Julie Dupouy on simple wines with big personalities …
And just like that, 2024 is upon us, bringing new focus, new opportunities and new priorities. It’s safe to say that most of us are little more pennywise with our indulgences in January after all the festive splurging. For those of you who haven’t opted for a fully dry January, let’s take a look at what really punches above its weight. The starting price point for wines of quality is higher in Ireland than most of Europe. Ireland has the highest excise duty in Europe – a whopping €3.19 per bottle on still wine and double that for sparkling. VAT at 23 per cent, sea transport, something for the juice itself, the producer and the packaging, all raise that entry price point.
Supermarkets can afford to cut their margin by selling huge volumes but for independent retailers, it is a little trickier to impress the budget conscious and still make a living. So what unsung heroes are there on our shelves for under €15?
Barbara Boyle, Master of Wine and co-owner of Irish wine importer Wine Mason, believes at any price point there are wines that overperform and underperform and I wholeheartedly agree with her. Let’s not forget that taste is a very personal matter. Over the years, I have tasted some premium wines that have come up short in terms of lasting impression. Conversely, I love nothing more than to discover a simple quaffer with a big personality which is absolutely delicious.
As consumers, we are very much influenced by wine critics, marks and medals and while those are good indicators of quality, it is also important to remain open-minded to smaller, unknown wines that simply do not seek those accolades. After all, most of those accolades come at a cost to the producers and many just don’t have budget for it.
As consumers, we are very much influenced by wine critics, marks and medals and while those are good indicators of quality, it is also important to remain open-minded…
Familiar and well-established names come with a cost. If we want to find value under €15, it is necessary to look for the underdogs and diverge off the beaten track. Realistic expectations are key. A €15 wine will typically achieve moderate complexity and will be unlikely be to age long term. Well, that suits just fine as we are looking for something to enjoy now, right?
The Iberian peninsula is a top contender for value for money. Spain excels in the inexpensive wine category which regularly creates some rivalry for market share with neighbouring France. Look out for wines from the less prestigious regions of Castilla-La-Mancha, Murcia or Valencia. Those regions make interesting wines from various grape varieties such as Tempranillo, Garnacha, Monastrell (Mourvedre), and Bobal for the reds and then Airen, Merseguera and Chardonnay for the whites. In France, the Languedoc, the southwest and some parts of the Loire Valley are great contenders too. In the Western parts of the Loire, near the Muscadet area, the Gros-Plant du-Pays-Nantais appellation offers delicious dry, crisp and saline white wines made from the Folle Blanche grape variety. Nearby, red wines sold under the Côteaux d’Ancenis appellation are made from Gamay and are a great alternative to Beaujolais wines. Bright, crunchy, juicy and spicy, they are perfect with light lunches or with charcuterie and cheese boards.
In Southern France, the Côtes de Gascogne designation, which is mostly dedicated to white wines, or various vin de pays from the Languedoc, also offers great bargains. Produced outside main appellation areas – or declassified for using nonrecommended vin de pays grape varieties – they are still very much underrated. The whites are fresh, crisp and aromatic and are commonly made featuring Sauvignon Blanc, Colombard, Gros Manseng and Chardonnay. The reds are generally fruit forward and medium to full-bodied with a lovely spicy character imparted by the southern climate and the nearby scrublands. Another great country for value is Italy and in particular, the southern regions of Sicily, Puglia and Calabria. Usually made from local grape varieties and sold as vino di tavola (table wine), they can be truly delicious.
In Calabria, the toe of the Italian boot, the local grape is called Caglioppo. It produces soft, savoury and spicy wines with good fruit concentration. Puglia, the heel of the country, is mostly planted with Negroamaro and Primitivo, two varieties that give big and powerful wines with some jammy fruit characters. In Sicily, Nero d’Avola is the most planted red grape and its wines are fruity, perfumed and concentrated. The whites of the island are versatile – whether saline, fruity, herbal or spicy – depending on whether they are made from Cataratto, Inzolia or Grillo. There are plenty of little wine gems out there waiting to be discovered. Scores on bottles are nice indicators but I suggest you pop into your local independent and ask for something that stands out in your price range and they will be only delighted to shine some light on a staff favourite. @julie_dupouy
Gigales, El Perdiguero, Crianza, Spain, €14.99; www.jusdevine.ie.
Segredos de São Miguel Tinto, Alentejo, Portugal, €13.95; www.mitchellandson.com.
Montelpuciano d’Abruzzo, Lupi Reali, organic, Italy, €13; www.celticwhiskeyshop.com.
Familia Castaño, organic, Maccabeo, Spain, €14.99; www.mchughs.ie.
Blanc de Noir, Señorio de Iniesta, organic, Castilla, Spain, €13.95; www.boutiquewines.ie.
Riesling, Kooliburra, Specially Selected, Clare Valley, Australia, €8.99; www.aldi.ie.