Take the daft email I received recently from a wine merchant discounting a wine by 30% because of some minor damage to the labels, describing the discounted price of £20,000 for 6 bottles as an unmissable bargain!
So, are the rich mopping up all the fine wine in world and leaving the rest of us with undrinkable plonk? The answer is absolutely not and with increasing advances in vineyards management and technical know-how in the wineries, wine quality has never been higher.
Unfortunately, the wine world is also awash with wines made in industrial quantities primarily to satisfy the demands by supermarkets for increasingly cheaper products. In the end, what you actually drink from a £4 or £5 bottle of wine after taking packaging, transport, taxes, profit margins etc. will be worth only a few pence. Spend £10 or more and the quality of the liquid should be considerably better as the above costs will remain roughly similar. Winemakers, receiving higher margins, will have a vested interest in making the best wine they can, perhaps investing in new oak barrels every few years or able to cut back on grape yields to ensure more concentration in finished wines. Spend slightly more on our wines and our palates soon get used to more subtle flavours and nuances and soon that £4 bottle of Cabernet we enjoyed a few months back will no longer seem such good value for money.
Regretfully, spending more on wine is no guarantee of better quality. After about £40 the law of diminishing returns kicks in and you may be paying more for perceived status or perhaps because demand from the latest fashionable winemaker exceeds the quantity he or she can produce. So how do we go about getting value for money or finding that elusive wine before its priced out of our budget? The answer turns out to be surprisingly simple. The internet.
I admit I rarely buy wines without first consulting how others perceive the wine. Here we have two choices: either subscribe to a pay site where the latest tasting notes on thousands of wines are listed by so called professional tasters or go for one of the free sites where anyone can post their tasting notes usually accompanied with a score out of hundred.
I subscribe to a couple of sites including Jancis Robinson which is an excellent site with notes on tens of thousands of wines and hundreds of hugely informative articles. This will set you back about £80 a year. If you feel you can’t justify this expense then I would try something like Cellartracker (free) where just about every wine made has comments by non-professional tasters. I have found Cellartracker to be just as good when it comes getting a guide on wines I intend to buy. A huge advantage with Cellartracker is that most wines will have been tasted recently, whilst professionals may have tasted the wines when they were released and notes may be years old. As we all know wines mature and change even within fairly short time spans. There are a host of other free sites like Wine Searcher so I would advise you to do your homework and get the best possible value for money from your wines.
Whilst for copyright reasons I can’t reproduce tasting notes from any particular site, I have taken some wines now available locally (a tiny sample for illustration only) and noted the general consensus by wine drinkers online. The prices are approximate only and wines are rated out of one hundred as follows:
75/100 – Don’t bother buying there are better wines out there.
80/100 – Should be very good.
85/100 – Getting interesting. Should provide drinking pleasure.
90/100 – Now we are talking!
95/100 – Very few wines can achieve this quality level.
100/100 – Demand for these wines will have pushed prices to silly levels.
I hope you find this helpful. Remember these are only guides and the ultimate arbiter is you! Happy hunting.
Viña Ardanza Seleccion Especial Red 2010 – 94
This has been highly rated by wine drinkers both professional and amateur. I recommended this wine in a previous edition. Don’t expect this rating too often for a £20 wine! Buy!!!
Marques de Caceres Gran Reserva 2004 – 89
I was surprised to see this wine so highly rated. Perhaps I shouldn’t be. General consensus was for a wine which is not overly-complex but still very enjoyable.
Viña Pomal Reserva 2012 – 85
Another high mark by wine drinkers online. Rioja continues to turn out outstanding value for money.
Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut Champagne – 80
Surprisingly low score for such a prestige house!
Bollinger Rose Champagne – 85
Why is Rose so expensive. Surely a marketing ploy as it’s just normal wine with a dash of red wine added! This practice is only legally allowed in Champagne!
Vega Sicilia Unico 2009 – 95
Highest score in this mini sample of wines. At almost £400 a bottle it should be. Is it worth it? A question for your bank manager rather than a wine critic!
Abadia Retuerta Seleccion Especial 2011 – 85
Good producer. Very rich wines.
Yellow Tail Shiraz 2015 – 75
Made in huge quantities. Not highly rated.