According to a recent survey by the London Wine Academy 80% of people in a blind tasting preferred the bottle that cost £5.99 as opposed to the bottle that cost £19.99.
The grape variety was Chardonnay but one was from Australia whilst the other was a well-known Premier Cru from Burgundy. Yet it seems that the 20,000 wine enthusiasts that were tested equate smoothness and blandness with quality.
Initially I was astonished by these results as in my experience it is the complexity, depth and breadth of the finest wines that gives them their greatness. If I want something smooth that slips down easily I’d settle for the clear, colourless, odourless liquid that streams from our water fountain. Yet no one claims water as a fine wine! It set me thinking to my initial experience of the wine trade when I did my first evening shift in a well-known high street merchant. I was astonished to see Pinot Grigio flying out of the fridge. But when I analysed it later it became obvious. It was cheap, alcoholic, looked sophisticated and tasted like water but with a kick. Similarly many customers would be looking for a bottle within a budget, usually a fiver or a tenner. They weren’t interested in quality, only bang for buck.
And that is why we don’t trade up. Despite our growing wine consumption over the last 30 years the majority are essentially a nation of binge drinkers. Not enough people of my acquaintance are sufficiently educated in the pleasure that can be had from drinking great wine. We are much more affluent and have a much higher standard of living than 30 years and we do indeed spend more on wine than we used to do but not much. It was only in January that the average price of a bottle of wine went north of £5 and is predicted to rise to £5.10 by the end of December.
And that is why wine drinkers should consider trading up. The fixed cost of bringing a bottle of wine to the UK including bottling, labelling, transport, duty and VAT but minus the wine is is about £4.80 which means that the actual wine is worth very little and it usually shows. But it has been calculated that for every pound spent over the £5 mark the quality increases proportionally until it reaches the £50 mark at which point it levels out. Education is the key and in this respect the London Wine Academy are to be applauded “Initially our students prefer the simplicity of less expensive wines. But as their understanding and sense of taste grow they tend to gravitate to pricier wines that display more complexity.” I shall be writing to Michael Gove to recommend that wine be included in the national curriculum. After all many European countries educate their children with diluted wine at meal times and they don’t seem to have a problem with binge drinking!