It is an extraordinary fact that virtually all the wine consumed in the UK retails for less than £5 a bottle.
Hold that thought and then stroll into a wine shop or supermarket and browse the wine shelves looking at the prices.
Even very ordinary wines are well over £5 nowadays, Muscadet and Côtes du Rhône for example, I even noticed a Costieres de Nîmes in Tesco for £9.99 – I assume so that they can artificially discount it later.
So where do people find these sub-£5 bottles? There are 2 sources as far as I can see; the very lowest points of a retailer’s range, or – much more likely – the wines on special offer.
Even most of the students who attend my wine courses buy the majority of their wines on special offer; 3 for £10, artificial half price deals and so on.
This is a shame as most of these are very cynical discounts to my mind. Most wines discounted to £4.99 – from whatever price – are, in my opinion, worth precisely £4.99.
As far as I can make out from all this, albeit unscientific evidence, only a tiny proportion of the wine drinking public have ever drunk wine that retails at over £10 a bottle.
Personally I think that is a shame and also a problem, I think that many consumers concentrate on the price of everything rather than the value they deliver – especially wine. It is a fact that I can fly to Spain today for the same, or less money than I did in the early 1980’s and that every computer I have ever bought since 1992 has cost the same. We take these things for granted really, but with wine it just means that the stuff at the lower price points has been getting less interesting – more reliable and better made, but less exciting and increasingly aimed at what the consumer thinks they want.
I say what the consumer thinks they want, because most drinkers limit themselves to a very narrow band of wine sensations. Most only taste a few grape varieties and 1 or 2 styles, yet there are hundreds of grapes out there making lovely wine. However to try them you have to accept that every now and again you will try a wine that you won’t like that much. Is that such a bad thing?
Now, there is no magic monetary amount where good wine begins and poor wine ends, but it is markedly more difficult to get good wine at less than £7 a bottle than it was. What the cut off is for great wine is even more tricky to tell.
I also know that not everyone wants good or great wine – many drinkers just want a perfectly acceptable bottle of wine at a fair price. Fair enough, I often just want that too, these articles might give you some inspiration.
However, a bottle of wine that costs a lot of money can be a great experience – not because it costs a lot by the way, but because it is good. I believe that anyone who likes wines should try one from time to time, if only to put the rest into perspective.
I know that the impression is often given that a higher price does not automatically mean better – which is true, or that you will enjoy it more – also true, but everyone who enjoys wine owes it to themselves to see what a great, or just very good bottle of wine tastes like. One that is made with no thought of compromise to arrive at a certain price-point, one that is made to be as good as it can be.
Trouble is, these wines cost money. Real money. I am sure there are exceptions, but you only get hints of all this at under £15 or so a bottle. Only at £15 – £20 are you often beginning to see what real wine can be about.
As a consequence we are all of us constantly searching for those elusive wines that massively over deliver for their price.
One of the best I have had recently is this Spanish beauty from the Marques de Griñon, which is as concentrated and complex as many wines at twice the price – you really should try it.
Unfortunately most wines that over deliver are still only giving you variations of nice wine, good wine – not giving you an idea of great wine.
However, I had a very interesting experience the other day. I was giving a tasting about the wines of Errazuriz, who produce most of their red wines in the Aconcagua Valley to the north of Santiago in Chile (map here) and all the wines were showing well and everyone was really enjoying them.
Then we came to the last 2 reds:
Errazuriz Max Reserva Merlot 2007
I am not the biggest fan of Merlot in the world, but this was a good wine. The fruit was good and ripe with some savoury nuance and complexity, there was a touch of fresh acidity and the chalky tannins were nicely balanced by the fleshy fruit.
I liked this and I thought it was a good wine, well worth its £10-11 price tag – which makes it a hugely expensive bottle by most people’s standards – 88/100 points.
Around £10 a bottle from Waitrose.
However, it was what came next that was really interesting:
I have known this wine ever since it was launched, it is the top wine from Errazuriz in Aconcagua and was a development from their Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva, which is also very good.
The ‘Don Max’ is a selection of fruit from their estate, always based on Cabernet Sauvignon, but the blend changes every year. It has been known to be 100% Cabernet, but the 2006 is 82% Cabernet Sauvignon with 8% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot and 5% Shiraz – each brings something to the final wine. The key to this wine is the selection of fruit and then meticulous sorting of the grapes as they come in – all by hand. The finished wine is aged for 18 months in French oak barrels, virtually all new for maximum effect.
This was in a different league and it showed. The aromas were of rich cassis with dried fruit, dry spice, mocha, cocoa and coffee notes.
The palate was supple and mouth-filling, full of bright, intensely ripe black fruit balanced by a touch of freshness and very supple tannins. The savoury spice, tobacco and coffee gave a lovely complex feel to the middle-palate and finish.
What’s more it was utterly delicious and made everyone happy. I defy anyone not to be swept up by its exuberance, thrilling concentration and complexity.
I think this may well be the least expensive expensive wine that I have tatsed and could provide a real eye opener for someone who has never tried great wine – 92/100 points.
Fell free to submit your contenders for this title, let’s hope there are others out there.
Don Maximaino Founder’s Reserve is round £30 a bottle, for stockists contact Hatch Mansfield.
In the interests of total disclosure I must mention that I sometimes do work for Viña Errazuriz, however the above is my honest and unsolicited opinion.