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Keep calm, carry on

03 January 2014


IT MAKES a great headline for a New Year column: "The world is about to run out of wine." It has a certain milleniarist ring to it. Are we to see queues snaking back from our local off-licences? Will there be rioting in the streets? Of course not. But there is a problem. For example, there have been three small vintages in succession in Burgundy.

In Bordeaux, the price of basic wine has risen by 40 per cent over the past six months, and there is a fear that traditional markets, such as the UK, might be lost for ever, as consumers slaking their thirst with wines from elsewhere.

Why should we not worry? There are several answers. For example, in this country, wine consumption has fallen by three per cent in the past year - probably because most people have less disposable income. Second, wine is not a finite resource: extra vineyards can be planted, and yields can be increased.

Perhaps the most important reason lies in a headline I read recently: "China to overtake France as world's largest wine producer in five years' time". The increase in the consumption of wine in China has been largely blamed for the shortage of wine in the world, although in my experience they have bought largely the most expensive and the cheapest wines, with little in between.

Much of the most expensive has been given as gifts, and the current anti-corruption drive may lead to a fall-off in this market. In 1998, the annual consumption of wine in the country was a third of a litre; by 2010, it had risen to 1.1 litres. Production of wine in the country, over the same period, however, has risen from 3.5 million hectolitres to more than 13 million hectolitres.

What should be our reaction to all this? In the short term, supply of some wines will not meet demand. This will lead to price rises. If you favour Burgundy or claret, I suggest you buy what you can afford from a reputable wine merchant. But buy for consumption, not as a speculation. There are two main reasons for this: first, if you buy wine with no intention of drinking it, it means that less is available for the genuine consumer. Second, prices are just as likely to go down as they are to go up, and all wine has a finite life.

One other reason for not speculating in wine is that there appears to be a colony of "wine investment managers" ready to take your money, promising vast riches in the future. Almost every week there is a story of such companies' going into liquidation, leaving their investors with empty pockets.

I suggest that you carry on as though you had never read this article. There are still a host of good wines out there, waiting to be drunk. Here are some of my suggestions for the New Year. In red wines: Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Douro 2011 (£8.49); Exquisite Collection Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 (Aldi, £6.99); Jacob's Creek Reserve Barossa Valley Shiraz 2010 (ASDA, £10).

For white-wine lovers: Chablis 2012 (Lidl, £7.69); Cono Sur Bicicleta Viognier 2012 (ASDA, £7.50), and, for those with a sweet tooth, De Bortoli Hermits Hill Botrytis Semillon 2008 (Waitrose, £6.99 50cl.)

Have a relaxed 2014.

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