Viticulture vulture – An Irishman’s Diary about Bordeaux, football, and classical music in pubs

If ever there was an open-and-shut case of nominative determinism – the theory that people's names influence their vocations – it must be that of Christophe Chateau.

I met him briefly in the French ambassador’s residence on Wednesday night, where he was among a group of visitors from Bordeaux, promoting their city ahead of this summer’s European football championships, when it will host the Ireland-Belgium game among others.

And what is Monsieur Chateau's job, you ask? He is, naturally, the commissaire général of the Bordeaux Wine Festival, this year's edition of which will coincide with the Euros. There are, as we were reminded, many chateaux in Bordeaux – thousands in fact. They tend, however, to be of the stone-built variety, with vineyards attached. So whether he wanted to or not, the much rarer human Chateau was surely destined for a career promoting them.

He performs the role well. From him and others, we were almost overwhelmed with evidence of the greatness of Bordelaise viticulture. The local vineyards cover 120,000 hectares, and their 6,000 labels include no fewer than 300 with "Grand Cru" (literally "great growth") status.


Lest anyone doubt them, the visitors had brought 10 of their finest, the bottles lined up on a table nearby like the guns of a Napoleonic naval ship.

This, combined with an awaiting banquet of French Basque food specialities, had the effect of curtailing the question and answer session. But amid all the talk of Bordeaux’s great reds and whites, I felt obliged to broach an uncomfortable subject. Breaking it as gently as possible, I mentioned that, over many years of studying the behaviour of Irish soccer fans, I have noticed that they are not, as a rule, big wine drinkers. This being the case, I wondered, did Bordeaux make any beer at all?

An awkward silence descended at the mere mention of the barley-derived beverage. The monstrous prospect of thousands of Irish fans going to Bordeaux in June and drinking pints of (shudder) Heineken flashed before the assembly, or at least before me. Then somebody changed the subject and beer wasn't mentioned again.

The event that followed, by the way, was intended as a tasting session, not a session in the Irish sense of the term. To underline this point, there was a spittoon supplied for those who wished to sample the products without doing anything so vulgar as also swallowing them.

Some guests did indeed use it. But savouring one of the famous “Wine Geese” labels, I thought of the many generations of Irish forced to leave this benighted land by hunger or oppression. And clinging fiercely to my glass of Chateau Lynch-Bages, I refused to spit it any of it out.

Strange phenomenon

On the way home afterwards, imagining a parallel universe in which Irish soccer fans drink wine, I stopped into a pub in Portobello to investigate an equally strange phenomenon I’d heard about.

It was taking place in the Bello Bar, a basement of the Lower Deck, a pub perhaps better known for ballad sessions. But as I took my place in the cosy, subterranean venue, the sound of a cello and double bass being tuned were audible. And from there, sure enough, unfolded a night of live music that I can only describe as “classical”.

Well, actually, there was also some jazz-folk later, in which a young Breton woman with the voice of an angel sang the poems of Wilde, Yeats, and Baudelaire to arrangements that those poets could hardly have imagined, with the accompaniment of her own harp and a double-bass.

But before that there was a Rossini duet. It was heard in respectful silence. And just as would happen in the National Concert Hall, the breaks between movements were also silent, even though in this case many of the audience were drinking pints.

It's a mad idea, yet it seems to work. The 98-seat venue was full and, according to the event curator Karen Dervan, so have the last several such "Kaleidoscope nights" (, held on the first Wednesday of every month.

The musical part of the concept, if not the pints, is now also hitting the roads of Ireland, with performances at Nun's Cross Church, Ashford, and Limerick's Limetree Theatre later this month.

In the meantime, if you live in east Galway and have a hankering for jazzed-up versions of the poetry of Yeats and Baudelaire, you're in luck. The aforementioned Laura Perrudin (harp & vocals) and Neil O'Loghlen (double bass) play Campbell's Tavern, Headford, tonight.