May 30, 2024

Out with the old, in with the new? Part 2

If, like me, you are not blessed with a six-figure salary, I doubt you’ll be planning on cracking into a Chateau Latour Premier Grand Cru with dinner tonight. However, just because we don’t have the deep pockets of a Chinese CEO, does this mean we are unable to enjoy some fantastic wines? And sticking with last month’s theme can cost be a factor in determining whether we choose to buy and drink wines from the New World or the Old World?

There are many factors which can affect the cost of a bottle of wine. These include the grape variety, the age, the vintage (i.e. the year the grapes were grown), and the rarity. However it will mostly come down to the place the wine comes from and the perceived quality of that location and the producer. As discussed in my last article, Old World producers are bound by a significant amount of red tape when it comes to producing wines including what can be grown where, and how the picked grapes must be turned into wine. This will all add costs which will ultimately be passed on to you and me. New World wine producers on the other hand have much more control over their production style resulting in lower costs, which in turn leads to cheaper wine.

The climate also plays a massive part in affecting the cost of a bottle of wine. Grapes are fussy little fruits. They like long, warm, dry seasons in which to grow. Heavy rain and frosts can ruin a vineyard’s crop. Some European countries can often struggle with the elements, and have had to devise methods of maximising the crop yield such as planting on slopes and hills to capitalise on their exposure to the sun. Slopes and hills translate to côtes in French…as in Côtes du Rhone.

Some New World wine producers have the opposite problem and have had to find ways of cooling their vineyards down so that the grapes do not ripen too quickly. However, due to the more constant dry and warm climates, the yield for many New World wine producing countries is far greater than their European counterparts.

As the demand for Old World wine is still high, but crop yields for some years can be relatively low, winemakers can warrant increasing their prices to cover their losses. Again, New World winemakers sometimes have the opposite dilemma. They will have giant vats full of wine needing to be sold to make room for the next grape harvest. Mr Giant Supermarket realises this and makes the winemaker a ridiculously low offer to buy the lot, the savings of which can then be passed on to the consumer to maximise sales.

The truth is that you don’t need to spend hundreds of pounds to get a half decent bottle of wine. It is fair to say that you get what you pay for, however just a slight increase in your usual slush fund will reap huge rewards when it comes to the quality of what you’re drinking. “Oh but that’s preposterous Jon you harebrained wino! You’d have to spend double on the plonk to get twice the quality”, I hear you bellow. Well don’t stop reading just yet my friend, let’s do the maths…

Say you go into a supermarket and spend £5 on a bottle of wine (you philistine). After removing the VAT, duty, retailer costs, and packaging costs, only approximately £1 of your original fiver is actually going on the liquid inside the bottle (and that’s not a vineyard I’ll be going to see any time soon).  But do the same calculations with a £10 bottle of wine and the actual value of the liquid inside will be worth around £5.  In reality, if you spent as little as £7 on a bottle of wine you’ll probably get twice the quality of that of a £5 bottle.

Here are some rough guidelines which I use when selecting a bottle of wine when cost is a factor (or for anyone who’s planning on buying me wine this Christmas):

  • If you’re spending less than £10 in a supermarket or £20 in a restaurant, go New World.
  • If you’re spending more than £10 in a supermarket or £20 in a restaurant, go Old World.
  • If you’re spending less than £20 on sparkling wine, don’t drink Champagne, drink Prosecco, Cava, or New Zealand sparkling wine (NZ sparkling wine made from Pinot Noir can be very good).
  • Never buy the second cheapest bottle of wine on a restaurant’s wine list. The restaurateur knows that diners do this and is where the largest price hikes will be found. If money is tight, go for the house wine (there’s no shame in it!…and you’ll be getting a much better bottle of wine for your hard-earned dosh).
  • Less is more (…when it comes to packaging). When I see a bottle with a flamboyant/eye-catching label, I worry that more money has been spent on product design and reprographics than the actual plonk. I find the best wines have very simple labeling.
  • Finally, be careful when buying wines on offer. Just because it appears you are making a large saving on the RRP, this doesn’t actually mean that the wine has ever been on sale for its RRP. Also, supermarkets will use sales promotions when trying to shift large quantities of wine which are nearing their best-by date.

Of course, this is not a code to live and die by (if that were the case, I would be dead long ago, for even I have fallen for the supermarket promoter’s trick of placing the wines on offer at the end of the aisle…the wily buggers!). There are many exceptions to these rules. For the Old World take Vin de Table, the standard everyday French table wine. Some crafty winemakers use this category to avoid the French bureaucracy surrounding wine as it is not subject to particular regulations around origin and grape varietals, and this can result in some surprisingly good wine for significantly less than £10. On the flip-side there are some New World wines which you could happily spend more than £10 on (e.g. Australia’s Penfolds/Grange).

Therefore, although cost does play a big part in choosing from the Old World and New World, it really does come down to personal choice, the type and style of wine you like, but mostly how much you are willing to spend on what is essentially fermented grape juice. All I would say is that if you’re planning on buying two bottles of wine this weekend, try spending the same amount on one bottle instead and taste the difference for yourself. It may only be fermented grape juice but the good stuff is bloody tasty.

In my final part of this three part series, we’ll be looking at how food can affect whether you choose from the Old World or the New World. But until then, as always, happy drinking!



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