Alcohol duty: How much wine do you get for your money?
- Credit: Liz Sagues
For several years now there have been some startling graphics around that illustrate just how much – or more pertinently how little – wine you get for your money in bottles at various retail prices.
Take a £5 bottle, for example. Just four per cent of what you pay, marginally over 20p, is for the wine in it. The rest is swallowed up by duty, VAT and other costs.
Pay £7.50, and the wine value reaches almost 25 per cent. But even at £15, the wine share equals less than £7. Those figures come from The Wine Society, and they're on the generous side compared to some others I've seen.
This is particularly relevant at the moment, as we all try to save on treats so we can pay for ever more pricey essentials. My argument is that "cheap" wine is not a bargain. Leaving aside any thought of responsible consumerism (how on earth can any wine producer run a sustainable business if margins are hammered to the levels needed to sell a bottle at £5?), the drinking experience isn't likely to be much of a pleasure.
Paying a bit more, even if that means drinking less, is better for you, for the people who produce wine and for those responsible outlets which sell it at prices fair to both maker and consumer. That said, there are ways to enjoy good wine on a budget if you think beyond the box.
A load of brand marketing money seeps into the cost of champagne, for example. Excellent same-method fizz costs much less – consider French crémants, Spanish cava, cap classique from South Africa. Even English sparkling wine is often cheaper, quality for quality.
Burgundy is so desirable, but its price reflects that as well as production costs. Very acceptable but lower-cost alternatives can be found further south in France, in northern Italy, in many new world wine regions. And consider places where growing grapes, picking them and making wine is cheap. High yielding vines don't necessarily mean bad wine – Chile and Argentina are prime examples here. Even with big steps made in improving conditions for workers, labour costs remain low.
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The high plain of Spain's biggest white wine region, Rueda, gives generous harvests, easy to machine-pick, and some great value wines result – one (Asda's Extra Special) has just been won a platinum medal in the Decanter World Wine Awards, though I fear for the producer, given its £5.50 price.
And never forget the Pays d'Oc, that massive and ever-improving area of southern France. It's no longer a lake of plonk but a source of sound-value wines from fizz and chardonnay (look to cool Limoux) to Provence-style rosés, exciting whites and increasingly varied reds. I just wish they offered more blends alongside single-variety wines. But that's for another article...
Ten bottles to try in July
Now for some £10-and-below wines that I hope are fairly priced for both drinkers and producers, plus two well worth their extra cost.
First, South Africa, where Fairtrade continues to grow – one glowing example is that all 30 SA wines at the Co-op now carry the label. Journey's End is committed to fair and green action, and its Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Fairtrade Chardonnay (£10) is happy and summery, fresh with a good edge of tropical fruit.
From one of the country's coolest areas, elegance and complexity shine out from vibrant-flavoured very classy Benguela Cove Estate Sauvignon (£16, greatwinesdirect.co.uk, shop.benguelacove.co.uk).
Portugal offers tempting value, and the Wine Society – whose origins lie in a forgotten batch of Portuguese bottles – has a new duo from Adega Mãe, close to Lisbon. Pinta Negra (£7.25) is a perfect barbecue red, smoothly black-fruited (£7.25), and its white sibling Lisboa Valley Selection (£7.95) is perfumed, ripe yet crisp. Even at these prices, the society ensures its producers are fairly treated, in its overall sustainability emphasis.
But time and again I return to southern France for value in the bottle. Why pay Provence prices when close-by Luberon offers such prettily palatable pinks as Fleurs de Prairies (£8, Morrisons)?
Many more appellation wines from Languedoc-Roussillon offer loads of pleasure per pound – one glorious example is Bila Haut (around £12, noblegreenwines.co.uk, jadedpalates.com) from the clean, remote vineyards of Chapoutier's offshoot in the Pyrenean foothills. The syrah/grenache/carignan fruit sings of sun.
Similarly delicious is a rare white from red-predominant Saint-Chinian, Foncalieu Petit Paradis, (£9.90 mix-12, finewinesdirectuk.com), a grenache blanc/marsanne/vermentino blend with an almost-chablis stoniness alongside rich fruit. Or enjoy smooth, seductively spiced Abbotts & Delaunay Fleurs Sauvages malbec (£9 mix-six, Majestic), one of so many Pays d'Oc delights.
Changing countries, vermentino appears again in a smart Italian blend, Pontenari Toscana Bianco (£10, M&S) – lime, pears and a pleasant savouriness. And Running with Bulls tempranillo (£8-9, Tesco, Co-op) shows Australia's burgeoning skill with European grape varieties – cool it lightly to emphasise the raspberry fruit.