Sunday 17 December 2017

Smart Consumer: Fancy a nice Aussie, Portuguese, Italian...? Yours for a tenner!

Tina Leonard

In the '70s it was all about Blue Nun and Valpolicella. In the '80s we switched to Piat d'Or. We embraced Australian and Chilean anything in the '90s and continued in the noughties loving New World wines. Now, the Irish guzzle New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Italian Pinot Grigio.

But whichever takes your fancy, can you get a decent bottle of wine for €7?

The plan was to find seven good bottles for around that price. Jean Smullen, wine expert and wine writer for Prudence magazine and Retail News, said that if we wanted decent wine we should head nearer to the €10 mark, so instead that's what we did.

But first, why is it so difficult to get anything good for under a tenner?

Although Ireland still has the lowest per capita consumption of wine in the EU, sales in Ireland rocketed to almost nine million cases at the height of the boom.

But in 2008 sales dropped by 3.9pc and by a further 9pc last year. This, according to Jean Smullen, is in part due to the race to the North for cheaper wine. And you can understand why, given the level of VAT and tax we pay here.

Duty is €1.97 per bottle (admittedly reduced from €2.46 last year), and tax is at 21pc. So on a €7 bottle around half of the cost will go to the government. Then typically 40pc would be the cost of packaging, distribution and marketing, leaving very little for the wine itself.

With no VAT or tax charged in countries such as Italy, Spain, Germany and Greece and just a few cent in France, it's a little clearer why you can get great wine for a fiver when sunning yourself in Spain, but can't get much for €7 at home.

So, I brought my sight, smell and taste to the table and Jean brought the wine and the expertise. We tasted (and spat out again) 14 wines -- seven red and seven white -- and I chose my seven favourite.

The Best Whites

2008 Laurent Miguel is a southern French wine (Vin du Pays d'Oc) made from chardonnay and viognier grapes. There is a nice Irish connection with Dubliner Neasa Corish married to Miguel, but nicer still is the price. It's normally €8.99 at Dunnes but is on promotion until after Easter at €6.99.

The nose is subtle but there is a burst of flavour once it hits the mouth, of tropical fruit, pear and melon. Jean recommends it as an apéritif before your Easter dinner.

The second white was from Douro in Portugal, with a diverse range of four grapes you won't find elsewhere. 2009 Evel (Branco) sells for €10.95 and is available at independent off-licences.

It tasted floral rather than fruity and was really lovely and different to the usual varities. Best once again for an apéritif.

Next an Australian wine, 2008 Bushlands (Wine Makers Selection), available in Aldi for €9.49. Made from three grapes; riesling, sauvignon blanc and gewurztraminer -- I was a little concerned initially about the petrol smell but Jean reassured me this is typical of riesling; New World wines, she explains, are all about the 'up-front' smell.

I loved the taste of lemon and honey and this one would be nice with fish or again as an apéritif.

The Best Reds

2008 Chateau la Pierriere normally retails at €17.99 at Suerquinn but is reduced to €9 for their French wine sale which runs until April 20th. Made with merlot and cabernet sauvignon grapes, this Bordeaux had a lovely deep, almost savoury smell with a hint of berries and tasted wonderfully spicy. This one is for the meat course.

Another Bordeaux I went for is the 2008 Chateau du Bois Chantant, normally costing €12.95 but reduced for Easter to €9.95 at O'Briens stores. It tasted of cedar and spice with a hint of vanilla. It was 'woody', rich and very drinkable, again with meat.

A red wine that is not as rich but also great with lamb or beef, according to Jean, was the 2008 Bushlands from Aldi's Specially Selected range and it costs €9.49. It's Australian and is a mix of cabernet, shiraz and merlot. It isn't too rich and is quite fruity.

Splash out

If you do want to push out the boat for Easter, my favourite of those we tasted was a Spanish 2004 Portia wine from Ribera del Duero, retailing at €16.99 at Superquinn, Londis, Tesco and other independent stores nationwide.

Really oaky, with a hint of chocolate and coffee, Jean reckons it was made for drinking with turkey.

I loved this one, but isn't it a pity it costs so much.

Irish Independent

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