Friday, 18 January 2008

Wine wishes for 2008

Wine wishes for 2008

January is not usually a popular time for knocking back a glass of wine, as many people resolve to give up alcohol for the month, or at least start out with the intention of eating and drinking less as part of a healthier lifestyle. With this in mind, I’m devoting this column to good intentions for the year ahead, as far as wine is concerned at least.

1. Shop around now for bargains
Many wine merchants have New Year sales, usually to clear the last bottles of the current vintage before they move onto the new one. Have a look around and see what bargains you can pick up. My top tip is to buy any Champagne you might need (if need is the right word) for the year now – prices are keen, and your wine will only improve with a few months’ ageing under the stairs.

2. Drink less, but better
It’s been hard to avoid the messages coming from government ministers over the past few months telling us that we need to keep an eye on what we are drinking and to stay within safe limits. There is no getting away from the fact that wine contains alcohol and that it is a large part of wine’s appeal – no-one at one of my wine-tasting evenings has ever said: “I love this wine – I just wish there was a low alcohol version of it.” What we like about wine is inextricably linked to its alcohol content. That said, if all we were interested in was the alcohol, then there would probably be just three or four wines on sale anywhere: a white, a red and a rosé, with no need to provide different taste sensations. Wine is more than just an amount of alcohol: it’s a collection of aromas and flavours. If you make a point of savouring each glass of wine that you drink, I can guarantee that you will get more enjoyment from it – and perhaps end up drinking less.

3. Spend more than £5 a bottle on wine
The average amount we Brits spend on a bottle of wine is just over £4. At that price, the most that can be spent on the actual wine itself is just under£1, once you take out the production and shipping costs and duty. If you pay £8 for a bottle, however, the total that can be spent on the wine goes up to around £4.25 – over half of the price you are paying in other words. I don’t expect every wine drinker to switch suddenly to more expensive bottles – but it’s good to be aware of the economics of any product that we eat or drink. This can also help with the “less but better” ethos.

4. Get to know your local wine merchant
70% of all wine in this country is bought at supermarkets – and why not, given the extent of their ranges and great discounts they offer. In the longer term, though, our choice as consumers will be enhanced if we continue to buy wines through a variety of sources. We are still very well served by local independent wine merchants – but we need to support these guys if we want them to stay in business. If there’s a merchant near you that you’ve never bought from, please make it your goal to buy from them this year. Independent merchants can’t offer the big brands and big discounts of the supermarkets, but they can do things that the big guys can never do: provide great customer service, knowledgeable staff and a fun shopping experience. Whether your local is The Vineyard in Dorking, Taurus Wines in Bramley or The Guildford Wine Company in Shalford or any one of the multitude of independents, please give them a try. They can get to know you in a way that the supermarkets never can – they’ll learn your tastes, your budget and could be a valuable ally.

5. Buy ahead of time
Instead of the last-minute panic of “Oh God, people coming for dinner, better grab some wine at the corner shop/local offie.”, be smug and ahead of the game by buying wine in advance. It doesn’t have to be grand – just keep track of wines you’ve enjoyed, then buy 6 bottles or a case next time. Independent merchants can be a great help with this, by the way.

6. Try something new
Apologies to Sainsbury’s – but it does sum up my final New Year wish. Wouldn’t it be boring if all wines tasted the same? Well if you drink the same wines over and over again, they do taste the same don’t they? If you’re stuck in a wine rut, make a break for freedom in 2008. Never tried a wine from Uruguay before? Are you a stranger to the Grüner Veltliner grape? When did you last try a German wine? Do you think dessert wines are not for you? You’ll never know unless you try!

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