Lidl has Italy (and its wines) covered!

Way back in the 1980’s …. sounds like a bit of an old song … start again.

When the ‘modern’ Irish wine trade was in its infancy (early 1980’s) my two brothers and I began to import wines from Italy. (The Verling brothers did likewise). We were, I suppose, trendsetters. Were we? Perhaps it was a bit of bravado but in truth it began out of a necessity to be different and to make a profit in an industry dominated by a few large companies who not only controlled distribution channels but also had control of profit margins. Italy had such diversity and (at that time) only a few of its wines were being imported – Chianti, Frascati and the big three from the Veneto; Soave, Valpolicella and Bardolino.

Today, profit margin is controlled by the supermarkets, distribution is more amenable than ever before and quality wines from Italy are easy to find. Lidl has now added to this mix by introducing value through a range of carefully chosen Italian wines to complement the Lidl Italiamo Food Theme in all of its stores from the 13th of this month.

The range of wines on offer is very good and the following are well worth checking out:

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 Podere M. Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG 2015          Vernaccia (from Gimignano) needs to be ‘found’. It is one of the world’s best food grapes that no-one seems to have heard of! This is a well dressed up wine that’s drinking very well to a fine finish – the mid-palate of this wine craves food to bring it ou202888_Gavi_di_Gavit: creamed pasta and a well-chilled Vernaccia …. €9.99

  Gavi di Gavi DOCG 2014          I’ve always had a grà for Gavi. It comes from just above Genoa and is made from the Cortese grape. Everything in this wine is pitched well: fine structure and great fruit acid balance; lean and lightly warmed, straw like, fruit with loads of textural mouth feel. €9.99

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Morellino di Scansano DOCG 2014         This region is on the Med coastline of Tuscany and uses the Sangiovese grape to brings us fresh, crisp and soft fruited wines. Really fine summer drinking. €9.99

(Try the Nero d’Avola IGP from Sicily at €13.99 for the magnum (1.5liters). Reall206888_Babarescoy great price for a barbecue/party wine!

‘WTG?’ In my notes means ‘Want To Try The Grape’? I am constantly encouraging folk to broaden their grape horizons. It doesn’t always work (at times it’s a grape deeezaster …..!) but how else are we to find out what we like and what we don’t like? Take Nebbiolo from the north of Italy; high tannin, high alcohol, high acid, high fruit; throw in a touch of warmed asphalt. Fabulous?!

 Barbaresco DOCG 2013         Light tawny and a light warmed tar, great acid and fine ripe fruit, rich tannic grip and long warming finish. You just have to love it with a medium rare, juicy sirloin. €12.99207534_Valpolicella_Classico

  Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso DOC 2012          The name here covers all bases! Valpol Ripasso 2012 does it for me. Cherry like fruit, ageing, some baked fruit cake and fig, soft, rich mellow wine with a highish alcohol that makes you sleepy in the sunshine. Great price for one of Ireland’s current favourite Italian categories.  €9.99

M&S Wines – a Go To Place

Marks and Spencer recently held a fabulous tasting of its Summer Wine Portfolio. Here are a few of the wines that stood out for me.     old063

SPARKLING         M&S is always a good source of variety within its sparkling section. Beside very good Champagne (Oudinot, Abel Charlot) Cavas (Segura Viudas) and others they often include wines from exotic locations such as Brazil and New Zealand! 

I love these:

 Prosecco Brut NV  Masottina, Italy €12.49     I’m only a fan of Prosseco when I trust the producer! Masottino is one of those. He has a track record of being brilliant. This wine is reasonably full on the palate as the dosage (sweetening..) is highish at 11.0g/l but this is offset (to a degree…sic) by a low alcohol  level of only 11% vol. Everything here is bright, summery and delicious. Serve well chilled.

 ‘The Rhona’ Brut Rosé NV  Graham Beck, South Africa  €22.50     I like a lot of what Graham Back produces and I absolutely love everything his sparkling wine maker Peter Ferreira makes. This is fabulously well balanced Rosé wine where Pinot Noir (59%) is allowed to dominate Chardonnay. The result is a textural delight with a deep seated, rich berry fruit allied to a fine autolysis leading into a long and very satisfying finish. Every celebration should have one!

WHITE WINES     There are some really great white wines around these days where technology is taking a back seat (at long last) to the grapes themselves. Northern Italy has a treasure trove of these where the likes of Verdicchio, Cortese, Garganega, and many others, are shining through (note of caution: be very careful with P Grigio – some are downright ordinary..!) 

 Cantina di Monteforte 2015 Garganega Pinot Grigio  €11.79 Veneto, Italy     The wine maker here has respected his grapes to the extent that they are allowed to give us a great value wine and at the same time a whole lot of interesting fruit. Light almond and nutty elements blend in well with broad melon. Really good and yet gentle acidic structure contributes to a fine mouthfeel and a finish worthy of more expensive wines. Way to go Veneto!

 Pierre de Préhy Chablis 2014, Chablis, France  €22.00  Winery: Jean Marc Brocard     Good Chablis has just the right amount of ripe fruit balanced against a steely expression of the Chardonnay grape grown at a relatively high latitude. I don’t expect any great local character (but if it’s there its bonus time!) as that really is reserved for Premier Cru and Grand Cru sites. Good, honest, regional white wines like this grown in northern France are brilliant for so many food dishes that’s it’s hard to recommend just one – oh, alright: a bowl of steaming mussels and a crisp Chablis alfresco.HT_FD_F23A_00695152_NC_X_EC_0

 Mayne de Beauregard 2015, Bergerac Blanc €11.79 Hugh Ryman     Very good Value for Money with a super Sauvignon Blanc Semillon blend.

 Domaine de Villargeau 2014, Sauvignon Blanc Coteaux de Giennois, France  €14.79     Top class style and very well made wine

 Cascara Casablanca Chardonnay 2015, Casablanca, Chile  €13.29 Winery: de Martino   Taut and energetic. Very fine. Shows how versatile and brilliant Chardonnay can be.

 Colinas del Itata Old Vine Field Blend Muscat Corinto 2014, Itata, Chile  €14.99   Winery: de Martino      Muscat rose petal and lychees aromas blend very well with the more neutral Corinto. Super blend and very interesting, very dry wine. (Corinto is thought to be Chasselas but more likely a mutant of Pedro Ximinez?)

 Ken Forrester Workhorse Chenin Blanc 2015 Stellenbosch, South Africa €13.29     Highly recommended. Rich, tight, some wet wool, tons of rich fruit, top class acidity, gorgeous.

 Paul Cluver Ferricrete Riesling 2015 Elgin, South Africa €18.99     Auslese style with a whack of residual sugar to balance the acidity. I don’t think Cluver knows how to make anything but Excellence.

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 Flaxbourne Sauvignon Blanc Rosé 2015 Marlborough, New Zealand €15.99     Winery: Yealands Family Estate     How do you make a Rosé from a (white) Sauvignon Blanc? Blend it with a dollop of colour from Merlot (2.5% here). The result is everyone’s favourite New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ripe exuberance in a Rose wine!! And it Works!

RED WINES          It’s not too long since we were given a choice of a few grapes and or a few regions to choose from. Nothing wrong with Cabernet or indeed Rioja but what of the rest of Spain or indeed the rest of the thousands of red grape varietals? Well, times have changed and the variety on offer is pretty impressive these days. Here’s a few that caught my palate.

 D’Aragon Old Vine Cariñena 2015, Cariñena, Spain  €11.79     Excellent style with a ton of young, ripe fruit, structure and quality wine making. GVM (Great Value for Money!)

 Abel Mendoza Rioja 2012 Rioja, Spain  €47.00     100% Tempranillo with impressive and very soft fruit. If you ever want to know what a ‘modern fruit forward’ style of Rioja is then you must wangle a try of this sometime (might be difficult given the price tag!) It really is an excellent wine.

 Brolio Chianti Classico Riserva 2011, Chianti Classico, Italy €44.00     Wine maker: Baron Ricosoli     As traditional a house as you can find but the wine is a sensational mix of the new (fruit and ripeness) and old (age and structure). Absolutely Love it!

 Domaine Mandeville Shiraz 2015 Pays d’Oc, France €12.79     (Shiraz HT_FD_F23A_00989855_NC_X_EC_0from France?) Lovely wine. Great example of how approachable inexpensive Syrah can be. Lively, rich and interesting. Looking forward to a few sizzling meats from the barbecue now!

 Underwood Pinot Noir 2014 Oregon, USA  €12.49     Really good price from a well-made Pinot from Oregon. ‘Excellent and Accurate’ meaning a fine structure supporting a fruit with a light coloured pour and a rich nose of red berries and dusted warmed herbs leading to a rich finish. Fine ‘teaching’ wine.

 Colomé Altitude Malbec Tannat Cabernet Franc 2014 Salta, Argentina  €17.49       Salta is a high place – up to 2600m – and very dry. I really like the intensity here where you can almost feel the grapes suffering as they struggle to ripen. The winemaker has carefully aged this wine to both protect this nervousness and also to elevate it in a very ‘French’ style. Lovely. (don’t like the label!)

 Campos de Solana Tannat Malbec 2015 Santa Ana, Bolivia  €15.99     Cripes. I’d love to visit this vineyard. Tannat and Malbec from Bolivia! Modern red with ample fruit and all very well blended and structured. Well worth checking out – and then asking your mates where they think it’s from!!

 Earth’s End Central Otago Pinot Noir 2014 Central Otago, New Zealand  €25.00                A Classic. Fabulously rich red berry effect and wonderful deep seated sense of time and place. There is something incredible sensuous (to me at least) from such brilliant Pinot Noir fruit.

 Willson Family Langhorne Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 Langhorne Creek, Australia  €19.99     Australia is pushing itself into being a supplier of ‘premium’ category wines. As such it needs to deliver the quality that matches its ambition. This is 100% brilliant and reflects both the grape and the region very well indeed. A premium price. A premium wine.

What a fabulous array of wines. Countries, grapes, regions and styles. Marks and Spencer is a genuine difference to our wine trade in the very best way possible. Sometimes the mix is a bit too ‘English’ or ‘British’ (if you know what I mean) but if you want to follow grapes or, best of all, some off-beat countries of origin then this is the place for you. Bolivia for heaven’s sake!! Fantastic.  

New Zealand Wines Needs to Add Another Gear – for Ireland

Recently we were told that, ‘New Zealand’s wine industry is gearing up for its largest ever presence at the Prowein International Wine & Spirits Trade Show, following a record $1.54 billion in exports in 2015, up 14% on 2014’.

As I’ve blogged before, don’t read headlines to be impressed. Read them to be informed! Up 14% on what? 1.54 billion sounds impressive but with a conversion rate of 0.6 to the Euro the final result shows that its big but not THAT big!!

New Zealand by necessity needs to express itself well. It is far away from its export markets – especially the UK – and within a world scale of things it has a small, but important, wine trade. Without Sauvignon Blanc (66% of its 2105 harvest) its trade does not exist in any meaningful way and so gearing up ‘for its largest ever presence’ means a lot more Sauvignon Blanc than before. Nothing wrong with any of this.

Very often I can buy an excellent bottle of Lone Kauri New Zealand Riesling from SuperValu at €9.00 a bottle. I rate it very highly. Earlier this year the cover of Wine+.ie featured The Family of Twelve from New Zealand. In that we emphasised diversity, energy, innovation and quality available from New Zealand’s Vineyards. Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc are all excellent from New Zealand.

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Where are we going with this blog?

Right now NZ wines occupy a small single digit market share in Ireland. You might think that this is pretty good given the size of the Irish market, its distance from NZ and how important other markets must be to the New Zealand Wine Growers. Well, that’s where we are going here! It could, and with a degree of ease, be a whole lot better!

Currently Ireland ranks an impressive 9th in terms of value of wine exports from New Zealand sent to any country. Mind, you this only equates to 1.24% of the overall $1.54billion and falls seriously behind the likes of the US, Australia and the UK who account for 77% between them! Put it another way positions 7 to11 inclusive in the table account between them for only 5% of the export value from New Zealand. Ireland is in good company – Japan, Sweden, Hong Kong, Singapore. (Source table: New Zealand Winegrowers Annual Report 2015)

(As we have mentioned before) if we add in exports we  import from Germany and the UK via Tesco, Lidl, Aldi and others, we begin to eat into that 5% as a very valuable overseas export market for New Zealand.

Why does our market share hover in the low digits when we are clearly capable and willing to spend well for wines from a country as far away as possible as it is to get to from here? Surely we can do better.

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It all comes down to ‘The Message’. New Zealand needs a Champion. It needs to have, at a minimum, 1.25% of its marketing budget assigned to Ireland and it needs to meet with our trade in a way that more shelf space is allocated across our country to show off the diversity on offer from New Zealand.

The Message, via the New Zealand WineGrowers Annual Report, tells us that it’s Board has, ‘signed off on an important 10-year major events programme which will bring key global influencers to New Zealand as we showcase our wines and our unique story.’ All good. Potential champions will travel to NZ and bring The Message back with them.

To date that has meant one person from Ireland per year. That’s not enough and we should say so!

New Zealand tells us that its Marketing Programme lumps Ireland in with the UK. The result in terms of market visits to NZ are clear to see:

2015    Ireland             1          (John Wilson: Irish Times)

Japan 1             Singapore 1            Netherlands 2

Norway 2          Hong Kong 2            Germany 3

Canada 4               Sweden 4                     Taiwan 5

UK 6                         Australia 10                       US 12

China  27

The two biggest losers, or at least those missing opportunity, are the UK and Ireland. The UK has the office. It can look after itself. Ireland is the mug hoping for a few crumbs.

Two marketing strategies in the Irish wine market have been proven time and again. The first is to have a local champion. The second is DO NOT RUN US FROM AN OFFICE IN LONDON. We will be side lined and we will Miss the Message.

The numbers here speak for themselves. The wine is available. The Quality is available. The Diversity is available. The Value is available. The Interest is available.  So, come on New Zealand. Take another look at your own numbers and help us to spread the good word. You can take anywhere from 5% to 8% of the Irish market and hold onto it.

Don’t tell us that you’re gearing up for Prowein. Tell us that you’re gearing up for Ireland!

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