wines, maximum, that I felt like drinking” it looks like The Wine Buff won’t be a big importer of Australian wines .The price of the wines downunder also appeared to be a concern. I can understand this. The six wines we purchased from The Wine Buff were all under $20USD and only one was not good value.

And then there is Muck and Merlot! Published in 2004 this little book was written by Tom Doorley, reputedly “one of Ireland’s best-known commentators on food and wine”. My copy came from the Tall Stories book store in Kilkenny and as I leafed through a few chapters late at night in the Willowbrook B&B I began to realize that Mr Doorley was perhaps one of the reasons why the Irish look for the alcohol level before they taste. Muck and Merlot has a chapter entitled Wine Whine which covers the usual suspects but it also goes after “cult wines that are over-extracted and over-alcoholic”. Now there is nothing wrong with that notion, in fact it may well hold more than a grain of truth. Its just that the paragraph begins with quite a crippling comment on Penfold’s Grange. Red flag to an Australian! But the same paragraph also contains the comment “Whole swathes of the world’s wines are now too alcoholic for their own good, but do we hear serious objections? Not nearly enough of them.” Later in the same chapter are comments on the mafia and dead bodies in the irrigation channels of (Riverina) Australia. Well in truth there are a lot of Australians of Italian heritage there, so I suppose……

Back to some real facts about Ireland and those high alcohol Australian wines. Tom, my man, do you realize that Ireland is the sixth largest market for Australian wines? And that between the years 2002/3 and 2004/5 the volume of Australian wine sold increased by 46.5%? Someone in Ireland loves a little bit more alcohol in their wines!

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