23 Aug 2013

A brilliant rioja - Urbina Gran Reserva 1994

This wine was beautiful.

Somehow had an understated, cushioned power to it; the sweet smell of a library's old red leather chair.

Highly recommended - we got it for £14.99 from Majestic.

That's the kind of price you might pay for a forgettable house wine in a restaurant.

15 Aug 2013

How cheap should wine be?

What should be the cheapest price for a bottle of wine in the UK?

And should wine critics recommend very cheap wine?

I've been mulling this over after enjoying some pretty decent cheap wines lately with mixed feelings.

You might argue a wine critic's job is to recommend any wine that's good value, and the cheaper the better. The critic is meant to be on the side of the consumer.

But - a big but. What's good for the consumer in the short term - very cheap but tasty wine - might not be good for the winemaker and retailer, and in turn the consumer, in the long run.

What if it's a race to the bottom with winemakers getting less and less income until the decent ones who can't afford to take the losses drop out?

Should we be willing to pay a bit more per bottle to make sure the people who make our wines earn a sustainable living?

Or should we let the market decide: get the best wine we can at the cheapest price we can get hold of it, especially when we have very little money ourselves? After all, spending a few more quid doesn't bring any guarantees of ethical production.

I try to earn a living from writing, so I can empathise with winemakers who feel they're trying to do something meaningful or creative for little reward. I recently saw an advert for apprenticeships for 16-year-old school leavers with a couple of GCSEs, and the apprenticeships paid as well (/badly) as many freelance writing jobs. This is after you've got into debt studying and got work experience over several years; minimum wage territory.

So - I appreciate the frustration of winemakers or anyone else who cares about doing something properly and gets barely a liveable reward.

But in another sense, because of that I feel less bad about buying cheap wine, for now at least. If winemakers are paid as little as I am, I'm pretty sure they might, for example, choose to read a newspaper for free online instead of paying for a print subscription, even though journalists' jobs are dropping faster than vines in a storm.

I suppose what I'm saying is, the chance to spend a few quid less on anything is pretty useful for many people right now. It's a bit depressing, it leaves a bad aftertaste, but is it a necessary evil?

What is a fair minimum price for a bottle of wine?