Belfast Telegraph

Wine & Vine: Shop making it's mark

By John Hunter

In terms of quantity, most wine in the UK and Ireland is bought in the big chain supermarkets.

They've done a great deal in teaching the average consumer about wine, removing much of the old snobbery on the subject and making a lot of money in the process.

So it's hard to believe that Tesco, Sainsbury's and the like have been here for less than 30 years. Their domination of the mass market left a specialist niche for top end wine merchants such as Direct Wine Shipments and James Nicholson.

Somewhere between the two come local enterprises such as Winemark and, more recently Curleys, who have built a steady trade in reliable, not absurdly expensive wines. Very drinkable.

Winemark is particularly interesting because, from a small start with two Belfast stores in 1973 it now owns 80 outlets across the north and is one of the biggest employers in the wine trade here.

Originally, the premises were straightforward off-licences.

But, aware of the developing market, it has increasingly built a reputation as a wine specialist with trained staff and shrewd ploys to avoid being swamped by the big chains.

Currently, it is issuing a select wine list every couple of months or so, focusing on a particular region. Australia and New Zealand feature at the moment and the comprehensive list is available at all Winemark stores.

Until October 31, there's also an offer of 12 top Oz and Kiwi bottles for £56.88 with an estimated £25 saving. Incidentally, the catalogue also contains several matching, sophisticated food recipes to go with selected wines.

With this week's choice (below) try roast rack of lamb with the shiraz and char-grilled lemon and coriander marinated chicken with the chardonnay. Sounds complicated, but they're perfectly straightforward - I've cooked both successfully.

Hunter's choice

These two are from South Australia's famous Barossa region where wine-making goes back to the 1840s. Both are by Peter Lehman, with 50 years of winery experience behind him.

Peter Lehman Wild Card Chardonnay 2006. This is primarily a fruit-driven chard with no obvious oaking. (Over-oaking is one of the Aussie sins). Crisp and dry with apples and lime fruit on the palate, it's a real refresher, finishing nicely with 13pc alcohol. £5.49 at Winemark.

Peter Lehman Wild Card Shiraz 2005. A straightforward, fruit-driven red, plumy palate with typical shiraz spice, gentle tannins, made for drinking young, not laying down. Beware of the mighty 14.5pc alcohol. Said to be " vegan friendly." £5.49 at Winemark.

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