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Saturday 18 August 2018

Grape Expectations: Pubs could win big with wine drinkers

Drinking is never a random activity. In all cultures where alcohol is consumed, drinking is hedged about with unwritten rules, social norms and stigmas.

Some will deny this. A man might protest that he drinks lager only because it slakes his thirst and because he happens to like the taste. Choice of beverage is rarely so simple. A few years ago I was doing a spot of consultancy which involved, during the course of my research, asking people "Do you drink wine in pubs?"

"You're jokin' me," said D4 Male (37). "If I'm going to get caught in a pub with a glass of wine I might as well go the whole hog and buy a man-bag." His buddy summed it up. "Look," he said. "I love wine. I'll go home tonight and down a bottle of red with dinner. When I dine in a restaurant, first thing I ask for is the wine list. But not here, no way -- wine in pubs is for women."

Back in the 1980s, few of us, male or female, drank wine at all. The invention of cheap package holidays increased familiarity with the product and kick-started demand. The next boost came from a new and obsessive preoccupation with wellbeing in which wine began to be seen as 'the healthy option'.

Women took to wine with gusto, happy to drink it down the local despite the limitations of wine sold in 'quarter bottles', with inefficient closures (there is no comparison between the screw top on an 18.75cl bottle and the well-engineered equivalent on the 70cl one) and a short shelf life.

Recently, many pubs have opted to sell by the glass, employing keeping systems ranging from the cheap domestic Vacu Vin pump to a machine that keeps the wine under a blanket of inert gas. Margins are good, certainly fatter than on beer. In a pub in the suburbs, I found a respectable but unexciting Rioja (€10.99 in the off-licence or supermarket) being sold for €7 a 170cl glass.

Choice, though, is still restricted and very few pubs take the trouble to promote wine. We are as far off as ever from a situation where a glass of Australian shiraz would be as bar-credible to your average Irish male as a pint of plain. Seems like an opportunity missed. Trawling my local Tesco recently, I came across the two bottles in the photo. The one on the left is a 2007, labelled 2007 Bourgogne Chardonnay, Blason de Bourgogne.

The one on the right is styled White Burgundy, Chardonnay, 2009, selected by Tesco. It's a pretty good bet that these are different vintages of the same wine. Buying the brace would enable the novice wine drinker to understand the effect bottle ageing has on a wine, without risking a significant outlay.

There's no risk -- both are clean, crisp, decent and enjoyable, certainly for the €8 ask.

Do I have a preference? Yes, but I'll let you judge for yourself.

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