Mea Culpa, Ireland

When I was a teacheDSC_0696r my most effective tone of voice could be found somewhere between monotonous nag and screeching harangue. And my favorite verbal floggings came with phrases like “get a second set of eyes,” “take another look,” and “reread it…again.” A student once insisted that if he heard me say any of those things one more time he would vomit. Well, I’m never one to pass up a good, empty threat. I’m also not one to let an effective teaching moment slip by. So, I made him clean it up himself.

I thought about that take-another-look business quite a bit last week during a trip to Dublin to visit our daughter, who’s studying at Trinity College. Two years ago, after wandering across Ireland for twelve days, I groaned about all the wine lists I ran into that lacked the requisite sophistication, the depth and breadth, for someone as worldly and knowledgeable as I. Sniff. Yes, that was my nose you just saw rise a bit. Oh, for a time machine to jump into, just so I could go back and smack that mouth-breathing chucklehead and tell him how wrong, how clueless he was. (

As a long-time publications director, I’m embarrassed to say I got faked out first time around by the goofy layouts in a number of wine lists. A country would be listed in bold print, often centered, and there would be one wine underneath. These lists looked ridiculous and often gave the impression that the restaurant didn’t really have a clue what it was doing. Well, last week I saw smart, eclectic wine lists in UnknownDublin that also had only one or two selections per country in both the white and red categories. But the page was laid out in a more compelling, more attractive fashion. I think I was sitting in The Exchequer, a popular gastropub near our hotel, scanning the list for a lunch wine when it hit me. As Bugs Bunny would have said if he was with us, “What a maroon!” The lists I had seen two years ago weren’t the product of some bumpkins who knew only beer and whiskey. They were intentionally constructed to provide variety and value. And Mr. “I’m In The Wine Business” couldn’t see it.

No longer slumbering in my idiocy-induced coma, I was able to appreciate what restaurants across Dublin, and I realize now, throughout Ireland, are trying to accomplish. Along with the good food we found everywhere, we were given wine lists that offered a global spectrum of varietals and blends, and almost always with commendable mark-ups that offered value. In ten or 12 restaurant meals, I don’t think I ran into pricing that came anywhere near the gouging that is routine in American eateries, where 250-400% can be expected. We had two splurge bottles during the week, a 2009 Antinori Tignanello and a 2004 Chateau Lynch-Bages, and IMG_1116both of them came to the table at less than 100 percent above retail; the Italian was marked up just a nick over 50%. Same was true for the simple wines we enjoyed at lunch and the by-the-glass choices we made. For example, at The Exchequer, where we ordered glasses of the Paddy Borthwick Pinot Noir (New Zealand), a bottle sold for 35 Euros; retail is approximately 20 Euros. Less than 100 percent. And this played out all week. As we learned in Paris last October (, restaurants sell a ton more wine when the bottles are priced to move. Especially if the Rileys are in town!

What We Drank in Dublin

(in the interest of space all spirits purchases have been omitted)

The Hairy Lemon :  “We got white and we got red.” House merlot

Fallon & Byrne: 2007 Domaine Vincent Girardin Santenay 1er Cru, ‘Les Gravières’ (Burgundy, France)

The Exchequer: 2010 Paddy Borthwick Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc (Wairarapa, New Zealand)

Matt the Thresher: 2010 Domain Christian Moreau Chablis (Burgundy, France)

The Farm: 2009 Domaine Auvigne Macon Solutre DSC_0574(Burgundy, France)

Brasserie Sixty6: 2009 Marble-Leaf Pinot Noir (Marlborough, New Zealand)

Deep (Howth): 2010 Mad Fish Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon (Western Australia)

Ely Bar & Brasserie: 2009 Antinori Tignanello (Tuscany, Italy)

Shanahan’s On The Green: 2004 Chateau Lynch-Bages* (Bordeaux, France)

Darwin’s: 2011 Spy Valley Pinot Noir (Marlborough, New Zealand)

*Wine of the week. Tignanello was a close second.

2 thoughts on “Mea Culpa, Ireland

  1. Caryl Lewis Schmitz

    This post wants me to tell my current college students to go abroad, if only so that i can visit them and dine and wine that country! Your #1 and #2 wines are both ones from my Dream Team list- still only dreaming about them. Sounds like you had a wonderful gastro-trip! Please share your pricing thoughts with the US restaurant world so we can enjoy more “special” wines when we go out without breaking our (tuition battered) bank accounts!

  2. Denis Riley

    Excellent analysis! Of course, it’s obviously a plot by the wine sellers of Ireland to subvert the beer & whiskey culture dominating the island! Nonetheless, in the spirit of competition, it will do no harm. Dia beoir agus fíon Dia – God bless beer & God bless wine!

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