Farm to Fork – Why we Should Support Independent Wine Merchants
I love to visit my local farmers market ‘Honest to Goodness’ in Glasnevin on a Saturday morning. I enjoy meeting and chatting to the farmers who grow the fresh vegetables, the baker that bakes delicious cakes and bread and the young guy who makes the seasonal jams. I know that I can trust where these products are sourced from and I am confident that I am getting quality goods for my money.
If this is important to you, then join me on this journey as we look behind the scenes to discover how the wines we enjoy, end up in our wine glasses.
In Ireland, independent wine merchants generally rely on importers to source wines for them to sell. Some importers specialise in specific wine regions, while others focus on niche wines, or on-trend styles like ‘orange wine’, ‘organic’ and ‘biodynamic’ wines. Wine importers are the middlemen between the winery and the wine store eventually selling to us.
It isn’t always as glamorous as it sounds; visiting vineyards, being wined and dined and tasting lots of wines. There is a lot at stake for a wine importer, their reputation, financial investment and risk if the wine doesn’t take off. There is a lot of logistics and planning when shipping pallets (usually 600 bottles of wine at a time) from Europe or even further afield from New Zealand. Imported wines must then be stored correctly before being sold and delivered to stores that will eventually sell them.
I want to shine a spotlight on Mackenway Distributors, a family run business whom I respect and admire. Founded in the 1980’s by Robert Smith and his wife Christine, together they began to import French wines to Ireland. Thirty plus years on, they continue to build friendships and business partnerships with wineries worldwide.
‘Once they are on our list you will see them there for some time’ says Robert, speaking of many of their key partners that they have listed since the beginning. Some you may recognise are; La Chablisienne, Cave du Lugny, Michel Redde, El Coto and Bodega Museum.
In the past 10 years, their son Bren has joined the business and has expanded their portfolio further afield, to New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and even Uruguay. They have also built up an extensive and impressive listing in Italy. The Smith family are a dynamic force, whose passion and love of wine has helped them remain united and successful. Working alongside them is Jean, a close family friend who has helped run their office for over 25 years. Bren’s wife Emily, although she doesn’t work in the business, helped handwrite wine labels for their recent portfolio tasting. It demonstrates their commitment and dedication to the family business.
Finian Sweeney of Sweeneys Wine Merchants who has been working with Mackenway for over 30 years said they are ‘A long-standing family run business with the next generation doing an amazing job. Continually reinventing their wine list, which is not easy for a wholesaler.’
They work very closely with the wineries they collaborate with, visiting many annually to guarantee quality is being maintained. Robert & Christine consider many of their suppliers as good close friends. They know that they can trust them to tend to the grapes from vineyard to winery. If it is a bad vintage they work together to make the most of the harvest. In great years, ensuring they produce the best quality grapes they can that we eventually get to enjoy.
Many people in the wine trade agreed that Robert Smith, isn’t just a salesman, he is a friend.
‘Like us they are a tight-knit family company. As an importer, they are superb at seeking out gems from across the wine world. Their wines never disappoint.’ says Cathal McHugh of McHugh’s Off Licence and restaurants.
Mackenway occasionally co-host winemaker dinners, which gives them and the visiting winemaker the opportunity to meet the consumer. If you enjoy food and wine pairing you should look out for these gastronomic events. They are a great night out and great value for money, often held in McHugh’s Raheny/ Portmarnock & Ashtons in Clonskeagh.
Mackenway have something to suit everyone in their portfolio from inexpensive Romanian wines to Grand Cru Chablis. Their wines are available in many good wine merchants nationwide and can also be found on lots of good restaurant lists.
‘It doesn’t matter where we are importing wine from, if it is good we’ll be able to sell it.’ says Robert.
Mackenway are members of NOFFLA (National Off-Licence Association). This means they can enter their wines into the only Irish Wine Competition. In its 18th year, suppliers enter a selection of their best wines into the competition, they are tasted blind (covered up) by trade professionals and wine writers. This year Mackenway had 10 finalists across fourteen different categories and they swept the board with five Gold Star Winners.
Callia Pinot Grigio won White wine of the Year & Coto de Imaz Rioja Reserva won the Old World under €20.00. Not only are their wines popular with trade and press, Mairead Ronan (TV Personality) mentioned on Instagram ‘Coto de Imaz Rioja Reserva’, was her ‘favourite wine of the night’ at my recent wine appreciation evening.
I try to support small local businesses when I can because I understand the hard work, determination and resilience that small business owners need to pursue their passion. From farmers growing grapes in France to your local fishmonger, I love to see these businesses thrive and their delicious produce ending up on our kitchen table for the whole family to enjoy.
These are some of the wines that I trust you will enjoy from Mackenway’s impressive range.
Montonale ‘Montunal’ DOC Lugana
Three brothers are responsible for creating this hidden treasure from the Lugana region in Italy. They produce a tiny quantity of wine using old vines from the native Turbiana grape.
Pale straw in colour with delicate aromas of pear and lemon zest and hints of white flowers. Fermented in stainless steel preserving the freshness and purity of fruit. It is dry on the palate, with flavours of apples and lemon rind. There is a complexity to the mouthfeel due to the winemakers stirring of lees which adds texture, body and richness to the wine. On the finish there are subtle notes of minerality and refreshing acidity. This is a unique wine, for Chablis lovers, it is worth exploring. It will keep and develop of the next number of years. It is my new go-to wine to impress a group of wine-loving friends or bring to a dinner party.
Food pairings: Superb aperitif, light starters, grilled or roasted vegetables, grilled light plain fish or chicken with lemon.
(RRP Approx. €22.00)
Callia Alta, Pinot Grigio, Argentina
An atypical Pinot Grigio, this New World award-winning wine is young, lively, fresh, aromatic and intense. Pronounced aromas of ripe tropical fruits, ripe peach and apricot. Refreshing zippy acidity and a long lingering fruit forward finish.
Enjoy on its own, or with fish cakes, exotic cuisine with lots of flavour but not hot chilli spice.
(RRP Approx. €15.00)
Domain Lafage, Cuvee Nicolas, France
Jean Marc Lafage is a young talented winemaker producing world-class wine in France, Spain and consulting in South America.
This beauty is made from 100% Grenache Noir grapes from sixty-five-year-old vines. It has powerful aromas of dark berries, blueberries, kirsch and violets. Echoed on the palate are juicy plums and black forest gateaux. It is full bodied, warm and generous with well-integrated tannins yet is elegant and refined. Decant this wine at least an hour beforehand to enjoy it at its best. Ideal with BBQ meats, lamb chops, casseroles or dark chocolate.
(RRP Approx €20.00)
Coto de Imaz, Rioja Reserva, Spain
A classic Rioja Reserva, made with 100% Tempranillo grape. A delicious complex wine with aromas of strawberries, wild raspberries, sweet spice and hints of vanilla. Aged in new French and American oak for a minimum of 24 months before bottling. Soft juicy red berry flavours, sweet warm winter, mocha and vanilla take over your palate. It is an elegant but powerful wine with silky smooth tannins, it can be enjoyed on its own or pairs beautifully with meat dishes such as Roast lamb, fillet of beef, slow-cooked cuts of lamb or beef.
(RRP Approx €20.00)
Some of Mackenways supporters over the years and where you can find many of their diverse range of wines are: Baggot Street Wines; Higgins, Clonskeagh; Gibneys, Malahide; Jus de Vin, Portmarnock; Lilac Wines; Martins, Fairview; Mortons, Ranelagh; O’Donovans, Cork; Redmonds, Ranelagh; Sweeney’s, Glasnevin; The Vintry.
Hi, I am Lynda Coogan owner of Wine Tasting Ireland, I am delighted to be part of The Taste team where I can passionately share my love and knowledge of wine with you. I hold a WSET Diploma in wine, I have ten years’ experience in the wine trade and I am a member of the Guild of Sommeliers. Wine Tasting Ireland, specialises in hosting fun, interactive wine tastings for groups.
I believe that by going back to basics, wine can be appreciated by everyone, a little knowledge goes a long way! We come to you, bring all that’s needed to set up a unique, bespoke wine tasting event in your offices, your home or any venue. They are ideal for team building at work, a social gathering or a special occasion. I would love to hear from you, so please get in touch.