Time to wine
As people travel, their curiosity grows," says Gerard Maguire of 64 Wine in Glasthule, south Co Dublin. "If they go to places such as Bordeaux, Paris, Madrid and Barcelona, they see people enjoying convivial food with a good selection of wines. When they come home, they're no longer satisfied with the meagre selection of quarter bottles in the local pub. They want something better."
Gerard says these foreign holidays have led to a growing popularity for the wine bar in Ireland. "Years ago, I used to go to a pace called Bond on Gardiner Street in Dublin - it wasn't a great location and it didn't survive but it was a good spot. Ely really led the charge and held the line through the recession. Another couple of years and I see the whole thing gaining real traction. You see food getting edgier, and it's only a matter of time before the wine follows suit."
Maguire's own wine bar (64wine.ie) is one of the most popular in Dublin, a neighbourhood spot that's become a place to see and be seen, as well as somewhere with a beguiling selection of wines by the glass. But it all started by accident.
"When I opened the wine shop initially, I had a little seated area at the back with a table where I kept the wine books, so people could sit down and look at them," he recalls. "One day, someone asked for a cuppa. You never say no to a customer, so I made him a cuppa. Then I bought a good coffee machine. And then I started offering people a glass of wine in the evening. And it grew organically from there. Really what it did at the start was create a shop window for the biodynamic and small production, boutique-type wines that we were carrying, so that people could try by the glass before committing. And then we started doing a few sharing plates and sandwiches at lunchtime, and it's taken off from there."
Recently, Maguire took the step of installing a full kitchen so that 64 can serve hot food, with plans to expand the offering gradually. Now customers can order côte de boeuf to go with that serious bottle of claret, alongside the sharing plates of cheese and charcuterie - "and we try to be creative in that context", he says.
In London, the wine bar scene has come on in leaps and bounds over recent years. At Noble Rot Restaurant & Wine Bar in London's Bloomsbury, Stephen Harris from the Michelin-starred The Sportsman in Whitstable consults on a menu of "fine Franglaise-style cooking" in the restaurant, and a selection of small dishes in the bar. The wine list ranges from deliciously undervalued wines by the glass to hard-to-find gems from the world's leading winemakers. It's a media darling and has a trophy cabinet full of awards. London is also starting to see the emergence of a new generation of wine bars focusing on natural wines.
Maguire visits Paris several times a year and says he has been inspired to develop the wine bar at 64 by what he has seen there, including a plethora of natural wine bars.
"A few weeks ago, I went to a restaurant called Le Baratin in a very untrendy part of Paris. The food is all brains and gizzards and it's magnificent. They were very dismissive of me until I asked for the wine list before the food menu, which is what I always do, and the owner started talking to me about the wine and getting me to taste. The wines are all natural, which is a big trend in Paris. At first, people thought natural wine bars was a fad, but it's a trend that's going to last. Lots of the wine bars in Paris have converted to natural - some of them are pretty funky. I think it's something that's inevitably going to come to Dublin.
"Some people see the natural wine thing as a way to get substandard wines onto the market, and it has yet to be embraced in Ireland, although there's plenty of biodynamic wine here. I'm personally less interested in organic, as wine can be organic by accident, whereas making biodynamic wine is a deliberate strategy on the part of the winemaker.
"To be successful, particularly when it comes to natural wines, a wine bar has to have staff that really know their stuff and can explain and sell them to the customers. Since Ely took a stake in 64, we have had Chad Gugliotta from Ely working with us and it's a huge help. I think we'll be selling more and more natural wines as the trend gathers momentum, but there will always be a demand for classic and conventional wines too - and some decent food to go with them."
Wine bars to try
Green Man Wines, 3 Terenure Road North, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie
Whelehans at The Silver Tassie, Bray Road, Loughlinstown, Co Dublin,
Jacques, 23 Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork, jacquesrestaurant.ie
Grapevine, 26 Castle Street, Dalkey,
Co Dublin, onthegrapevine.ie
Ely, 22 Ely Place, Dublin 2, and IFSC, Dublin 1, elywinebar.ie
Piglet Wine Bar, Cow's Lane, Temple Bar, Dublin 2,
D'Vine, Distillery House, Dyer Street, Drogheda, Co Louth, dvine.ie
Two Cooks, 5 Canal View, Sallins,
Co Kildare, twocooks.ie
The Tannery, 10 Quay Street, Abbeyside, Dungarvan, Co Waterford, tannery.ie
Berry Layne, Houston House, Main Street, Letterkenny, Co Donegal, berrylayne.com
Candied Walnut, 1 Fairgreen Street, Naas, Co Kildare,
L'Atitude 51, 1 Union Quay, Cork, latitude51.ie
The Copper Room, 100 O'Connell Street, Limerick, thecopperroom.ie
The Nook, The Milk Market, Cornmarket Row, Limerick, facebook.com/TheNook353
The Black Pig, Lower O'Connell Street, Kinsale, Co Cork facebook.com/theblackpigwinebar Cava Bodega, 1 Middle Street Mews,
Loam, Geata na Cathrach, Fairgreen, Galway, loamgalway.com
Sheridans, Church Yard Street, Galway, sheridanscheesemongers.com
Monk's Lane, Timoleague, Co Cork, monkslane.ie
The Cru Club, 451 Ormeau Road, Belfast, thecruclub.com
Il Vicolo, The Bridgemills, O'Brien's Bridge, Galway, ilvicolo.ie
Greenacres, 7 Selskar Street, Wexford, greenacres.ie
Ox Cave, 3 Oxford Street, Belfast, oxbelfast.com