Ah, February – the month of love, cue Valentine’s day of course. I thought it might be an idea to gather some close friends, colleagues, and industry leaders in Ireland and abroad to recount to us about the moment they met a love of theirs. The sweetheart who they’ve stayed devoted to, through thick and thin, the good times and bad, over the years. The one who brings back some of their fondest memories of when they first met, and can tell a million or more stories and facts about. No, it’s not their spouse or partner I’m referring to – this is a homage to the other loves of their working life; wine, of course.
Chances are, it wasn’t Petrus you had as your very first wine – nor Lafite Rothschild or La Tache. I can also assume if you’ve begun reading this piece, you’re either someone who loves wine who can probably relate to that time when they had their very own ‘epiphany moment’ with wine.
Mine was in 2009, back when I was 18. I had a short-lived romance with ‘Buckfast tonic wine’ in the midst of my teenage years – a little like kissing a frog before you’ve chanced upon your prince or princess. It wasn’t too long before I began to learn more about myself, and what it was I found attractive or undesirable in wine romantics and within different wines personalities. Being a novice to wine in 2009, I wasn’t seeking out crazy Rieslings, Zweigelts, or Manzanilla Sherry’s for a random fling like often I do today. I only had one type back then – the ‘Marilyn Monroe’ of grape varieties, Sauvignon Blanc.
A bottle of ‘La Poussie Sancerre’ in a posh restaurant (an expensive dinner date for two 18-year olds back then) gave me chills and butterflies that sadly my well-mannered pleasant date on the other side of the table couldn’t compete alongside against. From then on to today, my bond with wine has only blossomed, a marriage of sorts now…
Several Masters of Wine, sommeliers, wine writers, wine buyers, and wine teachers, answered the same question below too – What was the wine bottle, or wine memory that made you fall in love with the wine industry?
‘My love of wine sprung from my father’s passion for it; wine was always a feature with dinner in our house. But the industry part happened by accident. I got a job in a London wine agency through my French language skills, and luckily for me, that agency happened to represent the wonderful Châteauneuf-du-Pape estate Château de Beaucastel.
A seminal moment was in 2005 when I enjoyed the 1999 Beaucastel one quiet Sunday evening… with a supermarket pizza! It really was one of my most memorable wine experiences and set the scene not only for a continuing career in the industry but also a lifelong love of Beaucastel. Last New Year’s Eve, I enjoyed the 2007, which was truly spectacular’.Julien is a winemaker, blogger, social media star, and YouTube personality who writes and talks about wine to a mass following of wine enthusiasts online. Julien is also a winemaker and founder of the globally popular wine blog, socialvignerons.com.
I fell in love with the wine industry as a youngster in the summer of 1999 – yes, nearly 20 years ago now! While studying at Toulouse University to graduate in biology, I spent the harvest in the nearby Fronton wine region, sampling grapes in the vineyards and analysing wine for the local wineries. I found so much expansive passion in everyone involved with winemaking.
I was so excited to get my head out of the books and by exploring stunning landscapes from dawn to dusk. Every fermenting tank was a different and new smelling experience! Occasionally, sampling a sip of wine was just fascinating too. I’ve embraced my winemaking and later wine-writing career ever since. The passion and excitement are still as thrilling, at every sunset in a vineyard I witness, at every wine glass I stick my nose into.James is the wine buyer for Supervalu & Centra in Northern Ireland, and a qualified WSET Educator.
It was a bottle of Ruby Port in the baking sundown by the Douro river in Porto! Yes, a nice cold White Port and Tonic may have been more appropriate, but we were poor backpacking students who were presented with a free bottle of Port and a couple of glasses (long story!).
Anyway, sitting by the famous Douro River drinking Port in Porto surrounded by the famous Port Houses on the hill sparked something within me. It was then that I decided if I had to get a job after university, I really wanted it to be in the wine business.Lynne is a very highly admired Master of Wine, the Wine Director for O’Briens Wine, and a big inspiration to many in this industry.
I was in Tuscany in my early twenties living with an Italian family and working locally. It was March, so still cold and the skies were dark early. One cold night after dinner, sitting beside the fire one of my Italian friends produced a half bottle of wine which he called his ‘local meditation wine’. It was the most incredible wine I have ever tasted; luscious, concentrated, textural, and both nectar like as well as dry.
This was the first personal wine note I ever took and followed up afterwards to discover this ‘local meditation wine’ was in fact Avignonesi Vin Santo – one of the most iconic wine styles in the world from one of its top producers – I was hooked!Talha is the General Manager of the award-winning Michael’s Restaurant in Dublin. Talha himself was duly recognised as the Best Restaurant Manager in Dublin at the Restaurant Association of Ireland Awards in 2018.
‘My love for wine came when I first understood several years ago that when great food is matched with just the right wine, it elevates a good dining experience to an excellent one. It is a consistently evolving exercise which must take into consideration both the ingredients, and the customers taste.
I love nothing more than when my clients order their food and ask my help in selecting the wine for them. Getting that choice just right is a great source of personal satisfaction for me.Lynda Coogan is a holder of the WSET Diploma, wine writer for TheTaste.ie, and founder of winetastingireland.com – a platform for budding wine connoisseurs and enthusiasts to enjoy and learn about wine, in a relaxed, comfortable setting hosted by Lynda.
I had always thought wine was wine. Red was red, and white was white, right? Well, that was until my senses were awakened in 1999 when I tasted Saintburys Pinot Noir from Carneros, in Napa Valley. Renowned for its pale colour with layers of aromas; red berries, wild strawberries, and flavours of cherries and spice. It was smooth, silky, with soft velvety tannins – love at first taste.
My curiosity was sparked further when I fell in love with the rich and dark, full-bodied Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon – I felt like I was cheating on my first love! I needed to know more. How could these two grapes produce such individual and unique wines that thrilled my senses? What else could I uncover? Twenty years on, this journey has allowed me to discover so much about the complex world of wine and has led me to my true passion – helping others learn and appreciate wine in a fun and social way.Michelle is the Retail Sales Manager for Ely (soon to open a slick new wine store in Maynooth), where you will find one of Irelands finest wine experiences.
Back in 2002 when I was studying in DCU, I got a part-time job in Oddbins. Reading the tasting notes and navigating my way through hundreds of labels ignited my curiosity, but what changed the direction of my life was the monthly staff training. Held ‘after hours’, the entire Dublin Oddbins staff gathered in the old Baggot Street shop to taste and learn, about wines.
There is nothing like your first proper wine tasting. All the open bottles presented a chance to explore the globe in a room full of people who felt similarly to me. I was sold from there. A passionate industry filled with passionate people, what more could I ever ask for. At that moment, I fell in love with wine and the amazing wine industryMike is a wine writer based in London and founder of the highly popular wine blog and website Pleasebringmemywine.com. Mike is also a member of the Circle of Wine Writers.
By the age of 20, most adventurous I got with wine before then was ‘snakebite and black’ (equal parts of lager and cider with a dash of blackcurrant cordial), but instead of blackcurrant cordial, it was red wine for me!
Then I made a trip out to see my folks’ new retirement project in Piemonte and saw vineyards for the first time and I just thought “wow, this is bloody pretty!” All our mates we made out there are winemakers and they are a fun bunch to spend time with. You end up loving it because they love it, and my journey started.Róisín, who is studying for the prestigious MW qualification, is also a pharmacist and talented winemaker of great Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in Burgundy, labelled under her name.
It was a special moment that made me fall in love with wine. I was 21, sitting in my friend’s house in Bensheim in the small German wine region of Hessische Bergstraße, drinking and talking about Riesling. I began to appreciate quality wine and the multidisciplinary concept of terroir and what that brings to the glass. I was amazed by how wines made only a short drive away from each other could taste so differently.
How the fruity, light wines made from the local loess soils differed from the broad peachy wines of the sandstone and volcanic soils of the warmer Pfalz a short drive south. How the focused, citrus, floral wines from the schists of the Rheingau a little north contrasted the pale, ethereal, filigree nature of the racy, sweet wines from the slate soils of the Mosel further along the Rhine Valley. I was captured!Nick is the Assistant Head Sommelier at the multi wine award-winning Ashford Castle in County Mayo. Nick has over 20 years’ experience working as a sommelier at the highest level in the Irish wine and hospitality industry.
I always was amazed by the movies like James Bond and how people would be impressed when he would order his Bollinger. This was the moment it began for me. Coming from a farming background, I was intrigued by how something so simple could inflict such pleasure and comfort to a person with just one taste. Joining Ashford Castle 20 years ago, they nourished my curiosity for wine.
I loved history and geography at school, and that for me is what a wine really is. Behind a good bottle, is always a good story. With wine, you never know it all – the wine you taste today will be very different a few years down the road. Like some of the wines in the Ashford cellar I set my eyes upon for love at first sight 20 years ago, I like to think I’ve matured with some of those wines in the cellar too!Judy, based between London and Dublin, has written numerous wine articles for notable publications across the world, including The Irish Times, World of Fine Wine, and Australian magazine, Alquimie.
On sabbatical from a legal partnership in 2009, I bought the Wine Atlas of New Zealand instead of The Lonely Planet. I found myself on Daniel Schuster’s veranda, overlooking his vineyard at Waipara, to the north of Christchurch. Schuster had taught a generation of New Zealand winemakers and was a born entertainer.
I wrote down producers’ names, trying to keep up with him. “Tell them I sent you”, he said. It was that conversation with Schuster that led me to work the ’09 harvest in Bordeaux, to return to college, and to become a writer. That conversation was the moment I truly fell in love with wine.Anna and Vanessa are the owners of one of Dublin’s consistently best restaurants over the last five years ‘Las Tapas de Lola’. They also directly import some incredible Spanish wines, which are found exclusively in their famous restaurant on Wexford Street in Dublin 2.
Our joint love affair would have to be our cava from Can Paixano, a place steeped in history for Lola. When I (Vanessa) lived in Barcelona in the early ’90s, I lived in Can Paixano, a fantastic champanería there for generations. When I met Anna (& fell madly in love), we discovered she used to visit Can Paixano with her family on a regular basis too. It’s an institution.
We decided, should we ever open our own place, the only cava we would stock would be from there. And so, it is. Whenever we visit Anna’s family, the first thing we do, straight off the plane, is head to Can Paixano for a glass of Rosat (pink bubbles) and a bocadillo.Master of Wine Mick O’Connell is the wine buyer for leading Irish wine import company Findlaters. When not in Ireland, Mick can often be found in Sardinia, making his own wine ‘Garnacha not Guerra’.
For most wine folk their light bulb moment seems to involve a gloriously profound bottle from a family members cellar. For me, it was a much more modest moment that got me hooked. I had been working in wine shops for a few years while at school and wine was “just” a drink to me.
My then-manager, now-friend, Steve Robertson, took me through a simple fruity Sicilian (Cusumano Nero d’Avola) bringing me on the journey through appearance, nose, and then different taste components at the back of an Oddbins in Great Portland Street, London. The snowball of wanting to learn as much as I could be given, its first push down the hill. There have been plenty of bottles since that have outshone that one, but in many ways, for the path, my life took from there that bottle was the most important.Louise Creane is the restaurant manager and wine aficionado of Galway Michelin Starred restaurant ‘ANIAR’.
Having started in hospitality at a young age, wine has always been part of my life. I’ve had the good, bad, and the ugly of tastings waiting for that ‘Ahaa’ wine moment. I was introduced to a natural orange wine by Radikon a few years ago in ANIAR and that was it. It resuscitated my love and intrigue for wine. Luckily for me, the revival of natural and organic processes in winemaking has flourished.
It has had me falling in love with different natural and organic wines more often than it should. One that I can’t get out of my head and have shared with all of my nearest and dearest this year is Kalkundkiesel by Claus Preisinger. It’s an unfiltered, non-sulphite, spontaneous fermented skin-contact white wine from Burgenland in Austria and it’s smashing!Rory is a highly respected WSET educated wine and lifestyle writer in Ireland. Rory’s wine articles can be found on his website ‘eatdrinkrunfun.com’.
From Black Tower to Blue Nun and Liebfraumilch, I was always aware of wine growing up. It was something my fancy neighbours drank, but it wasn’t until I backpacked Australia for a year that I really started drinking it. When I did, it was because it was cheap, and many a Fruity Gordo in a 5-litre box was consumed! Grape varieties and the finer points of wine were a foreign language to me back then.
Fast forward 20 years, and I’ve completed the WSET Level 2 and am completely enamoured with the world of wine. I’m partial to a Muscadet (Jo Landron), appreciate the qualities of Rosé (Domaine Horgelus) in Summer, and for reds my to is Australian Shiraz from Penfolds.Ian is part of the exceedingly talented new young generation of sommeliers in Ireland – Since early 2018, Ian has been a sommelier in the 5* Adare Manor resort.
‘My love of wine came about when I started working in Il Panorama in Howth, Dublin. I remember the exact moment that I got more than just generic fruit flavours out of the wine. The bottle itself was the 2009 Rocland Estate MVR (a blend of Marsanne, Rousanne, and Viognier) from McLaren Vale.
I was drinking it with one of my closest friends on a warm summer evening outside Il Pan’ while waiting for our pizza to cook. On the first smell, I got so much intense pineapple and orange peel. On the palate, the racing acidity was backed up with the tropical fruitiness of the pineapple but had a creamy texture too. This for me was the start of something new!Based in Bordeaux, Charlie Matthews is the Area Manager in Europe for iconic Napa Valley winery, Opus One.
It’s a privilege to work in an industry that has provided so many convivial moments, and one of the few jobs where bringing your ‘work’ home with you is positively welcomed. Along the way, there have been many wonderful moments (particularly with my current employer), but the moment of initial adoration towards wine was at the very beginning of my wine journey.
Recently arrived in the wine business, we were lucky enough to open a bottle of 1982 Château Gruaud Larose after the shop had closed. I can still vividly recall the saddle leather, cassis and cedar aromas, the complexity of the flavours and the silky smoothness of the tannins. It was a moment of epiphany. We spent our days selling wines for everyday drinking, but this moment provided a glimpse into another world and one that I wanted to know more about.Mark is the owner and wine expert of neighbourhood restaurant ‘Old Street’ In Malahide, where you will find one of Dublin’s top wine experiences.
‘My love affair with wine developed slowly over a period of years in my mid-twenties and in large part was nurtured by my local wine shop in Portmarnock, Jus de Vine and its venerable owner, Tommy Cullen, a bit of a legend of the Irish wine scene. I still remember some of the inane and absurd questions asked of Tommy, who would always try to answer patiently. “Tommy, have you ever been to Syrah!?” Good God! A gift from my wife of a bottle of Chateau Palmer 1999 is a memory I won’t forget and likely a wine I’ll never afford again.
But over time I have realized that you really don’t need to spend big money to enjoy great quality wine and a lot of the best memories and moments come from discovering new and interesting wines and sharing them with like-minded people. As the saying goes, ‘wine should be a memory’.
Originally from Celbridge, Kildare, Philip Dunne has worked in the Irish hospitality industry since he was 15. After experiences in fine and casual dining, he started to work at Ashford Castle in 2015 and after working his way up, he became Ashford Castle’s Head Sommelier at the age of 25. Following this, Philip became the Restaurant & Wine Director at Old Street Restaurant in Malahide. He is a qualified WSET Educator and is now Head Sommelier at Dublin’s Westbury Hotel.
Philip’s passion for wine goes beyond the service at the luxurious five star as he also writes about the topic and he’s an enthusiastic and active presence in the Irish wine scene.