The vexed and eternal question of “how much do you have to pay to get a decent bottle of wine?”
The question itself is not as straight forward as it may seem, since it depends on A, what is your definition of ‘decent’ and B, where you are buying your wine.
But, with buying wine in this country from either a supermarket or an independent merchant, I constantly hear experienced wine drinkers bemoaning the fact that you have to spend £10 a bottle to get something worth drinking.
With the supermarkets particularly, leaving aside the increasing prices due to Brexit and the negative effect it has had on exchange rates, it is of course possible to find many wines under £10 per bottle. A number of these appear to have been sold at overinflated prices and then magically ‘discounted’ by 50% – bringing them to the price they should have been to start with. Other supermarkets have a policy of keenly pricing their everyday wines at the outset and some of these can be quite interesting.
So for a recent tasting for the Arundel Wine Society, I set out to challenge the concept of having to spend a tender for a drinkable wine (for reasonably serious wine drinkers). The wine merchant which is named The Wine Society, currently has a promotion of a range of wines priced at under £6 per bottle. Knowing the quality of the wines supplied by The Wine Society, I chose a range of these wines for the tasting, in order to judge the reaction.
The Wine Society is run as a true co-operative and is owned by its members. A lifetime share membership costs just £40 and is an asset which can be passed on to future generations through inheritance. The Society was formed in 1874 and there are two members whose original membership dates from 1875 – five generations ago. Several years back, I used to dismiss The Wine Society as just another wine merchant. Nowadays I know differently, and at a recent visit to their headquarters in Stevenage, I learnt the true scale of the operation. 136,000 active members, 220 staff, turnover of around £90 million per year and stock levels between 5 and 7 million bottles at any one time.
Being run for the members, the wine prices are extremely competitive, be they top clarets from Bordeaux or everyday drinking wines. Hence the choice for the tasting, which proved an enormous success. Apart from the odd person who didn’t like a specific grape variety, every wine tasted gained unanimous approval from the group of tasters. And all were under £6 a bottle. Point well and truly proved, although as I mentioned at the start, it does depend where you buy your wines.
The wines tasted were a very wide mix of reds and whites from around the globe. Some whites which stood out in particular were a spritzy wine from the Gaillac region in South- west France, an Italian from the Piedmont region of Northern Italy, made from the Cortese variety, from which the famed Gavi is made and a fruity and spicy Marsanne-Viognier from the Languedoc. The reds included a smooth and fruity Shiraz-Viognier from Douglas Green winery in South Africa and the wine which caused greatest surprise - a Cabernet Sauvignon from Moldova. Produced by Chateau Vartely, a characterful, fruity, full-bodied red from an unexpected country - although they do happen to produce 400 million litres of wine annually.
Members of the Arundel Wine Society thus not only found a range of very drinkable wines at a very affordable price, they may soon be joining the ranks of the other 136,000 members of The Wine Society. The perfect partnership. Learn about wines from one Society and buy them from the other.
Richard Esling BSc DipWSET is an experienced wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. An erstwhile wine importer, he runs a wine agency and consultancy company called WineWyse, is founder and principal of the Sussex Wine Academy, chairman of Arundel Wine Society and is an International Wine Judge. Twitter @richardwje. Visit www.winewyse.com.
Don’t miss out on all the latest breaking news where you live.
Here are four ways you can be sure you’ll be among the first to know what’s going on.
1 Make our website your homepage
2 Like our Facebook page
3 Follow us on Twitter
4 Register with us by clicking on ‘sign in’ (top right corner). You can then receive our daily newsletter AND add your point of view to stories that you read here.
And do share with your family and friends – so they don’t miss out!
Be part of it.