Monday, 23 November 2009

Perfect Partners

Last night I counted five open bottles of wine at various states of consumption in my kitchen, which is fairly typical Chez Read.  They numbered a Fino Sherry, an aromatic white (Alsace Pinot Gris Grand Cru), a dry steely white (Chablis), an elegant red Burgundy and a sturdy Argentinean Malbec.  Why so many bottles you might ask? 

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Sherry Please

Going back nearly forty years to the 1970s, fortified wines were very popular in the UK market.  We consumed copious quantities of Port and Madeira (from Portugal), Sherry (from Spain) and a bit of Marsala (from Italy).

Unfortunately these wines fell into a sorry state of popularity from the 1980s onwards, some of it their own doing.  The inexorable march of clean, modern, New World wines was completely at odds with the old school fusty image of Port and Sherry. 

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

When a Discount Isn't a Discount

This month I feel obliged to warn you about highly misleading ‘discounts’ in the UK wine market.  The classic example is the ‘half-price’ offers that appear in most supermarkets, most of the time.  Typically we’re looking at a wine that is advertised as half price, down from £10 to £5.  Now you might think that’s a great deal and if the wine were worth £10 it would be.  The trouble is that the wine is worth £5 and not a penny more. 

Thursday, 23 April 2009

More Variety Please

It’s not an exaggeration to say that  there was a revolution in wine twenty odd years ago.  Prior to this momentous point, wines were generally branded and sold by where they came from; like Chablis, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Chianti and Rioja, with no notion of what the grapes were.  Then the Australians had the simple but brilliant notion of labelling wine according to the variety of grape in the bottle and who cares where it comes from? 

Monday, 16 February 2009

Trading Up - The Benefits of Heading Towards £10 a Bottle

Today I'm going to try and persuade you to trade up when buying a bottle of plonk.  When spending a fiver, how much of that money actually goes into the wine do you suppose?  Well, let's work it out...

For any bottle imported into the UK (including from any EU Country), we have a fixed rate import duty of getting on for £2 a bottle (and more for fizz).  Depending on where the bottle has come from, there is also shipping which is going to cost at least 50p a bottle, even for a huge player like one of the big supermarkets.  We then have VAT on both of these (yes, tax on tax), which gives us about £2.90 fixed cost on each bottle, leaving us £2.10 for wine.  But hang on, that £2.10 includes the bottle itself, the closure, the label and the whole bottling process, not to mention marketing and other expenses.  For most producers that's going to account for another £2 per bottle, which leaves us a sum total of ten new pence for the wine.  Hmm, not great, but what to do?  The answer is clear; trade up!

As the amount you spend rises from a fiver the extra cash nearly all goes into wine and as you close in on a tenner there's a decent amount of money actually spent on the sauce.  This quality vs price curve rises most sharply between £5 and £15 and continues to rise at a decent rate up to about £20.  After that there are many other factors that come into play, like kudos and brand prestige.  The intrinsic rise in quality does continue up to about £100, but the returns start dropping rapidly after about £20.  After £100 any further cost is down purely to supply and demand; Chateau Petrus sells at £1,000 a bottle because there are enough people who are prepared to buy it for that price.  It doesn't mean, of course, that the wine is intrinsically worth that much.  I hope this piece of simple economics has shown why, as you get a bit more adventurous and spend eight or nine quid instead of five, you're making a sound decision.

Appendix: four great value wines between £6.50 and £10 in the UK supermarkets:

Macon Villages (good straight-ahead white Burgundy) - £6.50 from M&S
La Monacesca Verdicchio di Matellica (classy Italian white) - £8.54 from Waitrose
Ascheri Barbera d'Alba Fontanelle (very tasty Italian red) - £8.99 from Sainsburys
Chateau de Jau Cotes Du Roussillon Villages (Great example of a Southern French Red) - £10 from Tesco