Friday, February 7, 2020

How to buy wine at £6 - getting value for money

This morning I was asked to share my tips for buying wine at £6 with BBC Radio 5 Live. The previous guest slot overran so I had two minutes to talk and ran out of time before getting my five tips across. Therefore, I thought I'd write a post to share what I was planning to say.

The price of wine is increasing. With high duty costs and the weak pound, the average bottle price is predicted to tip over £6 at some point in 2020. More than half of UK adults aren't willing to spend over £6 per bottle, so how can you be a savvy shopper at this price point?

First up, it is important to say that all wine that is imported into the UK is of at least acceptable quality (the trade scale being Poor - Acceptable - Good - Very Good - Outstanding). A lot of wines around the £6 level are of Good quality, including the main brands found in supermarkets. Some of those brands make very good wines along side their entry level brands, such as Wolf Blass or Casillero del Diablo. This is called brand laddering - where a brand will provide different wines at different price points in the hope you will buy the different levels for different occasions. Their cheaper wines are often good value for money because they want to build trust in the hope you will move up a level. At the £6 price point brands also look to deliver consistency, so you can be sure if you buy another bottle it will taste the same.

So, my top tips...

  1. Buy wines from lesser-known countries as these can provide better value for money. For example, you could buy Pinot Noir or Pinot Grigio from Romania or Moldova. Or you could go for native varieties, such as Fateasca Alba or Fateasca Neagra. If you want to stick to countries you know, then go for lesser-known regions, such as Languedoc in France or Sicily or Puglia in Italy. Or consider countries like chile or Argentina who deliver good value for money because they have lower labour costs so can keep the price of wine down.
  2. Bag in box wines and single-serve bottles or cans can help too. Bag in box tend to have cheaper per bottle prices, but of course they have a higher initial outlay. Cans can cost more per ml, but they have lower price out of pocket.
  3. Bulk shipping, where wine is transported in special containers and then bottled in the UK, is increasing, and quality is improving, so look out for the UK postcode on the back of the bottle.
  4. Discounters, like Aldi and Lidl, and the Co-op are making their mark with their wine selections and can offer very good value for money.
  5. Check out wine writers recommendations in newspapers, they can often highlight wines at the £6 price point.

However, it does all come down to personal preference, so you should find what YOU like. At one of my pop up wine bars I served a flight of Aussie Shiraz, one wine was £6, another £10, and the third £15. I was able to help people identify the benchmarks of quality - balance, complexity, intensity and length, and how to identify what THEY preferred. The higher end one had beautiful oak ageing, but some people preferred the simple £6 wine.

For every £1 you spend you are improving the quality of the wine, and its not linear. If you spend £5 on a bottle of wine, once you've paid for tax, bottling, marketing etc you are left with 50p spent on the actual wine. Whereas if you spend £10 on a bottle of wine, you will get £3 worth of wine. So sometimes it is worth splashing out on a bit more to drink better wine, and when doing so it might be worth asking knowledgeable staff to help guide you so you walk away happy.

Don't be fooled by offers, the offer price has usually been agreed with the winemaker upfront, so that is the value of the wine. That said, if you find a wine you like that's above your usual price point, then do keep an eye out for when it goes on offer.

If you do buy cheap wine and you're a little worried what others might think, then if its white, make sure you chill it right down before serving as this will dampen the aromas, or add a dash of sparkling water to make a spritz. If it's red, then decant it (pour it into anything, a jug even, then back into the bottle) as this will soften the wine. Or serve with cheese - everyone's favourite pairing! - as the cheese will coat the tongue so your guests taste less of the wine.

And above all, don't worry too much, wine is to be enjoyed!