It may surprise you, but I am broadly in favour of the upcoming Public Health Alcohol Bill as I think it will help — the bill is due before the Dáil this month.
Yes the bill increases the price of the cheapest wines to around €7.50 and while this will anger some, it will have no effect on independent retailers or on this column. Similarly, beer set at €2 and spirits at €21 will not affect my Beer of the Week slot. I’d prefer a ban on below-cost selling as I view it as predatory pricing and unfair competition, but this will do for now.
I’m in favour of structural separation which will force multiples to separate alcohol properly from other goods — buying a drug like alcohol should be a conscious decision. It is illegal for a minor to enter an off-licence unaccompanied, yet little kids can point at the pirates on rum bottles and declaim “I’ll drink that when I’m older!” while they wait at the checkout (yes, a friend of mine witnessed this recently).
I do have a serious concern about new labelling laws which will require calories and health information, but retailers have told me they are willing to label boutique bottles before they are put on shelves. Calories derive almost entirely from alcohol levels so generic labels should be possible, anything else is unworkable.
Lobbyists for the big players keep telling me the bill will harm small brewers and distillers and stymie growth — I believe it will do the exact opposite and level the playing field by forcing macro producers to rely on flavour and quality instead of blanket marketing — just like their micro competitors. I’m not happy with everything in the bill, such as the ban on sponsorship or on serving Prosecco in hairdressers, but overall I think it deserves cautious support.
My selections this week are all wines that cheer me up on dark days, I love fresh salty Muscadet and fragrant salty Albariño on wintry nights just as I love the bright happy fruits to be found in Mencía, Monastrell and Beaujolais. My final tip for a cheery January is dessert wine with cheese which feels utterly decadent yet costs little.
Best value under €15
In January you are likely to be looking for lighter food and wine choices and Muscadet is perfect with fish and light pasta dishes. This is fragrant and fresh with a salty mineral character on the nose and more minerality and lemon-lime freshness on the palate. Perfect if you picked up some of the German Discounter’s frozen lobster before Christmas.
Along with fellow crus Moulin à Vent and Fleurie the village of Morgonproduces some of the best wines in all Beaujolais. Now clearly this is a relatively inexpensive supermarket version, but it still has some of the density of flavour I associate with Morgon — bright red and black fruit aromas, supple and fruity, clean and fresh with low tannins and lingering black cherries.
Jumilla is in Murcia province near Valencia where the Monastrell(Mourvèdre) grape is king and where it ripens perfectly (always a struggle in the Rhone where it is also found). This has lively ripe damson and prune aromas, sweet, fruity and supple with lingering blackberry fruits on thefinish.
Best value over €15
Stockists: Deveneys, The Coachhouse (Dundrum), Vintry, On the Grapevine Dalkey
I love juicy fresh Mencía and I suspect you will too if you can find one to try. The grape is native to NW Spain in Bierzo in Castilla-Y- Leon and in parts of Galicia such as Monterrei and Valdeorras. This version is imported by Wine Lab www.winelab.ie and is bright and fresh. with violet and blackberry-blueberry fruit scents, juicy and supple, easy, and yet with lingering complexity
Stockists: JJ O’Driscolls; Kelly’s, Browns Portlaoise; Kavanaghs Naas; Whelehan
The Paco & Lola brand is one of the best entry level Albariños and this new premium version is still great value. Sourced purely from the Co-Op’s cool marine influenced sub-region of Salnés this has significantly more purity with an admirable salty freshness and pucks of lemon-acacia tinged fruits.
Stockist: Wines Direct Arnotts Dublin and Mulingar, www.winesdirect.ie
Cadillac is on the Garonne River just south of Bordeaux and on the other side of the river from Barsac and Sauternes.. Haut Rion also produce a fresh crisp Sauvignon and a taut red but I really liked this honeyed and lemon peel scented dessert wine — best served with fruit best desserts or any cake or cheese left over from Christmas.