May 28, 2024

What’s a wine worth?

Never debate religion, pruning roses or wine prices with an elderly relative.

‘That’s bonkers. How can a bottle of wine possibly be worth that much?! I mean, £38!’

You know there are some arguments worth having, some where you say too much and some where you just cannot be bothered and go with it.

‘Yep, absolutely bonkers, it’s only a bottle of plonk for god’s sake!’ I agree. ‘Can I have a glass of tap water and half a packet of peanuts please?’ Extra thrift, extra ticks.

This effervescent dialogue occurred not long ago in a pub where wine mark-ups are pretty low. In fact so low that they induced in me a sudden bilious attack. Astride the list there sat a brooding bottle of very good Amarone della Valpolicella, for about £40. Naturally I didn’t buy it, weighing in as it did two pounds over the insanity threshold.

How much can a bottle of wine be worth? More importantly how much more enjoyable is a bottle of wine costing £500 than a bottle of wine costing £50 (in a restaurant or in one’s own boudoir)? This demand for the truth frequently morphs into that other classic question: is a wine which gets 93 points out of 100 much better than a wine rated at 88? Is it 5% tastier?

Well. If anyone asks I didn’t tell you this, and be sure to delete it from your browsing history. But, actually, nobody knows. God, now I feel as giddy as Julie Andrews skipping menacingly towards a hill-stranded heifer. I liberate you all, be free!

Over the last quarter of a century consumer perception of wine has been stretched in two different directions. On the one hand the overall quality of wine has simply never been better. Reasonably priced wine (as opposed to bargain-basement high-volume slop) can be correct, attractive and rewarding to an extent dangerously near to the very costly stuff.

At the same time the price differential between everyday wine and ‘trophy’ wine has surged so much that one day it’s gonna ping. Probably. (And there are sings this has already started to happen). Recently prices have been driven up by exchange rates, duty rates, rising costs and increasing scarcity in relation to the fast-growing number of devotees. And however much we like to wobble on about what a unique product wine is, its image and inherent yummy factor are intrinsically linked to its price.

There we are then: it’s a reasonable question that has no answer because the pleasure to pound ratio is so variable. Back to that £50: you can summon a nice bottle of Cru Bourgeois in a decent eatery for about that amount. Adding a nought on will allow a nervous request for a big-ticket Pauillac from a big-ticket vintage.

Personally I would give serious consideration to popping a bottle of one of my current preferred red wines, the unfailingly charming Moss Wood Amys Cabernet, in my rucksack, along with a couple of Robert M Pirsig novels, and going home to generate a headache. The path of discovery doesn’t have to be financially crippling.

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