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Meet the millennial wine buffs

The age of the 'wineosaur' is over. Now a new generation of grape-lovers determined to demystify wine are seeking out funky, low-intervention bottles from small-scale producers, writes our wine expert

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Mari Sanaia who runs Dublin Wine Trails.  Photo: Gerry Mooney

Mari Sanaia who runs Dublin Wine Trails. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Patrick O’Connor, operations manager of Green Acres in Wexford town. Picture: Patrick Browne

Patrick O’Connor, operations manager of Green Acres in Wexford town. Picture: Patrick Browne

Shamim de Brun who works in Mitchells Wine Shop in the CHQ Building in the IFSC area of Dublin. Photo: Kyran O'Brien

Shamim de Brun who works in Mitchells Wine Shop in the CHQ Building in the IFSC area of Dublin. Photo: Kyran O'Brien

Brian O Caoimh, owner of Loose Cannon wine bar on Drury Street in Dublin. Photo: Damien Eagers / INM

Brian O Caoimh, owner of Loose Cannon wine bar on Drury Street in Dublin. Photo: Damien Eagers / INM

Christina Graney who is a sommelier in First Draft Coffee and Wine in Portobello, Dublin. Picture Credit:Frank McGrath

Christina Graney who is a sommelier in First Draft Coffee and Wine in Portobello, Dublin. Picture Credit:Frank McGrath

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Mari Sanaia who runs Dublin Wine Trails. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Every generation is different, but millennials do seem to have been subjected to a huge amount of flak in recent years. Once derided as entitled, narcissistic snowflakes, they are now more associated with putting the planet before profit. They are typically defined as those born between 1983 and 1994, so they are aged 25 to 36.

They are the plugged-in generation who value experiences over belongings, and have changed the way we shop, eat, read and socialise. They brought us the flat white, avocado toast and craft beer, and with their hipster vibe, they stripped restaurants of white linen table cloths, large plates and in some cases even cutlery.

But it's not just a move to plant-based diets that defines this generation. They're also drinking less, and in many cases, they're drinking better. The surprising upshot of this shift in tastes has been an increased interest in wine. Once seen as an older person's drink, there is now a band of young enthusiasts working in the business, hell bent on demystifying wine and dusting off its elitist image.

"The internet has led to the democratisation of wine, because the gatekeepers aren't there anymore," says Shamim de Brun, a 27-year-old Dubliner who works in Mitchell & Son wine merchants.

"You can find the information if you want it, it's free. You don't need the money to do it. I wouldn't have been able to know anything about wine off my own bat had I been born in any other generation."

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Shamim de Brun who works in Mitchells Wine Shop in the CHQ Building in the IFSC area of Dublin. Photo: Kyran O'Brien

Shamim de Brun who works in Mitchells Wine Shop in the CHQ Building in the IFSC area of Dublin. Photo: Kyran O'Brien

Shamim de Brun who works in Mitchells Wine Shop in the CHQ Building in the IFSC area of Dublin. Photo: Kyran O'Brien

My tip

Wines from volcanic regions and Gigondas, a red wine from the Rhone, are having a moment, according to Shamim from Mitchell's. There's also an increased focus on sustainable production.

 

Shamim jokes about the 'wineosaurs' of the past, people who only drink Bordeaux and think it's not good unless it's at least 10 years old. But, she's quick to point out, it was a spectacular bottle of Bordeaux she tasted when she was working in Dublin restaurant Fade Street Social that first attracted her to wine. And Bordeaux still remains one of her favourites.

"I was an actor, and like all actors, I was a waiter, and I worked out that you could earn more if you learned about wine," she says. "So I did a course in wine in California when I was doing a semester abroad. The more I learned, the more I liked about it. And I started reading and got more and more into it."

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Having done a masters in journalism in DCU, Shamim works on digital content for Mitchell's website as well as Irish Whiskey magazine. She also hosts tastings, which are held regularly at Mitchell's wine shop at Dublin's CHQ.

"There's a performance aspect to hosting the tastings, and I manage a crowd quite well," she says. "We do a lot of corporate tastings and team building. I have fun designing them because I get to play with the wine. I sent a few options off to a stock brokers and I had 'War of the Worlds', 'Risky Business' and 'the Wolf of Wall Street', which was all luxury stuff. Last time I did 'War of the Worlds' - old world Chardonnay with new world Chardonnay, old world Pinot Noir versus new world Pinot Noir - I didn't tell them which one was which until after people had voted."

Shamim is not the only actor who has taken to wine in a big way. Meath native Christina Greaney, who plays Sadie in Amazon Prime sci-fi movie The Hollow World, got into wine by default.

"A friend of mine asked me to polish glasses at Green Man Wines and then I was offered a job," she says. "I started doing the wine courses, and it's addictive. The more you learn, the less you know, and I just want to learn more and more about it. I'm obsessed with beginnings and origins and how things start, because I studied psychology as well as acting. So it's learning about vines and the species of vines and how it then becomes this bottle of wine."

After three years at Green Man Wines, 32-year-old Christina worked as a sommelier in Dublin wine bar Piglet, then Glovers Alley, and now splits her time as a wine consultant with Morton's in Ranelagh and as a sommelier in First Draft Coffee & Wine in Portobello in Dublin 8. Like many people working in the industry, Christina has studied wine with WSET, the globally recognised Wine and Spirit Education Trust. She is in the final stages of the diploma, an intensive course which takes a minimum of two years to complete. As her studies involve extensive wine tasting, she is a member of a wine club.

"We come up with a theme every month, a region, a grape, or something more specific like the crus of Beaujolais," she says. "We meet the first Monday of every month in the Legal Eagle or the Winding Stair. Everyone brings a bottle. Some of us work in the industry and some of us don't; it's a mix of social and people studying."

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Christina Graney who is a sommelier in First Draft Coffee and Wine in Portobello, Dublin. Picture Credit:Frank McGrath

Christina Graney who is a sommelier in First Draft Coffee and Wine in Portobello, Dublin. Picture Credit:Frank McGrath

Christina Graney who is a sommelier in First Draft Coffee and Wine in Portobello, Dublin. Picture Credit:Frank McGrath

My tip

Christina, sommelier at First Draft, says that we can expect to see more Chinese wine. Top international wineries are producing wine there and some of it has already landed on our shores.

 

Green Man Wines, where Christina worked, is one of the first wine bars in Ireland to specialise in organic, biodynamic and natural wines, and it was followed a few years later by Loose Canon, a compact wine bar beside the George's Street Arcade on Drury Street that has an impressive range of young Turks' wines, and serves what some claim to be the best cheese toasties in the country.

Brian Ó Caoimh, who opened Loose Canon with his business partner Kevin Powell last year, was not a huge fan of wine until he had a seminal moment in one of Paris's most renowned wine bars. "I thought wine was pretty awful; I thought it was all heavy red, deep tannic wine," says the 34-year-old. "I was working in a café in Paris, and a mate took me out to a place called Septime Cave, and he got us a bottle of wine called Maximus. It's super-light, juicy, vibrant, very alive, and so easy to drink, and I realised that I didn't understand wine at all. I was intrigued by what I had tasted."

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Brian O Caoimh, owner of Loose Cannon wine bar on Drury Street in Dublin. Photo: Damien Eagers / INM

Brian O Caoimh, owner of Loose Cannon wine bar on Drury Street in Dublin. Photo: Damien Eagers / INM

Brian O Caoimh, owner of Loose Cannon wine bar on Drury Street in Dublin. Photo: Damien Eagers / INM

My tip

Kegged wine and wine on tap is really starting to take off, according to Brian of Loose Canon. Don't underestimate the quality; this is good wine packaged in a more environmentally friendly way.

 

Like many of his generation who have gotten into wine, Brian is particularly interested in the small-scale producers who are managing their vineyards in a low-intervention way. Unlike the wines of Bordeaux, which are designed to be aged for a number of years before drinking, many of these wines, often referred to as 'natural wines', are designed to be drunk young.

There is a certain amount of controversy around this style of wine, which, because of its hands-off approach in winemaking, can vary hugely from year to year, and even from bottle to bottle. While well-made, low-intervention wines are vibrant and expressive, some have a more pronounced, cider-like character which is described as 'funky', something detractors consider to be shorthand for 'faulty'.

Brian says that some of their customers do come in looking for funky wines, but points out that in many ways, the flavour profile mirrors what you get in craft beer, where there's hoppy, Lambic and sour beer.

"There's definitely a type of customer who is looking for wine that will shock them. And we can point people in that direction if they're looking for that sort of thing. In general, I don't think the intention is to make a funky wine," he says.

Brian believes young people have changed their attitude to drinking considerably. "My gang of mates, when we were 18, we were just going out to the pub, but now people of that age, there are so many of them who are really fit and into their health," he says. "They know all the nutrients that are in their food. They're thinking more about the food that they buy, and instead of going to the supermarket, they're maybe going to the market, or at least they're going to the organic section of the supermarket. And that's playing into wine, too."

At the forefront of this natural wine revolution is Georgia, the home of the world's very first wines. They are still made in large earthenware vessels called qvevris, which are buried in the ground and used for fermenting, storing and aging wine. Mari Sanaia, a 31-year-old Georgian native who runs Dublin Wine Trails, moved here with her parents when she was 12, and despite working in different industries, she has found herself inextricably drawn back to wine over the years.

"My great-grandad was a winemaker, and my grandad still makes wine in Georgia, so that was the beginnings of it, but it was never something I thought of professionally. If your grandad is a doctor, you're not necessarily going to be a doctor," she says. "When I was 19 and I was in college, I ended up getting a temporary job in Berry Bros & Rudd when they had a shop on Dublin's Harry Street. I was exposed to all these amazing wines from all over the world. It was only meant to last three weeks, but a full-time position opened up, so I stayed on and it went from there." Mari has the portfolio career so typical of millennials. She works part-time in marketing for Findlater Wine, one of the country's leading distributors, as well as running Dublin Wine Trails, which she set up two years ago.

"That came about from doing consumer tastings. I noticed that people are really reluctant to try new things until you give them a glass of it, and then they love it," she says. "Wine Trails is all about getting people to try these different wines in a very social, relaxed atmosphere. They want to know about the winemakers, and that's why small family winemakers are becoming so prominent now, because people do appreciate their stories."

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Mari Sanaia who runs Dublin Wine Trails.  Photo: Gerry Mooney

Mari Sanaia who runs Dublin Wine Trails. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Mari Sanaia who runs Dublin Wine Trails. Photo: Gerry Mooney

My tip

Awareness of where our wines come from is becoming increasingly important, according to Mari, and we'll be looking to the past for the next big thing, using ancient methods for making wine.

 

Mari plans to return home to Georgia in the next year and a half and open her own wine bar, so she works a few evenings in Green Man Wines to get experience of the day-to-day operations. "Georgia is such an exciting place for wine, and people are only finding out about it," she says. "It's a really vibrant wine scene, I just want to be a part of it, and eventually take my great-grandad's vineyard and start making wine there."

Also looking to follow in his family's footsteps is 25-year-old Patrick O'Connor, who works in his father's Green Acres wine business in Wexford. One of triplets, he is the only one to have been bitten by the wine bug.

"I remember the first vineyard I ever visited, which was Henri Bourgeois in Sancerre. I was about 11 years old. We have great photos of the workers there locking me in a cellar with a big iron gate for a joke," he says.

His vineyard visits have been a bit more full-on in recent years. "I did a harvest in Pomerol with Châteaux La Fleur-Pétrus in 2017, and I'm just back from doing a harvest with Comtes Lafon Meursault in Burgundy," he says.

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Patrick O’Connor, operations manager of Green Acres in Wexford town. Picture: Patrick Browne

Patrick O’Connor, operations manager of Green Acres in Wexford town. Picture: Patrick Browne

Patrick O’Connor, operations manager of Green Acres in Wexford town. Picture: Patrick Browne

My tip

If you haven't heard of Aligoté, a white grape associated with Burgundy, Patrick from Green Acres suggests you seek it out. A lot of top wineries are producing really high-end expressions.

 

While he has always been into wine, Patrick says it is only now that other people his age are showing interest. "I see a huge change now in my friends in the last few years," he says. "Before this they weren't into wine, but now they're all starting to have a glass or a bottle of wine with dinner. I see a real trend of younger people trying out different types of wine."

So what does he suggest for anyone who wants to venture out and improve their wine knowledge?

"Try to taste as many different types of wine as you can," he says. "If you are on holidays, always try a local wine. Don't be intimidated about asking for advice in a wine shop or a sommelier in a restaurant - the staff are there to help you and it is in their interest to encourage you to experience new wines."

 

How to quaff wine... like a millennial

Don't have an impressive beard, piercings or tattoos but want to drink like a millennial? Follow our tips and you just might be taken seriously...

⬤ Black T-shirts are essential kit, with a tongue in cheek slogan, preferably including swear-words. Recently spotted - "Harden the f*** up and have a Riesling"

⬤ Join the Rotters - ditch Decanter for Noble Rot magazine - it's prescribed reading. Don't even show up if you haven't read Alice Feiring's Natural Wine for the People, and Simon Woolf's Amber Revolution.

⬤ Know your bottles - if it's sealed with hand-dipped wax, it's a winner. Bonus points for handwritten labels, pictures of faces, hands or body parts, or labels that look like they were drawn by a four-year-old.

⬤ Without a back story, there is no wine. Tiny vineyards, steep slopes, ancient unpronounceable grape varietals, heroic winemaking - or nothing.

⬤ Pét-nat is the only bubbly worth drinking, unless you're drinking Champagne by Jacques Selosse.

⬤ If your wine is clear, your conscience won't be… embrace the funk. Unfiltered, sediment, bits of grape skin - the best bit is the dregs, and #nosulphur.

⬤ Never, ever drink Pinot Grigio, unless of course, it's cloudy Pinot Gris, see above.

⬤ Sauvignon Blanc is allowed when it's made by Didier Dagueneau. Save up and treat yourself to a bottle of his Pouilly-Fumé Silex.

⬤ If you don't take a picture of the bottle, it didn't happen. Follow #naturalwine on Instagram.

⬤ Find your tribe: in Dublin, head to Green Man Wines, The Fish Shop, Loose Canon, First Draft, Piglet, Fallon & Byrne, Franks, Ely, 64, Aimsir, Loam, Aniar, L'Atitude 51, Rift and brand spanking new Allta Wine Bar.

⬤ Be sure to get a ticket to this year's Spit Festival on October 24 in the Chocolate Factory in Dublin 1, where you'll find an incredible line-up of organic and low-intervention wines (spit.ie).

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