Friday, 28 Feb 2020

Corinna Hardgrave: 'Drink less but drink better this Christmas. If you can pay €15 for a cocktail, then wine is worth it'

Christmas is here, and while Santa is busy making his list and checking it twice, there is one more first-world problem you need to add to your festive list. The price of a glass of wine.

After a drenched consumer popped into The Market Bar on Dublin’s Fade Street, her day was ruined by the cost of a glass of wine: €14 for a Pinot Grigio. She had no choice but to ‘Talk to Joe’. The restaurant’s director of sales phoned in too, but Maeve, the wine victim, has vowed never to darken the door of The Market Bar again.

With a measure of 250cl, the caller’s glass was equivalent to a third of a bottle of wine, but it seems that Winegate has missed one critical point.

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While whines about wine roll out on the country’s airwaves, what about cocktails? We don’t bat an eyelid and willingly part with our hard-earned for something that comes in a flashy glass.

According to the Press Up Entertainment Group, with 37 cocktail disbursing joints around Dublin, the most popular cocktails are a Margarita, Espresso Martini, Irish Coffee and an Old Fashioned, which range in price from €11 to €13.

Drop into the very exclusive Sidecar in the Westbury Hotel and cocktails start at €14; add a dash of Dom Pérignon Champagne to their Boodles Pink Diamond cocktail, and that will be €25, thank you very much.

Now I’m very partial to a beautifully crafted Margarita or Whiskey Sour, but what I don’t understand is why so many people baulk at paying the same amount for a glass of wine.

“I still struggle to justify €15 for a cocktail, yet would happily spend €15 on a decent glass of wine,” says Ian Fitzpatrick from allta, the uber-popular new wine bar and restaurant on Frederick Street South in Dublin, where their cheapest class of wine is 125ml Languedoc rosé on tap for €6.50.

“Most of our wines by the glass are below €15. I think people justify the price of a cocktail because they see three or four different ingredients or spirits, and the complexity going into making it. Whereas with wine, they don’t see that.

“Until more sommeliers or staff in the bars and restaurants take the time to tell their customers about the wine and the story behind it, people won’t explore very deep into a wine list. Organic and biodynamic are two buzz words at the moment. Organic and biodynamic producers are often forced to throw away half of their crop due to different farming struggles.

“This can drive up the price of a bottle of their wine because they need to make up the loss somehow. This can lead to a great end product, even though there is only half of it. Until our guests know these kinds of stories and details, that €15 glass just looks expensive for no good reason.”

Claire O’Boyle Gallagher, co-owner of Green Man Wines in Terenure, which was the first off licence and wine bar in Ireland to focus on organic, low intervention wines, agrees. She says that spirits and cocktails have the advantage of being well known quantities, and are pretty consistent in taste, but this doesn’t necessarily hold true for a glass of wine. Not all wines are created equal.

“A €15 glass of wine really should offer a good drinking experience – and at least one person on the team should be able to give you an insight into why you are paying €15 for a glass and how it should taste. For example, is it from a tiny producer, or from very old vines, or farmed and made in a low-intervention way or is it from a talented up-and-coming grower?”

She says that we need to change the way we think about wine, and this starts with training staff in the restaurant. Not only will this enable them to compile better wine lists, they will be able to ensure that customers have a better experience.

“The customer wins when they drink something that over-delivers on quality for price, or even better that surprises or delights them and that they feel justified in spending €25 and upwards on a bottle of wine,” she says.

“I know from over a decade working as an importer that it is extraordinarily difficult to find a wide range of wines that will sell for much under €7 a glass on most wine lists, but the wines are out there, if they are meticulously sourced. Best value, again only if carefully sourced, is to be found between €7.50 and about €15 – but the key is that the wine must be sourced with an eye to delivering a good price/quality ratio.”

So here’s a thought. Drink less but drink better this Christmas.

Drink a wine that is made in a sustainable manner, from vines that haven’t been swamped in glyphosate.

Wine’s not made for mindless drinking. It’s made for enjoying. And you’ll be supporting the good guys. Cheers.

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