First published in the Irish Times, Saturday 8th September, 2018
As a wine writer, the question I am most often asked is “Do more expensive wines really taste any better?” The truth, as Oscar Wilde once observed, is rarely pure and never simple, so the answer is yes and no. Most of the time, we really don’t know how much money the importer and retailer are making; it can make a huge difference. But generally once you pay €10, wine does usually start to taste better; more fruit, more flavour and more interesting.
Pay €15-€25 and you should notice a massive jump in quality; give a good winemaker enough money and the good ones can work wonders. Splash out anything between €25 and €50 you can get some really serious, complex wines that should knock your socks off. Above that you start to hit the law of diminishing returns; well-known wine regions around the world know their wines are in huge demand and in limited supply.
But what about wines made with the same grape variety, and from the same region? I believe that if you spend an extra €5-€10, you will notice a difference. If you don’t, then I suggest that you stick to cheap wine. This week I give you two of the most popular white wine grape varieties at very different prices, so that you can conduct your own tasting.
Sauvignon Blanc has been widely planted in parts of the Loire Valley and Bordeaux for centuries. Many other parts of the wine world have tried growing it with varying degrees of success. Chile provides us with plenty of inexpensive Sauvignon (apparently our favourite wine is Santa Rita 120 Sauvignon), the best wines coming from the Casablanca and Leyda Valleys. South Africa produces some excellent upmarket wines but nobody can match the success of Marlborough in New Zealand. Marlborough produces almost 70 per cent of all New Zealand wine, and Sauvignon Blanc accounts for most of that.
Amazingly, the overall quality of wine has remained high, including those at €10-€12. I mentioned the Villa Maria a few weeks ago, and Dunnes Stores has the very tasty Rapaura Springs (€12.99, and Reserve €15.99). Older readers will remember a time when Cloudy Bay Sauvignon was the most-sought-after wine in the country. It is still there, producing good wine, although Dog Point, Greywacke and various single vineyard wines are probably better these days.
Sales of Pinot Grigio have also exploded in recent years. The less expensive versions, usually from the Veneto in northern Italy, are lightly aromatic, vaguely fruity, unoaked and low in alcohol. Every supermarket will have a range, usually under €10 and often cheaper. Other parts of Italy, California, Australia and New Zealand have all tried their hand at Pinot Grigio. Look out for the Romanian Wildflower Pinot Grigio 2017 from O’Briens, €13.95, but a mere €8.95 on promotion (starting on September 24th).
Four white wines to try
Pinot Grigio delle Venezie 2016, Giacondi 12%, €7.95 until September 23rd
Lightly aromatic with soft, plump, ripe tropical fruits. Perfect party wine or with the classic combination of melon and prosciutto.
Stockists: O’Briens, obrienswines.ie
Pinot Grigio della Venezie 2017, Dissegna Francesco 12.5%, €14.99-15.99
Mouth-watering, fresh melon fruit with cleansing acidity and a bone-dry finish. What is Italian for vin de soif? Perfect with antipasti or spaghetti carbonara.
Stockists: Grapevine, Dalkey, onthegrapevine.ie; Morton’s, Ranelagh, mortons.ie; The Hole in the Wall, Blackhorse Avenue, D7; Martin’s Off Licence, Clontarf, martinsofflicence.ie; Fresh Outlets, freshthegoodfoodmarket.ie
Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Marlborough 13.5%,€9.95 in O’Briens for September
One of the original Marlborough Sauvignons and a classic of the style; lifted gooseberry aromas, fresh lime zest and ripe green fruits. Drink solo or with soft goat’s cheese salad.
Stockists: Widely available through the multiples, frequently on promotion.
Framingham Framingham Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Marlborough 12.5%, €23.99
This is streets ahead of most Marlborough Sauvignon. Lightly aromatic, flinty and mineral with a vivid purity and excellent length. Good solo, but better with shellfish – prawns, scallops, crab or mussels, preferably combined with zingy lime zest and herbs.
Stockists: The Cinnamon Cottage, Cork ; wineonline.ie; JJ O’Driscoll, Ballinlough, jjodriscoll.ie; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street, thecorkscrew.ie.