WHAT does the year ahead offer for wine-drinkers? To a certain extent, I think this must depend where you live. In Scotland, for example, the government is banning multi-buy and “Buy one get one free” offers in retail outlets. This will change the face of wine sales in supermarkets, where up to 70 per cent of wine sales are of bottles on promotion.
I think this is no bad thing, as the pricing in many such offers is artificial. The demise of the Threshers chain was staved off, for a while, by their “Three bottles for the price of two” promotion. What many people failed to appreciate was that they inflated the price of the single bottle, so that they could justify the promotional pricing.
Similarly, consumers should beware of wines on offer at half-price. I understand that a chain has only to offer a certain wine at an inflated price in a single one of its branches for a limited period of time, for it to be able to claim that the wine is a half-price bargain.
I think we all realise that excessive drinking is a serious problem; and this is often fuelled by aggressive selling of beers, mainly, but also wines. I am in favour of the banning of the sale of alcohol at below true cost — and I say true, because some retailers have resorted to legerdemain when it comes to interpreting the meaning of the word cost. Not only should this lessen the incentive to buy, but it will give some protection to the independent wine-merchant, as well as the corner shop.
Does all this mean that we will have to pay more for our wines? As I write, the euro seems to be falling against the pound; this helps to lessen the price of most old-world wines. The US dollar slide affects not just Californian wine, but also those of Chile and Argentina, but, on the other hand, the Australian and New Zealand dollars are strengthening daily.
There are tales of gloom from wine-producers around the world. Expansion of production in many countries has been over-optimistic, and domestic markets cannot be relied on to absorb this. It seems as though every wine-maker in the world is catching a flight to China in a bid to sell his wine — but that is a market of two extremes; the consumer is looking either for the most expensive wines, or else the cheapest, and most wine now comes from the middle ground.
Let us look on the bright side. What should we be drinking in 2011? I think that the two countries to look out for are Spain and Argentina, and here are some of my bottle suggestions: first, from Spain: Chivite Gran Feudo Reserva Especial 2004 (Waitrose, £8.49), a complex Tempranillo-Cabernet Sauvignon blend from Navarra, a magnificently deep Ribera del Duero Emilio Moro 2006 (£12.99 a bottle if you buy two from Majestic), and a crisp white from the Verdejo grape, Palacio de Bornos 2009 Rueda (Waitrose, £8.29).
From Argentina, I would pick the Weinert Malbec 2004 (Tanners Wines, £10.90), soft and mature, with full spicy fruit, and Familia Zuccardi FuZion Shiraz-Malbec 2009 (Waitrose, £5.19). Please note the prices quoted are before any rise in VAT.
Here’s to happy drinking in 2011!