Friday, April 22, 2011

For £2.99 a bottle it ain't Albariño!

There has been a lot of press recently about the price of wine and the ability of consumers to distinguish between good wine and cheap 'plonk'. As a wine professional I do hope that my own palate allows me to separate the wheat from the chaff, and my personal guideline to doing this is quite simple - you look for the 3 S's, in other words structure, structure and structure.

By this I mean the way in which a wine is put together, whether all its component parts are in balance - fruit, tannin, acidity, alcohol etc. For example, wines that are very well constructed might be described as having a fine structure, or in the case of a young wine that is not very forthcoming, a tight stucture. It's really the degree of harmony between these different elements that determines whether a wine is just average, or perhaps something really special .

The only thing I can say, is that the best wines (in my opinion) are not always the most obvious, they do not necessarily hit you between the eyes and yield themselves to you the moment you pull the cork. They often need time to 'open up' either in the bottle or in the glass, but boy, when they eventually do deliver you will know immediately, and the very best will have the ability to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end!

Indeed, there are many adjectives that you can use to describe a very fine wine, and journalists are much more adept at painting a picture than I am (they are, after all, attempting to translate the sensation of taste into words). I have never really been gifted when it comes to waxing lyrical about wines, but instead consider myself more of a technical taster, focusing on the component parts and how they might evolve and marry together, either now or sometime in the future. This is after all, the fundamental role of the buyer - to possess that special crystal ball.......

As always I digress. The original subject of today's post is the price of wine, and in particular a selection that I saw advertised on my TV at £2.99 a bottle. How do they do it (and do I really want to know)?

If you actually start to analyse the cost of getting a bottle to your supermarket shelf you might begin to understand what I mean.

By simply deducting the UK duty and VAT from your £2.99 bottle you are immediately reduced to a mere pittance of 69p! Then take into account, that this 69p has to include warehousing and shipping costs, the cost of the bottle, label, cork, capsule and carton - Oh! and by the way, the cost of the wine itself AND any profit for the wine producer and UK retailer.

Just a minute, my calculator has blown a fuse, it's trying to tell me that this simply doesn't add up! It's right, it doesn't add up. I think it's what they call a 'loss leader' - a product that sells below it's actual production cost.

I end by asking myself the inevitable question - can a wine at this price point really be any good?

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