First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 18th January, 2020
Can a bottle of wine be worth €500,000? In 2018, Sotheby’s auctioned two bottles of 1945 la Romanée Conti, a very fine Burgundy, for just over $1 million (€894,000), making these the world’s most expensive bottles of wine.
This seems a bargain compared to the $1.9 million (€1.6 million) paid for a bottle of Scotch, the Macallan 1926, last year.
People delight in giving wine lovers tastings designed to make them look foolish. Wine tasters are one of the few groups of critics who regularly submit themselves to blind tastings. You could apply similar tests to lovers of other drinks, food, perfume, fashion and art with similar results. Our senses are notoriously unreliable judges of value, although professional wine judges are usually pretty accurate.
The truth is that no wine is worth half a million euros, or even five hundred, any more than a designer bag can really be worth €5,000 or more, or a Ferrari upwards of €200,000. At a certain stage, you are paying for rarity and slick marketing. For some, it is an investment, related to resale value, for others simply a way of announcing to the world that they have accumulated wealth.
Leaving these luxury items aside, most of the time, most of us can tell the difference between a €10 bottle of wine and one costing €30. If a producer is lucky enough to own vineyards in the right place, and knows how to nurture vines and make really good wine, why would they sell it for €2 a bottle when they know a buyer will pay multiples of that? Conversely, if a winemaker forces vines into producing huge yields, and indulges in all sorts of perfectly legal interventions, they can sell at their wine a much lower price. But the wine won’t taste as good.
Given our high duties rates, all wine in Ireland will usually be more expensive than in other jurisdictions. The new alcohol regulations are designed to do away with ultra-cheap wine (often sold below cost) and the incessant promotions used by the multiples to entice us into their shops. I hope it will encourage us to drink less wine, and also to drink better wine.
Over Christmas, I opened up quite a few posh bottles, wines that cost me anything from €20-€50 a bottle. Only one was disappointing. The rest were a joy to drink, and good value for money, particularly when compared with wine prices in restaurants.
I made a resolution to drink less, but better in 2020. Believe me, once you go over €10-€12 a bottle, you will notice the difference. This week, four wines, all available from independent wine shops, that are worth a few euros more.
Muros Antigos Vinho Verde 2018
Floral aromas, succulent green apples and pears, with zesty citrus peel. Fresh as a spring morning. Try it with light leafy salads, and fish with herbs and lemon.
d’Arenberg Hermit Crab 2016, Mclaren Vale
A perennial favourite of mine, rich in mouth-watering textured apricots, peaches and cantaloupe, finishing on a dry, refreshing note. This would be great with herby, spicy Asian seafood dishes; Vietnamese prawn salad?
Stockists: Donnybrook Fair, donnybrookfair.ie; Deveney’s, D14; Grapevine, Dalkey, onthegrapevine.ie; Shiel’s, Malahide; Kellys, Dublin 3, kellysofflicence.ie; Martin’s Off Licence, Dublin 3, martinsofflicence.ie; The Malt House, Trim; La Touche, Greystones, latouchewines4u.ie; Egan’s, Drogheda; 1601 Off-licence, Kinsale; Bradleys Off-licence, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie; Morton’s, Dublin 6, mortons.ie; O’Donovan’s, Cork, odonovansofflicence.com
Mitchell & Son Claret 2015, Bordeaux Superieur
A very well-priced Bordeaux with elegant ripe blackcurrants and red cherries with soft tannins and an easy finish. Perfect with the Sunday roast.
Stockists: Mitchell & Son, Dublin 1, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue & Dunboyne, mitchellandson.com; Myles Doyle, Gorey; Wilde & Green, Dublin 6, wildeandgreen.com; O’Driscolls Off Licence, Co Kerry
Colle Morino 2017, Barba, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo
A fresh, light easy-going wine with supple red cherry and damson fruits and not a tannin in sight. Instantly gluggable, this is a great all-purpose wine to go with lighter red meats, most white meats and hard cheeses. Perfect pizza wine too.