The late Taoiseach Charles Haughey affectionately called him the “Wineman”. Now, Seán Gilley has revealed the secrets of the controversial Fianna Fáil leader’s “extraordinary” personal basement.
illey, which owns the specialist wine shop Terroirs in Donnybrook, has been supplying top vintages to the country’s high rollers and investors for nearly 30 years.
He also worked as a wine consultant and supplier for Haughey from 1987 to 2005.
Mr Gilley said Haughey’s collection was “extraordinary” and one of the “most impressive” he had ever seen.
“Charlie loved Château Lynch-Bages, Pauillac, Château du Tertre, Château Mouton Rothschild, Pauillac and for champagne he drank champagne Veuve Clicquot ‘la Grande Dame’. He loved that. He also enjoyed Gevrey-Chambertin. He had a very, very large selection – and a nice selection of Margaux, and he loved Château LaFaite Rothchild – his cellar was quite exceptional.”
Mr Gilley, who has visited some of the finest private wineries in the world, says: “It was probably one of the most impressive wineries I have seen in terms of variety. He had a nice selection of burgundies and a great selection of champagnes, very well chosen vintages, always right. It was flawless.
“Charlie knew his wines, his vintages, had a touch of knowledge and loved tasting them.”
Gilley also said the former Taoiseach used his knowledge to ensure Ireland was respected by world leaders: “There was no way Charlie was going to get a piat d’or at EU summits. He only wanted the best – to show Ireland at a high level and to make the statement that we can be at the top.”
He recalls Hughey’s “wild attention to detail” at one such summit.
Ahead of a European Council summit held in Dublin Castle in 1990, Haughey called him and said, “Seán, I want you to taste every single wine before it hits the table.”
“It was 24 bottles of 1978 Lynch-Bages. He always wanted a wine with Irish connotations,” explains Gilley. Château Lynch-Bages is named after Thomas Lynch, whose father emigrated from Galway in 1691.
Gilley says Haughey’s meticulous attention to detail ensured two corked bottles were caught before they reached the taste buds of foreign dignitaries.
Over the years, Gilley has met former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, former French President François Mitterrand, and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and says Haughey always introduced him with his distinctive purr, “This is Seaaaaaan… my wine Maaan.”
Once upon a time, a celebrated winemaker, Frenchman Bernard Portet from Clos du Val vineyards in California, came to Ireland. Gilley called Haughey and told him, “I have a very important wine expert coming over, you need to meet him,” to which Charlie replied, “Bring him over.”
The three met in Kinsealy and enjoyed a full “vertical tasting” of Portet’s Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons. After that, Haughey stood up: “Seán is always trying to trick me into buying Chilean wine, but I’m a Francophile at heart. If you’re traveling from the top of France and through the beautiful vineyards of Burgundy and Bordeaux and then down into beautiful, hot Provence to Marcay, stop in the village of Marcay because that’s where “civilization stops” – which means there aren’t any good wines could be found further south.
Stories of Haughey’s lavish spending were featured in state newspapers in 2011 – including his ordering of expensive French wine at taxpayers’ expense five days before he was replaced as Taoiseach.
While the political parties were negotiating the formation of a new government, Haughey ordered a bottle of Chateau Rauzan-Segla Margaux (1971). It was delivered by Bagots wine merchants in Dublin on 25 June 1981 and cost IR£89.65. Converted to €367 today.
Gilley says that for all his weaknesses, Haughey is also “a man of enormous intelligence”.
I had a company that spent €48,500 on 75 very, very nice cases of wine
And the Irish love affair with wine has only gone from strength to strength since Haughey’s days. Gilley has seen a massive increase in spending on fine wine at Christmas – particularly among corporate clients: “Last year the average company spent around €7,000. This year it’s well over €22,000. I had a business that spent €48,500 on 75 very, very fine cases of wine.”
Households are also increasing their spending: “During Covid families have not been able to gather so the standard of home entertainment this year is exceptional. Customers are opting for champagne from top growers – they’re spending around €140 a bottle.”
He believes people have traded restaurants for home entertainment: “I think people got used to tasting wonderful wines at home when they couldn’t go to restaurants. Now I hear them say: “The bottle I took from you for €30 was in a restaurant last night and cost €140”. They decide to meet a group of friends at home and improve the quality of the wine.”
According to Gilley, more and more Irish people are investing in good wine.
“The people who come to us invest an average of 30,000 to 50,000 euros. But it can go up to €150,000. Wine has overtaken art, vintage cars and jewelry in recent years. People relish the idea of owning a tangible asset versus stocks and shares.”
According to an annual report from Liv-ex, the global marketplace for trading fine wines, fine wine markets had a record year in 2022 as investor interest in alternative fixed assets continued to grow.
Liv-ex Fine Wine 1000, the broadest index of the fine wine market, rose 16.1 percent year-on-year.
Gilley explains: “Investing in wine works on a very simple formula: reduce supply and increase demand. So wonderful vintages from top regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy are bought and consumed, leaving tiny, tiny amounts available.
“I was in Burgundy last summer and in March the frost hit and destroyed the crop and then the excessive heat crippled the vines so they haven’t had a harvest for the last four vintages – so prices are escalating.”
Though he doesn’t reveal the names of his celebrity and high-profile business clientele, he says of the spending habits of the elite: “People with the money want a good wine experience. You want to buy the Chateau Petrus for €60,000 per box. I was in a private basement here recently and my eyes hung out of my head. There were six or seven cases from Chateau Petrus.”
Tips for storing and serving your wine… and why you should never put ice cubes in a glass of white wine
It is imperative to protect the wine from light that can change the colour. Avoid central heating and excessive temperature fluctuations. The ideal temperature is 12 °C. Consistency is key. Don’t let the temperature fluctuate.
Always store the wine lying flat so that the cork is always moist. It is important that the cork stays in contact with the wine to avoid oxidation of the wine which leads to premature aging and alteration. The wine moistens the cork and prevents it from drying out.
Can you store wine in the fridge?
Nowadays, many people have a wine refrigerator specially for wine storage, otherwise the wine cabinet is best.
Can you do ice cream in white wine?
Adding ice cubes to a glass of white wine is a faux pas. The danger with white wine is serving it so cold you can’t taste the fruit. Ice dilutes and shocks the wine and numbs the flavors.
How should red wine be served?
I prefer to serve a red wine on the cooler side and let it warm up in the glass. You can always weigh the glass in your hands and the temperature in the glass will rise.
https://www.independent.ie/news/a-piat-dor-free-zone-how-charlie-haugheys-passion-for-fine-wine-had-some-unexpected-benefits-for-ireland-42241588.html A Piat d’Or Free Zone – How Charlie Haughey’s passion for fine wine has had some unexpected benefits for Ireland