Independent off-licences breathed a sigh of relief when the Minister for Finance opted not to increase excise duty on alcohol.
Ideally the minister would have reduced excise given that we have by far and away the highest taxes on wine in the EU — up to 700% higher than the average. With a weak sterling and Brexit looming, the independent sector will also be damaged by increased cross-border trading, so some relief should have been given.
It is frankly embarrassing to have to admit to winemakers in Europe and elsewhere just how much we tax wine. These are mainly small farmers after all — how would we feel if our agricultural produce was taxed in the same way? Similarly it is all very well for us to talk up our tourism offering with reference to our food culture and award-winning restaurants, but the minister has to know that taxing wine as high as we do is seriously damaging. Will tourists remember the quality of their lobster or steak or will they remember the crippling price of the bottle of average quality wine that went with it? I suspect the latter.
A wine column like this would not be of much interest if it only featured wines from the supermarkets and failed to explore the wilder, more unusual wine regions and wine styles as found in the independents. With wine used as a loss leader in supermarkets and often sold below cost, the independent sector has genuine difficulty trying to compete — remember that independent off-licences only sell alcohol so cannot off-set reduced margins by sales of other goods. Remember also that the standard mark-up on wine is 25% and as low as 12 to 15% on special offer wines.
The National Off-Licence Association represents a large number of independent retailers and its annual Irish Wine Show Star Awards are a chance to showcase wines with a good price-quality ratio that are only available in its shops. My selections this week are from the Gold Medal winners (there are also silver and bronze awards) and I will highlight one or two more in the coming weeks. Over 600 wines were submitted and tasted blind and as I was on the judging panel so I stand over all the winners. I was pleased to see some excellent Chardonnays come through and also some less common grapes such as Cinsault and
BEST VALUE OVER €15
Conde Valdemar Rioja Reserva 2010,Spain — €17.50
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