Now for something different

Sat, Jan 7, 2012, 00:00

The wine market is divided between those who want something cheap, fruity and alcoholic and those who are interested in character and style, writes JOHN WILSON

AS WE LURCH into 2012, it’s time to peer into the crystal ball to see what might be in store for us in the coming year. VAT on wine has increased by 2 per cent since January 1st. It will be interesting to see if hard-pressed retailers pass on the extra tax. A wine that previously sold at €9.99 should now be marked up to €10.15 – not quite so tempting, so I can see an already competitive market trying to avoid any price increase. It is possible that selling below cost may be outlawed during the year, although I understand the European authorities would not like to see this. Until then, expect to see plenty of heavily discounted wines. You will find the occasional genuine half-price wine, but the vast majority seem to be offered at an inflated price purely to allow a cut-price sale. One easy way to discover the true price of a wine is to look at wine-searcher.com, which will give you the equivalent retail price around the world. Most wines sold at half price are good value, but are rarely half the normal price.

In Ireland, the market is becoming divided into two camps; those who want something cheap, fruity and alcoholic and don’t care too much where it comes from, and a smaller group who have an interest in finding wine with a little more character and style. The first will shop in supermarkets, the second in independents, although there is certainly some cross-over.

Tesco has started to add some more quality wines to its range; it will be interesting to see if others follow suit. But it seems to be the middle-ground that has been squeezed the hardest over the last few years. The really good wine shops report that business remains reasonably healthy. These are shops that take their wine and beer seriously and offer a service you won’t find in a multiple. Equally, sales of wine in supermarkets remain buoyant. It is those off-licences that offer neither service nor price that will continue to suffer. Competition has increased dramatically, and led to keener prices, something to be happy about. However, it has led to far fewer interesting wines being listed. For me, one of the great joys of wine is to discover idiosyncratic wines from smaller producers around the world.

Wine critics have been predicting that the world will fall in love with Riesling for a decade at least now. I won’t fall into that trap once more, although there are promising signs; a few importers tell me that dry German Riesling is starting to show some real growth, 10 years after the rest of Europe, as is Austrian Riesling and Grüner Veltliner. However, I can see our love affair with Sauvignon Blanc, Prosecco, and Pinot Grigio continuing. Hopefully our interest in Sauvignon will expand to include those from southwest France and Bordeaux; there are some great wines being made down there. The only possible competitor on the horizon seems to be Chardonnay; just about every country makes it, and provided it comes in a light unoaked style, it suits the national palate. We may also see an increased interest in European wines; prices in Chile seem to be on the rise, and the Australian dollar is being kept high by exports of ore and coal to China. I suspect we may also see more red and white wines with lower alcohol levels, and a lighter hand with oak barrels.

International prices seem to be increasing despite the recession. Increased interest in China is one reason given, but the primary factor is the increased cost of packaging, including everything from cork to labels to cardboard. I wrote about bag-in-box wines late last year, and some importers report a trickle of interest. This should certainly be welcomed – so long as they are fresh, they are every bit as good, and much cheaper too.

There has been an amazing surge in interest in beer over the last few years, and a welcome growth in Irish micro-breweries. I can see this continuing, and as the new entrants find their feet, more interesting beers being produced.

This week, we celebrate the different, with four unusual, slightly eclectic wines that offer something extra.

Sokol Blosser Evolution, Oregon NV (labelled 14th edition), 12.5%, €18.95It is not every day you come across wines from Oregon in this country, although there are plenty of good wines being made. Less often too you find a wine made from nine grape varieties, including Muller-Thürgau, Gewüztraminer, Chardonnay, Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and several others. This winery was one of the first to set up in Oregon, and is now fully organic. The Evolution is a lively crisp white with intriguing subtle melon and nectarine fruits; a very satisfying wine that is out of the ordinary. Stockists: Le Caveau, lecaveau.ie

Palataia Pinot Noir 2010, Pfalz, Germany, 13.5%, €12.99 (£8.99 in Northern Ireland)German Pinot Noir? Don’t laugh; the quality of red German wine has been steadily improving over the past decade, assisted by warmer temperatures. In some parts of the Pfalz, they are worries that it is becoming too warm to produce quality Riesling. However, Germany is the second-largest producer of Pinot Noir (after France) and is starting to make some strikingly good wines. The Palataia is a very well-priced wine with attractive clean savoury summer fruits that ring true. Light, but with some complexity and a nice purity of fruit. Stockist: Marks Spencer

Ch Jolys Cuvée Jean 2008, Jurançon, 13%, €12.35 per half bottleHad this arrived a week earlier, it would certainly have been in my Christmas wines. It has a perfect mix of opulence combined with a vivid freshness, giving it a balance lacking in many other sweet wines. The sweet wines of Jurançon, a small town close to Lourdes in the foothills of the Pyrenees, deserve to be far better-known. The Petit Manseng grapes are allowed to shrivel on the vine late into November, and sometimes longer, concentrating both sugar and acidity, before being vinified into a wonderfully tangy sweet wine. They are known as Moelleux, meaning soft or mellow in French, a description that fits them perfectly. This had delicious appetising sophisticated pineapple fruits, with a long sweet honeyed finish. Stockist: Wines Direct, winesdirect.ie

Doural 2009, Vinho Regional Duriense, 12.5%, €12Made from a blend of four Portuguese grape varieties, this is a very attractive wine, with forward just-ripe supple red fruits and a pleasant liveliness throughout. Stockists: 64wine, Glasthule.

Beer of the week

Crouch Vale Brewer’s Gold, 4%, €2.95 for a 500ml bottle This is an English ale with a lovely fruitiness, a good hoppy bite, and really refreshing too. It won the Supreme Champion Beer of Britain award in 2005 and 2006, and I can see why; just don’t drink it too cold. Stockists: Redmond’s, Ranelagh; Next Door, Ennis; McCann’s Supervalu, Moycullen; Supervalu Clifden; Burke’s Londis Kinvara; Bierhaus, Galway.

Tastings diary

New Zealand wine tasting


The annual New Zealand wine tasting will take place on January 30th from 6.30pm-8.30pm in the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, Golden Lane, Dublin 8, with over 250 wines being poured. Tickets are €15, available from Jean Smullen, tel: 086- 8168468 or jean@jeansmullen.com.

Northern Rhône dinner

The Restaurant at Donnybrook Fair, Dublin will hold a Northern Rhône wine dinner on January 25th at 7.45pm, hosted by Rhône expert Simon Tyrrell. Tickets are €60 per person/€100 for two. To book, tel: 01-6144849 or see restaurant@donnybrookfair.ie