Oh but there does seem to be a bit of ranting out there at the moment. Before I join in I have 3 quick questions on art, literature and fashion that I’d like you to have a look at:

1. You have a space on your wall you’d like to fill, would you rather

a. buy a poster for your wall now?

b. save for a few months for an original print or painting that you fell for or one by an artist you happen to rate?

c. save for a one-off by a grand master? (good luck with that)

2. You’re on holiday relaxing by the pool or on the beach or inside by the fire, would you rather

Beach Ball, Donegal

a. flick through a gossip magazine?

b. read a John Grisham or similar?

c. devote yourself to something you read a great review about and have been waiting until you had the time to do so?

3. You’re getting married, would you rather

a. wear something you picked up in Penney’s?

b. save to buy something off the rail in a department store or independent shop?

c. save up and go to a tailor/dress-maker?

There is obviously no wrong answer here, and I’d probably answer a, b and c to all three questions depending the mood I’m in when asked. [Small pause] Well, maybe not to that last one unless I were a serial bride, but if the wedding funds were such that it meant party or dress, I’d go for a frock from Penneys and a good knees up over a great dress and no guests any time.

I hope you get the point though. There is a great deal of snobbery out there when it comes to my line of work, wine. But no more than you can get from art critics or film buffs, book reviewers or fashion critics. Sometimes an airport novel is just what you need, it’ll do exactly what it says on the tin, and the same applies to a good old rom-com DVD.  I think that maybe the wine trade itself has a lot to answer for, reviewers have used overly flowery language or deliberately talk in exclusive jargon and it can be hard to explain the price differences between vintages or even decipher some labels. Wine snobs are a nightmare, I know.

photo: Robert Hunter

If you think of literature; say you read a novel by a certain author that completely knocks your socks off, be it a love story or thriller, then you are far more likely to pick up the author’s next offering, or try something he or she wrote previously. You are not going to assume that you will now love all thrillers or that all love stories are going to rock your boat. Something like ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ or ‘Dr Zhivago’ is hardly the same as a Mills & Boon (for the record I happen to quite like a Mills & Boon once in a while but I would never rate one in my all-time great reads). Or take music, you are hardly likely to go into a shop, or go to iTunes and get yourself any old tune categorised as ‘Rock’ just because you’re a big fan of The Rolling Stones. When it comes to film, would you like to see only main-stream, box office successes available? Or would you like to support the independent, sometime kookie, often amazing work the small, lesser known directors and producers come up with? [That reads a bit odd to me, I don’t mean that tall producers can’t be lesser known or come out with amazing films…. That’s probably not helped either.] It’s the same with wine, the grape is perhaps one of the least important pieces of information on the label – just because you like a wine made from the Merlot grape variety by producer X does not mean you now like all wines made from Merlot. Nor that if you like one Côtes du Rhône you’ll like all Côtes du Rhône (or the inverse). A pair of jeans from Penney’s is not the same beast as a pair of jeans from Levis but both are a pair of jeans. You don’t say ‘I don’t like cotton’ because you had a bad changing room experience with a t-shirt in Gap (I blame the mirror). Importantly this is not to say that all designer wines are expensive, neither am I saying all mass produced ones are bad.

photo: Robert Hunter

By the very nature of production, something that is mass produced is never going to be as interesting as its counterpart. How can it be? It can be good, it can be reliable, it can be safe, but hardly interesting. A fast food meal will taste the same no matter where in the world you are when you eat it (and yes, this can be a good thing). With wine you need to follow the artist, or talk to someone trustworthy who knows their stuff – your independent retailer for example. He or she will want your business, will want you to come back, to be satisfied with what you got the last time. He or she will probably have tasted the majority if not all the wines in the shop. This is not something you will get from your supermarket, especially not your discount supermarket.

When I read magazine wine reviews I get increasingly frustrated. For the most part the fashion pages are full of clothes I would have to really save up for – that said, I like what I read, even if I don’t like it, if you know what I mean. The beauty pages are inevitably about creams, potions and make up that I would be hard pushed to find on the shelves of say Aldi or Lidl (I am an avid reader of the beauty pages, needing more help than previously, I’m not sure why my mother keeps staring back at me out of my mirror). I don’t remember the last time I saw a review of a made-for-TV film, or something from my trusty Mills & Boon. The restaurant pages are not about the latest offerings from the Tesco or Dunnes Cafés. So why is it that I seem to be seeing a lot of bland supermarket wines there, and ones that are being sold almost below cost being touted as ‘good’? Why can’t wine prices mirror those of the fashion and beauty pages? As suppliers we often hear ‘only put forward wines that are widely available’ the implication here being wines available in supermarkets and off licence chains. Isn’t this the equivalent of asking restaurant reviewers to stick to places that have a branch in every major town in the country, or fashion reviewers to only look at high street offerings? For film critics to only write up films on general release and art critics to review nothing but mass produced posters? Where’s the room for the small guy? The artist starting out? The first time novelist? How will anything become better know unless people read about it somewhere first?

If you want alcohol and you don’t want to pay over a certain amount per glass then why not buy something a little more interesting than a mass produced supermarket wine? Why not try an Irish made beer, stout or cider – there are loads of really amazing ones out there at the moment. Or what about making cocktails? There’s more value, fun and flavour to be had with these than the majority of cheap supermarket wines. Please, please whatever you do, do not judge all Chablis or Châteauneufs, Chardonnays or Merlots against what you may pick up off the supermarket shelf. But if you do want a good bottle of wine, why not trade up by a just couple of euro, and talk to your local independent.