Increasingly, I mutter words like “disappointing” after the latest of the tasting exercises needed to populate this site and my newspaper column.
Is my trusty selection process obsolete, I wonder – despite it serving me well while writing wine columns in each of the last three decades.
Normally, I secure samples of three “candidates for potential stardom” and usually conclude that one is mediocre, one broadly acceptable and one is the stand-out choice.
This year I have frequently rejected all three.
However, the reason is actually not hard to find – anyone now selling entry point wine has the stark choice of either increasing prices or allowing quality to fall.
Since reducing quality helps no one, where this is heading – gentle reader – must be pretty clear by now.
Although I will continue to seek out £5 or £6 wines where I can, we must nevertheless expect to start paying a little more for even modest level wines.
Why are prices rising?
Lest anyone suspects racketeering is at work, let’s look at reasons why costs (and hence prices) are going up.
- The pound has taken another hit against both the dollar and the euro – two important currencies to the wine trade.
- Inflation generally is expected to reach 4% by the year-end.
- Although Australia and South Africa did well, New Zealand yields are down with shortages of sauvignon blanc forecast.
- Late frosts in particular will significantly reduce 2021 vintage sizes in many parts of Europe; reduced supply with static demand inevitably means increased prices.
- Wages in both transport and hospitality industries are rising because of labour shortages – these increased costs will inevitably be reflected in prices.
- I suspect that transporting wine is especially unpopular with HGV drivers (and, consequently, commands premium rates) as it can mean more time away from home and, potentially, long waiting times at borders.
- Import and export documentation is labour intensive and very time consuming and will remain so until streamlined processes are devised.
On that last point, the M&S chairman revealed that, for some exports to Ireland “each wagon typically has about eight documents, 720 pages per truck, that’s three large books!”.
So what to do about it
One “cost neutral” – but not necessarily popular – response is to drink a little less.
Doing so, however, does accord with what we know – modest amounts of alcohol are life-enhancing, while excesses can be life-threatening.
If you choose to steer even further away from the excess end of that spectrum, here are four handy hints.
- An old boss of mine used to say “What doesn’t get measured, doesn’t get done” so acquire a set of pub measures and control how much goes in the glass – hide them away when visitors come though, to avoid looking cheapskate.
- Recent health advice suggested “dropping a glass size” because the bigger the glass the more we put in it – so, even consider using a flute for wine as, psychologically, it makes the content look much more.
- On a table setting, put the water glass between plate and wine glass because a thirsty diner will grab the most accessible liquid – never slake a thirst with alcohol anyway.
- Watch aperitifs and digestifs (sherry, vermouth, gin and tonic all have higher alcohol levels than wine); use dry white for an aperitif if you need one and a sweet wine for after dinner drinking.
The shape of things to come perhaps!
Here then are two excellent New Zealand wines that cost roughly what we can now expect to pay if we are to maintain quality at its current level.
First a red
While never quite matching versions from Central Otago or the depth of classic Burgundy, pinot noir from New Zealand’s Marlborough region offers many of those signature pinot attributes often at lower prices than apply in other regions.
Light in both colour and texture, 2020 New Zealand Marlborough Pinot Noir (£7.99 at Aldi and 13%) delivers perfumed raspberry and cassis flavours supported by mild tannin but good acidity and touches of chocolate and allspice.
Staying in that region
All the gloomy news about sauvignon volumes in Marlborough is often suffixed with the apparent lifeline “but the quality is excellent”.
If you thought that was just a marketing palliative, a bottle of this will instantly change your mind – delightfully, it is legitimately and splendidly £9 or £10 wine so grab some while you can.
Aromatic with appealing sweet edges, 2021 Yealands Sauvignon Blanc (£8 at Sainsbury’s but check the vintage carefully – and 13%) brings us soft pineapple, gooseberry and white peach flavours in partnership with lively lime and grapefruit acidity that leads into a long, clean, mandarin orange influenced finish.
So, those tidings about quality offer a least a glimmer of cheering news to help lift the price-centred despondency that dominates much of today’s post!
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