News in 2019 seems rather relentless given the uncertainty caused by Brexit.  Budget 2020 is due in early October and ‘safe’ is the watchword this year, given that nobody knows what will happen in London in the coming weeks.  There will certainly be no cuts in alcohol excise but likely no rises either. The fact that our wine excise tax is so much higher than that for alcohol we produce (i.e. beer and spirits) has not gone unnoticed by the EU.  The EU remains the best hope of getting a reduction on wine, it is our fellow EU farmers we are ultimately punishing after all – imagine if the Italians charged €20 for 500g of Kerrygold?

Wine sales in Ireland fell in 2018 by 2% and per capita consumption fell by 3.6%, according to the IBEC-ABFI Wine Report published in early September.  Chile is where we buy 27% of all our wine with Australia (15%) second and Spain (13%) stepping into third place ahead of France which is now at 11.9%.

Given we are drinking less, convincing ordinary members of the public to spend their money on wine they have never heard of is not easy but a sprinkling of celebrity dust can help.  Sarah Jessica Parker has launched a new range of wines with Invivo from New Zealand, Ian Botham is continuing to expand his range with a new English Rosé and Graham Norton will continue to grow his range of wines beyond Prosecco and Sauvignon Blanc.  I’m guessing Kim & Kanye Kabernet is an inevitability.

Rich people have always dabbled in vineyards, often attached to their house (c.f. Sting, Cliff Richard, Brad & Angelina) but simply slapping a celeb name on a bottle is somehow a much less satisfying a concept.

In the US meanwhile cannabis laced beverages from sports drinks to cocktails have begun to make an appearance.  Big alcohol is investing billions in cannabis farms (Constellation for example invested CA$5bn for a 38% stake in an Ontario producer in 2018) and while weed drinks haven’t quite taken off just yet, many predict it is just a matter of time.

In Ireland, Barry & Fitzwilliam is about to introduce some CBD drinks containing cannabidiol oil, a non-psychoactive extract from hemp that is said to help with anxiety and pain. CBD pills and creams are already widely available in health food shops and pharmacies, so drinks are a logical extension.

In other drinks news the excellent Irish Distillers’ Method & Madness range of experimental collaborations between a Master Distiller and an Apprentice Distiller has added two new iterations.  There is a fascinating wild cherry wood finish that tastes of sweet lemongrass and peppered honey, and an acacia wood finish that has dark chocolate and pecan pie flavours – both retail at €92 with the latter exclusive to the Celtic Whiskey Shop.

As I write this the wine harvest is happening all over Europe.  Most regions will be down (some parts of Burgundy as much as 26%) thanks to extreme weather conditions from hailstones in the flowering spring to heatwaves in the summer, but anyone I’ve spoken to is expecting a solid if small vintage.

The 2017 vintage has been declared by a number of port houses and Taylors were in town recently with samples from the houses they own – Taylors, Fonseca, Croft and Krohn.  The wines are generous and deep but perhaps a little more austere than say the 2016s and 2011s. These are for the long haul.

Finally in restaurant news I can warmly recommend visiting just-opened Mister S on Camden Street from the people behind Featherblade.  ‘All The Good Stuff Over Fire’ is the motto. Chef Daniel Hannigan, formerly of Richmond, is at the helm and everyone needs to try his ever-so-slowly cooked short rib beef.

Also worth a visit is Stephen McAllister’s new gastropub Spitalfields with Maitre’D Declan Maxwell at front of house – here the standout dish is the wonderful cock-a-leekie pie with excellent homemade puff pastry.

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