Cheap and cheerful
We should be thankful modern technology means we no longer have to put up with the acidic whites and raw tannic reds that were commonplace not too long ago, writes JOHN WILSON
I went to a tasting of some of the cheapest wines available on the Irish market today. Not as cheap as Lidl or Aldi, but not far off. There were some 120 wines opened (I didn’t taste them all) and barring about half-a-dozen, all are for sale at under €10, some as low as €6, a bottle.
The company concerned supplies wines to most of the major supermarkets in this country, often very similar wines presented under a different label. The importer told me that after the last budget, many of his wines cost less than one-third of the duty currently levied by the Government. Excise duty on wine being €2.78 a bottle (excluding Vat) that means he is paying less than €1 for a bottle of wine.
So, leaving any prejudice aside, how were the wines? Generally, the white wines were light, with just enough soft fruit and a little residual sugar. The reds were light too, with rounded ripe fruits and no rough edges. They came from half-a-dozen countries around the globe, yet tasted very similar. The Portuguese wines stood out as different, possibly because Portugal has its own unique grape varieties.
At wine tastings, I have a frequently used shorthand of SDW – for sound drinkable wine; just above this is the WMSW category covering well-made simple wine.
The two together probably make up 70 per cent of wines that I taste, covering the mass of well-made but unexceptional wines on offer. On this occasion, it was more like 90 per cent. There were very few if any undrinkable wines. This is modern winemaking, and the kind of wines that make it on to the shelves of our supermarkets, as well as many off-licences.
I try to avoid being a wine snob. Many consumers buy wine simply as a pleasant alcoholic drink, and have no interest in where it comes from or what it tastes like, so long as it is not awful. I don’t have a problem with this, although I do think they are missing out on a world of pleasure. It is the difference between eating a Big Mac and a shoulder of lamb prepared by a skilled chef. Both are made from inexpensive ingredients; one offers consistency, the other a lot more interest.
The most expensive “Michelin-starred” wines are generally very lucrative for the producer but produced in small quantities. The cheapest are profitable only if made in large efficient industrial plants. Between the two extremes lies the vast majority of producers. It is this middle-ground that can offer the best value and the greatest excitement.