Drinking is never a random activity. In all cultures where alcohol is consumed, drinking is hedged about with unwritten rules, social norms and stigmas regarding who may drink how much of what, when, where, with whom and in what manner. The rules are different in different countries and different social circles, but there are always rules.
Some will deny this. A man might protest that he drinks pints of lager only because it slakes his thirst and because he happens to like the taste. You don’t have to believe him. Choice of beverage is rarely as simple as a matter of personal taste.
A few of 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’. When it came to ‘shaping up’, wine v beer was an unequal contest. Who ever heard of a ‘wine belly’?
Women, fed up with an invidious choice between Babycham, soft drinks and expensive cocktails and intimidated by pints, 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 VacuVin 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, either to the well-defined and captive female market or to the untapped male one. 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.
Finally, I’d love to hear of any pubs with a decent wine list.