Winner revealed of the K Club/Irish Times amateur wine enthusiast competition

The prize worth €10k includes a trip to Bordeaux, tastings, and a food and wine masterclass

Judging underway to find The K Club’s amateur wine enthusiast 2022.

The winner of the Irish Times Food Month competition to win a year-long wine experience with The K Club in Co Kildare is Elaine Hartigan, from Dublin. Five finalists were chosen, from more than 1,200 entries, based on a written submission in which they wrote about a particular bottle that sparked their interest in wine.

In the second stage of the competition, undertaken at The K Club on Tuesday afternoon, during which Covid regulations and guidelines were adhered to, the five finalists were examined on their wine knowledge and their ability to match wine with food, by the K Club’s head sommelier Lisa O’Doherty.

There was also a practical element to the judging process, with two wines to be blind tasted and assessed, and a Basic Better Best test in which they were given three wines from The K Club wine list, costing €55, €110 and €395, and asked to identify which was which.

The K Club’s head sommelier Lisa O’Doherty.

The winner will accompany Lisa O’Doherty to a series of professional wine events in 2022, as well as enjoying a two-day trip for two to Bordeaux, which will include a visit to Château Magnol, the vineyard of wine-makers Barton & Guestier, for lunch and wine tastings. In 1831, Hugh Barton purchased land in Kildare and built the original Straffan House on The K Club lands, and Barton & Guestier remains the hotel’s house wine.


A further element of the prize, worth in excess of €10,000, is a private cellar visit for a food and wine masterclass with Lisa O’Doherty, for the winner and three guests, with an overnight stay at The K Club.

Ms Hartigan, who had a career in business before retraining as a celebrant, officiating at weddings and memorial services, began her working career with a wine merchant in Dublin. "My first job was in one of the oldest wine merchants in Dublin, no longer with us, in Abbey Street, called Robert E Turbett & Sons, and they had the Barton & Gestier agency," she said after the judging process.

The other finalists were Suzanne Darcy, Daire McNamara, Noeleen Foley and Gerard Tannam, who were each presented with certificates of merit and sets of Riedel wine glasses. The five written submissions from the finalists are reproduced below.

The winner of the competition, Elaine Hartigan.

Elaine Hartigan

Monte Carlo, 1976. I am 19. We are sitting in an Italian restuarant in Casino Square and have 20 quid. Just ordering pasta and the cheapest Chianti we can find on the vellum pages. Monsieur 7ft sommelier roams his plains like a bison stalking prey. Waiter brings our wine with distain. I sniff and blanch. Future husband mouths “No way”. I say “Le vin est mauvais.”

Monsieur 7ft sommelier bears down with his golden sommelier spoon. Large eyebrows lifted, he inhales. He gifts me a lifelong love of wine with his smile and his praise. Nods to my courage and my pain. He returns with the new Chianti which he tastes and says: “The senses never lie.” Some 40 years have passed from that corked wine. I have never looked back.

Suzanne Darcy

I fell in love with a man in 1996. I fell in love with Firesteed Pinot Noir in 1997. I was 26 years old. He was studying in the US and I was studying in Ireland. After a year of doing the long distance thing, I moved to be with him. When out to dinner one night we happened upon such a lovely red from Oregon - not usually known for its fine wines - this one became our favourite. Whenever we could order it, we would. I’ve always loved the translucency of a pinot noir. The way it compliments a dish and does not dominate it. The way it serves as a stand-alone drink.

Fast forward a decade, marriage, first kid, 9/11, return home, second kid, separation. I was 36 years old. We divorced. We did it well. A little grace and dignity can go a long way. I was fabulous. He’s a good dad - all very modern.

I never forgot Firesteed Pinot Noir. I guess the way some people have a song, this was our wine. I also never imagined I would find it back home in Dublin and then by happenstance I did. I was full of joy and sadness. It was so bittersweet.

But I was inspired again by this beautiful wine and bought two bottles - one for him and one for me - a show of respect for the time we had and the amazing daughters we share. A good wine is more than just a drink, it’s a moment, a memory. Wine can weave its way into the fabric of your life and leave it the richer for it.

Daire McNamara

There are bottles that create moments for me where life and wine blend. The most recent was a 2003 Château Léoville Barton. I recently brought it back from Bordeaux as a present for an octogenarian friend of our family, Peter. He seemed strangely moved when he saw it, and he surprised me by opening the bottle there and then.

The wine certainly was absolutely faultless - rich, and full of complexity and depth. But what has remained with me most is the realisation that good wine is much more than what goes into the bottle. It’s about relationships and connections, and in this case connections that stretch back much further than 2003. What I hadn’t known when I gave the bottle to Peter was that Peter himself had a unique history with the Barton family and their sun-soaked Bordeaux vineyards.

Peter explained to me that Anthony Barton had given him his first ever job when he left school in Ireland in the late 1950s, after fleeing the bombed out ruins of Berlin with his mother a decade earlier. Peter changed careers and life got in the way, but he never forgot Bordeaux, visiting regularly over the years; although less so in recent years. Of course, he retains a particular weakness for the Bartons; their grace, their wine, and the candle they burn for the Irish that wash up on their shores in Saint Julien. Vive Anthony Barton et vive les ancients façons!

Noeleen Foley

Our sommelier is a sheep farmer, a plain man, plain as paper. He loves two things, sheep and crosswords. He lives alone in a big stone farmhouse, surrounded by yew trees, their supplicant green fingers reaching to a moody Wexford sky. He is parsimonious, but generous to those he loves.

Humble is his kitchen, warm, welcoming, filled with pungent aromas of bacon bubbling on an ancient Aga. Dining at a long wooden table, scrubbed to a velvet finish, fresh wildflowers in a blue striped jug sometimes filled with rogue marigolds, bold, proud of their survival.

On John’s 50th birthday, he won a trip to the Loire valley, an event that would change his life and ours. His first trip abroad inspired him. He said Gien was like Enniscorthy and the Layon river reminded him of the Slaney.

Ah, but the wines. He discovered the joy and pleasure of delicious French wines while visiting the towns of Sancerre and Pouilly Fume, and the vineyards of Touraine and Anjou Saumur. He enjoyed this experience and so started a love affair with the grape. His favourite was Loire Sauvignon and he would argue its merits over that of New Zealand’s.

Staying at an auberge in Gien, he started a friendship with a local vintner and exporter. They shared a love of Irish lamb and so agreed that John would export his finest spring lamb, and in return, Hervé would send a regular consignment of wine.

So you see, we still dine on bacon and curly cabbage, mountain lamb cutlets and floury Wexford Queens, but now they are enhanced by splendid Loire wines. Sancerre, dry and tart, fruity Chinon, earthy Bourgueil and of course his beloved Sauvignon. Our Wexford strawberries are enlivened by a nip of Chenin Blanc, or celebratory champagne… heavenly.

Gerard Tannam

Clearly unwelcomed by my French girlfriend’s family on my first visit aged 23, her near-blind grandfather tugged at my sleeve, and led me to the cave underneath the house, where he blew the dust off a bottle of golden wine and told me how he’d cycled across fields as a young man to a neighbouring vineyard to buy six bottles, one of which he’d opened at his own wedding, one each on the birth of his three sons, one on their 50th wedding anniversary, and now one “For you, Gerard, to welcome you to our family.” My first sip was golden too, and I was hooked.