February 27, 2024

Premium wines at palatable prices: who wants a taste?


A new enterprise sources wine direct from the producers – and passes on the savings

Three returned emigrants are changing the way we buy wine in Ireland. I have already written about a fourth, Rory Craig of the excellent Stationtostationwine.ie.

Mick O’Connell and Australian Shane Murphy founded Neighbourhood Wines, with shops on Leeson Street, Dublin 4, and Dún Laoghaire in Co Dublin, and recently opened a third shop, in Bray, Co Wicklow.

“The idea is to create a fun place where people who are interested in provenance can gather and buy wine from experts,” says O’Connell. “We have a passion for organic and natural wine but we also like delicious wines from anywhere.” The plan is to have four to six shops in Dublin. “We are lucky that we have well-positioned stores with rent that isn’t too high.”

Michelle Lawlor worked in the wine industry across three continents. With a perfect sense of timing, she set up online retailer The Nude Wine Company in November 2019. “When I came back from Hong Kong, you couldn’t easily get all the wines that I was passionate about in one place. We are working primarily with European wines, mainly from organic and biodynamic producers.” For the moment, Lawlor doesn’t import directly, but will do so in the future. “Business has been phenomenal. We don’t have €10 bottles but people seem to like the service and notice the difference.”

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Possibly the most intriguing newbie is WineSpark, set up by Eamon Fitzgerald, who was wine buyer and then chief executive of Naked Wines, one of the most successful online wine companies in the UK. He returned home to work from Dublin during the pandemic and never left.

The idea behind winespark.com is simple but compelling. The company offers wine at cost price, adding only the price of shipping, warehousing, taxes and delivery. They make their profit through a monthly subscription fee of €10, which remains static. Using contacts made during his time at Naked, FitzGerald sources all his wines direct from the producers. “Premium wines don’t have to be expensive; I want to make them accessible to wine drinkers. I also want to connect people with winemakers – that is the spark in WineSpark.”

The wine business traditionally works on a two-tier system; an importer would be happy to make a gross margin of about 20 per cent. A retailer would look to add 25-35 per cent. So WineSpark could be up to 60 per cent less expensive than its rivals. As they don’t work on percentage margins, you save more by buying expensive wines. It is hard to know if the wines are genuinely at cost price without seeing a breakdown, but prices certainly seem very competitive. One wine it offers for €12.50 was being sold for €19.95 on the Irish market until very recently.

Sacabeira Albarino 2018, Rias Baixas
13%, €16.06 – traditional retail price €27
Lightly aromatic, with toothsome, clean pear and apple fruits and an intriguing saline note on the dry finish. This would go down a treat with scallops or prawns.
From WineSpark, winespark.com

Chablis 2018, Domaine 47NE 3E, Guillaume Michaut
13.5%, €18.09 – traditional retail price €30
Crisp and bracing with racy green apples fruits and a lip-smacking dry finish. A half-dozen oysters or a bowl of moules marinière.
From WineSpark, winespark.com

Stepp Pinot Noir 2018 Buntsandstein, Pfalz
13%, €16.68 – traditional retail price €28
Pale in colour with lifted herbal aromas, delicate red cherry fruits and subtle toasty oak. Enjoy this with seared salmon or tuna.
From WineSpark, winespark.com

Crozes-Hermitage Grand Classique 2019 Laurent Habrard (Organic)
14%, €17.47 – traditional retail price €30
Rich savoury plum and dark cherry fruits, with a soft earthiness and a touch of black pepper. Try this with a roast of beef, or a warming autumnal vegetarian braise.
From WineSpark, winespark.com

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