WINES DIRECT @ ARNOTTS
Lower Ground Flower
Phone: 01 873 3631
Wines Direct have been part of my life pretty well since I started to write about wine, way back in the 1980s and it’s great that they now have a retail outlet in the heart of Dublin (although, of course, they pioneered what we then called “mail order” wine in Ireland).
Some the their wines are ones with which, in effect, I have grown up: Bergerie de l’Hortus and Domaine Clavel from the Languedoc and a whole rake of Bordeauxs: Chateaux Thieuley (especially the Cuvée Francis Courselle, as good as many a fine white Burgundy and a lot cheaper, Haut-Rian for everyday claret, Labegorce for a touch of Margaux elegance, Roc de Cambes for power and, also from the Francois Mitjaville stable, the mad, garagiste Tertre Roteboeuf which I used to buy before Robert Parker canonised it.
Its founder, Paddy Keogh, was a towering figure in several respects. He was, as befits a former army officer, very tall and very solidly built. He looked as he was: solid and dependable. He died, far too young, in 2014.
He was a towering figure, also, in the wine business, a man whose palate and judgement were, I reckon, the best in the business. He never compromised; he never bought wine from a producer he had not met (and liked); there were no token items on the list at Wines Direct; every wine had a place and a story. Paddy was a great raconteur.
Wine can be an immensely dull subject and even those who love it can bore for Ireland. Paddy’s enthusiasm for wine was infectious, his interest in it rooted not just in the taste but also the history, the culture, the people behind it.
He leaves a huge gap but his monument is the selection of wines he developed over almost thirty years in Wines Direct. And his widow and sons, along with the exceptional team that he had built up over the years, carry on in exactly the same tradition, never compromising and, most relevantly here, delivering an online and mail order service that is second to none. (When my wife, Johann, pointed out to Paddy that his packaging was hard to recycle he switched to sustainable cardboard within weeks. And that was in the 1980s).
Of course, there’s so much more to Wines Direct than the ones I mention above. Rather than list their multiple strengths, it’s easier to say what they don’t do: currently Germany (a rather thankless task in the Irish market), South Africa, Greece. But probably only for a while. That’s the thing about Wines Direct: consistency combined with many pleasant surprises.
The most convenient way to experience such surprises is to join their Wine Explorers Club: you sign up for 6 bottles per month, all different, all discounted up to 15% off normal price, the parameters fixed by you (all red, all white, mixed) and you can go for €69, €89 or €109 per month. And that includes delivery.
While Wines Direct defies strict definition, there are a few givens. These are real wines, made by actual people, not by big companies. You will never find them (even under another label) in supermarkets or off-licences. They are all exceptional examples of what they are (in other words, ambassadors for their country and region and style) and they are all very fairly priced.
When I open a restaurant wine list and recognise that the list contains stuff from Wines Direct, I tend to relax. It means that the restaurant cares about wine, so there’s a chance they care about food too.
Browsing online is not for everyone (although the website is exceptionally comfortable to navigate) so it’s good to know that you can browse actual shelves at Wines Direct’s HQ in Mullingar (a few moments off the motorway and less than an hour from Dublin) and at the Wines Direct shop in Arnott’s in the central Dublin.
I miss Paddy’s phone calls. They were lengthy, informative, amusing, involved stories and adventures in the land of the vine and I always ended up dreaming of a glass of something good.
His like, as they say, will not be there again. But Wines Direct live on and is getting better all the time.