I went to America years a number of years ago. It was my first time out of the UK, and I hadn't a clue what I was doing. I rocked up at the border control in Seattle, was greeted by a few heavily armed guards, quite an imposing sight for a chap who was used to just seeing British bobbies with their truncheons. Beyond them lay the passport control, and a man with Latin American heritage sitting in a booth.
Now I was going to see a friend and didn't know anything - their address, land line phone number - nothing. I didn't know I needed to fill out a form saying where I was planning on going. I wasn't even going to Seattle, I was flying elsewhere, so I approached the booth with nothing but my fresh passport and a slightly disheveled jacket under my arm.
This was post 9/11, and America was deep in the middle of the Bush administration and border controls were tighter than... well, a tight thing. I get to this booth and the gentleman behind asks me the usual questions - 'what is the purpose of my visit', 'where have I come from' and so forth. He then asks me for the address of where I was staying. I hadn't a clue, I was due to be met at the airport and so there was no need for me to have an address. "I'm afraid we have a problem then" said the border person. Images of being led off to a room and strip searched, followed by a swift trip to Guantanamo Bay entered my head. That was until the man brandishing my passport, a man with his origins firmly in central America, said "oh, you were born in Ireland?"
I replied in the positive, "Oh I love the Irish. I feel as though I am Irish. We'll just say you are staying at the Seattle Holiday Inn" he continued as he stamped my passport, and that was me, in America. I didn't tell him that I left the country when I was six months old and had never been back, nor did I tell him that I have not a drop of Irish blood in my veins and that the nearest I had ever been to embracing the Irish heritage he so dearly loved was an occasional pint of Guinness and listening to Terry Wogan. I realised that having "Northern Ireland" on my passport was the key to many an American heart, and had also resulted in me avoiding being probed in case I had ingested a bag of cocaine. There are perks to being an Irishman.
And I think this is why we see so many winemakers falling back on their roots in Ireland and Scotland. The fact that these nations have absolutely no wine making history is irrelevant, if a winemaker's great auntie Mary came from Cork or Peebles, they will drag up some mystical native story to name their wines after, thinking it will give them a unique selling point. I came across three such wines a few days ago, named after some Irish folklore, and I wish they had put more time into the wine than into the rubbish they spout about their wines.
Take for instance the 2008 Setanta Emer Chardonnay from the Adelaide Hills. Apparently, Emer is the most intelligent and beautiful woman in the whole of Ireland, the daughter of Forgall Manach, who 'possessed the qualities of beauty, sweet voice, gentle speech, wisdom and chastity...'. Sad really that the wine doesn't follow the character traits of the person. It had a lot of oak up front, more of a big rugged bruiser than beauty. There are some sweet elements on the palate, a bit of papaya and mango, but then you get a kick of alcohol on the finish, mixed with weak fruit and a bitter element. A big pass. 82pts £19.49
The next wine, the 2007 Setanta Cuchulain Shiraz is apparently about a dog. Setanta, a fella in Ireland, killed a guard dog of King Conchubar and, having miffed the king, pledged that he would protect the king until a new mutt had been brought home from the pound. The funky named Cathbar the Druid, named Setanta "Cuchulain" or the 'hound of Culain'. The relevance to the wine is probably never going to become apparent, so let me tell you what it tasted like. Sweet and sour cherry with a little bit of milk chocolate and pepper coming off the nose. There is sweet menthol, some mint aromas too and it is quite punchy. The palate is surprisingly soft, not at all jammy, with some subtle, slightly dried fruit - almost pomegranate - flavour. There is a spice too, and with some dusty notes throughout, it is almost as though someone has emptied a spice rack on my tongue. 86pts £20.49
Finally, the 2007 Setanta Black Sanglain Cabernet Sauvignon is about a horse that emerged from the Black Lake of Sanglain and dragged the body of Setanta back to the lake which then proceeded to boil. Delightful really, person soup.....
Anyway the wine has sweet jammy fruit mixed with a little bit of Cabernet vegetation. Semi dried cherries, a bit of glace cherry too, and then a touch of Bounty bar. An touch sweet on the palate, but with some dusty fruit, a bit of cocoa powder and some bark flavours. The finish has an alcohol spice, but it is more than calmed by the rich, dense fruit. A little bit of cigar tobacco on the finish. Aside from the slightly firm tannin, I like this wine, but it is in the same way as I like Pork Pie and Mushy peas. You know it isn't good, but you can't help being fond of it. 90pts £20.49
I really wish people wouldn't use folklore to sell their wine. There is nothing worse than some story about a chicken running up a hill and then being made into soup that fed three thousand people. Setanta aren't the only company doing it, d'Arenberg do it as do many many others. Be proud of your heritage, by all means, but don't put it on your labels as it does you no favours. These wines range from poor to good, but what will stick in my mind is not the quality of the Cabernet, or the poor performance of the Chardonnay, but the stories from their websites that are just silly and have no place (in my opinion) on a wine bottle. Having said that, if they had named one of their wines "Cathbar the Druid", I might buy that.