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February 02, 2021 3 min read

New Irish merchants: Crossover appeal

"[...] Whelehans Wines at The Silver Tassie, Loughlinstown.

Go bring to me a pint o’ wine, And fill it in a silver tassie.

Thus go the opening lines of Robert Burns’s poem “The Silver Tassie,” and he wasn’t the only man of letters to title one of his works thus. Irish playwright Sean O’Casey wrote an anti-war play of the same name in 1928, which inspired the eponymous opera by English composer Mark-Anthony Turnage 70 years later. Yet for residents of the south Dublin suburb of Loughlinstown, “Silver Tassie” meant only one thing for decades: a large public house, easily spotted beside the main road south out of the city, the N11.

It is a public house no longer, not since Saturday, December 13, 2014, when, in an ugly-duckling-to-swan transformation of formidable scope, it emerged as Whelehans, now regarded as one of Ireland’s finest destinations for wine lovers, worth a special journey (to borrow from Michelin). Only total demolition and rebuilding from scratch could have effected a more complete metamorphosis from drab old pub to wine browsers’ paradise.

Proprietor David Whelehan makes light of the effort—and it was herculean—needed to see the project through to completion, preferring to dwell on his favorite topic of conversation—enumerating the various new additions to his range, and there are always new additions. Every conversation with him centers on this topic, and it is conducted on the run as he darts about the shop, pointing hither and thither, plucking bottles from shelves to draw attention to the latest finds.

Whelehan’s easy demeanor hides a razor-sharp judgment when it comes to wine, a knack of winkling out winners from the hundreds of wines sampled at, say, Prowein. He’s never a man to stand still, always innovating and improving, changing this, modifying that, all the time adding to the customer experience, above all making it a place people want to linger. And that is the essence of Whelehans, for, unlike many specialist wine shops, there is space aplenty here. There is an airy absence of clutter, and the enquiring eye is not assailed by dozens and dozens of labels crammed onto overloaded shelves; there’s room to wander and muse.

Whelehan adds, “Elegance and balance is what we look for in our wines. We have a terroir focus, we concentrate on European wines, principally France, Spain, and Italy, and on European-style wines from the New World. We are always tasting… always tasting.” And it is always “we” when Whelehan talks about the business, as he repeatedly draws attention to the team effort behind his success. He is never less than upbeat, and I suspect his concluding remark after my most recent visit could be echoed by many others in the wine trade across the globe at present: “I have never worked harder and earned less, but I do get a buzz, yes. The buzz and the challenge keep me going”— said with a wry smile.

Just the one Mont Rubí White Xarel•lo 2019 One glass of a previous vintage convinced me to buy a case of this delicate yet exuberantly flavoured wine. It fairly dances on the palate, calling the taste buds to sit up and take note. A blessedly low 12% ABV makes it a winner on all counts."Raymond Blake,  The World of Fine Wine - Issue 70 - 2020


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