Wine List Whinges

Wine editor MARY DOWEY takes RESTAURANT OWNERS to task this month …

Dear Restaurateurs and Hoteliers,

It’s wonderful to see you doing so well, displaying more culinary firepower than this country has ever seen. But goodness, the drinks side of things can still be rather a damp squib. I often feel I’d rather sit at home with a fried egg than face another sloppy wine list.

We wine fans know that our favourite beverage is as important to your profits as it is to our enjoyment of eating out. We’ve even come to accept that, to cover your extra overheads, we have to pay you two to three times more than we’d shell out for the same bottle in a shop. But in return for that slice of cash you owe us something.

Wines of decent quality, for a start; not just any old Chablis, Amarone or Châteauneuf-du-Pape because they sound posh and you hope we’ll fall for them no matter how mediocre they may be. Perhaps the reason you sometimes don’t mention producers’ names is that you aren’t particularly proud of them? Or do you not realise that referring only to a grape or style – Sauvignon Blanc, say, or Chianti – tells us absolutely nothing about quality? We need to know whether it’s been made by a genius, an average guy or a slacker. It’s standard practice to list an estate or producer for every wine.

The same goes for vintages. Why are they so often missing or incorrect (especially when computers can update lists in a flash)? They constitute basic, vital info too. We need to know them so that we can choose a bottle to suit our tastes and the food we’re about to eat. One customer may fancy a brash young red with curry while another prefers a more mature beauty with steak. I’ll say it again. Vintages. Make sure they’re in.

By all means include popular, everyday styles and ritzy treats, but can you also titillate us with unusual bottles so that our eyes don’t glaze with boredom before we reach the bottom of the page? The Irish wine scene has been fizzing with exotica for a decade – wines from Slovenia, Savoie, Jura and other previously obscure regions, often made from weird grape varieties and reflecting fashionable practices like fermentation in clay amphorae. You’ll surely know that some organic or biodynamic listings are a must.

Categorising according to style – crisp whites, rich reds etc – is wise. A line of description about each wine is helpful too (avoiding meaningless gobbledygook, NB). But remember, nothing beats a server who can discuss wines with knowledge and enthusiasm. Don’t moan that you can’t afford a sommelier. Try a bit of basic staff training instead.

And don’t think your restaurant is too small to warrant an exciting wine offering. With a splash of passion and determination, even the tiniest place can delight customers (and sell gallons) – as I’ve discovered at Smithfield’s Fish Shop. Other inspiring places to visit include the two Ely wine bars (100 wines by the glass may prod you forward on that front too); Ox Cave in Belfast; and the restaurants attached to first-rate wine shops like 64 Wine in Glasthule and Whelehans in Loughlinstown.

Yours optimistically …

Mary Dowey

Three Wines to Try 


Bodega Katxiña Txakoli 2016. The Basque country’s appley, slightly fizzy Txakoli makes a refreshing start to any meal besides being super-cool. This one is especially delicious. Alcohol: 11%., €18.70. Restaurants: Kealys’ Seafood Bar, Greencastle; Market 57, Westport.


Bodega Martínez Lacuesta Rioja Crianza 2013. This savoury, peppery, pleasantly mature Rioja tastes more expensive than it is – always a good sign. Alcohol: 14%. From Martins, Dublin 3; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4; Green Man, Dublin 6W; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, about €18.50. Restaurants: Bang, Dublin 2; Asador, Dublin 4.


Isole e Olena Chianti Classico 2014. A stylish, silky Chianti from a producer of impeccable pedigree. Alcohol: 13.5%. From Fallon & Byrne, Dublin 2; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3; Terroirs, Dublin 4; Gibneys, Malahide;, about €34. Restaurants: Legal Eagle, Dublin 1; Forest Avenue, Dublin 4; Wild Goose, Dublin 6; Dromoland Castle, Co Clare.


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