Never had a nice South African? Blame big business!


Posted on : 29-05-2009 | By : admin | In : General

South African wine – is it any good?

In a word – yes! There are some truly world class wines coming out of South Africa these days. However there are two main obstacles preventing the wine loving British public from getting their hands on them. The first is the South Africans like to drink the good stuff themselves! Perfectly understandable and something we can live with. The second obstacle is the domination of the UK wine trade by big corporations who insist on churning out dross and dressing it up as wine. We’re talking about a multi billion pound industry here, so we can all understand their motivation. Unfortunately it’s us, the average wine lover, who suffers - along with the other major victim in this, the small quality producer who makes his wine with pride.

Why can’t I just buy good wine in the local shop?

Anyone who’s been fortunate enough to travel to the South African wine country has almost certainly enjoyed some superb wine, and no doubt on his return wondered why the South African wine he ordered in his local shop, restaurant or pub was so awful. It’s the same message as always – the big brands, by their very nature offer poor quality at cheap prices and these dominate the UK trade. If you want good wine you have to look elsewhere. Unfortunately the brand culture dominates in the supermarkets, and national grocery chains.

You may then think you could find better wine in independent retailers? Well, in specialist wine merchants – possibly, dependant on the business model and integrity of the individual retailer. In independent grocers and off licenses – probably not. This is because the bulk wine trade in the UK is dominated by several huge companies who supply the vast majority of these retailers, with the inferior quality brands. Companies like Matthew Clarke Wholsale with a turnover in excess of £1 billion p.a., Waverly Vintners TBA with a turnover of £1/2 billion p.a., national brewers like Carlsberg, Scottish Courage and Coors all of whom pedal this poor wine into all their outlets. The pubs, restaurants and retailers are all under financial pressure and are pressurised by these big companies into stocking their wines. Unless you’re lucky enough to find one which is owned by a wine enthusiast, you’re likely to be offered a selection of poor quality brands from one of these major players.

So how do I find good quality wine, South African or otherwise?

Here’s the good news. There’s a new wave of small, independent wine merchants who are catering for the market who want to buy good wine, made by real people with generations of epertise, in wineries - not by machines in vast, sterile factories. 10 years ago in order to buy good wine you’d have to be lucky enough to live close to one of these merchants. However, nowadays with the advent of the interweb, it’s easy for everyone to find good wine at the click of a mouse and have it delivered to the door. And the best news – your local wine shop can’t get away with overcharging you because you can check prices nationally and make sure you’re paying the right price.

The good from the bad?

Of course not everyone on the internet is offering good wine! There are plenty of firms just offering hundreds of wines they’ve never even tasted, using descriptions and tasting notes straight from the back label! This wine may still be rubbish! There are also online ‘wine merchants’ who are really just one man trading from his bedroom!  They get a fancy website and take the customer’s order. They then try to buy the wine themselves and sell it on at a profit taking up to 2 weeks for your wine to arrive.

However it’s relatively easy to be sure you’re dealing with a reputable firm, that the wine’s good and has been correctly stored. Just do a bit of investigation on their home page. Look for a phone number. Look for someone who holds their wines in stock and offers next day delivery. Look for someone who’s actually tasted what they’re selling, and is choosey about which wines they offer, not simply offering every wine from each producer. And best of all look for a business that’s owned by a human being, not a corporation so you’re dealing with a person! These wine merchants do exist – spend some time tracking down a good one like and you’ll be drinking good wine at last!

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Argentinian Wine – is it all supermarket plonk?


Posted on : 27-05-2009 | By : admin | In : General

What do you think of Argentinian wine?

Is it all mass produced supermarket plonk at 3 for £10? If that’s what you thought, you may find this very interesting……

The wine trade in New World countries has recently suffered horrendously at the hands of the big corporations producing ‘wine’ on a massive scale. These international brands are made in sterile factories where they add up to 40 different chemicals to their ‘wine’, because the chemicals are cheaper to produce than the grape juice!  They spend next to nothing on the wine, cut every corner possible with regards to quality, then spend millions on marketing, building a brand to kid the British public that they’re enjoying a fashionable tipple. South Africa, California and Chile have all been victims of this con, and their quality wine trade has been hit hard and is only now recovering from the damage these frankly awful brands have caused.

Will it be the same for Argentina?

Well, if you buy your Argentinian wine in the supermarket and you pay less than £5, chances are you’ll think it’s terrible and will be put off Argentinian wine for good. However, if you go to a quality wine merchant and spend £10 upwards you’ll probably be drinking one of the best red wines you’ve had for ages. The fact is Argentina is producing wines to rival the best from anywhere in the world, and at the moment they are great value for money. There speciality is undoubtedly Malbec but they also make fantastic blends, and more recently, have started producing top class wines from classic varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Chardonnay. Argentina’s white specialitiy is Torrontes, which makes some delicious floral wines with relatively low acidity, making them ideal as ‘ a glass of wine’ to enjoy in it’s own right without food.

How is this possible?

Well, for starters, Argentina has the Andes mountains running down it’s length which stops virtually all rainfall from the Pacific. This gives an annual 320 days a year of sunshine in many of the Argentinian wine regions, which lie between the same lines of latitude as the Cape in South Africa, all the wine areas of Australia, and Marlborough in New Zealand.  Warm, sunny days combined with cool nights, watered with snow melt off the Andes carrying minerals. Add to this, new investment with state of the art wineries and passionate family producers, and you have all the ingredients for making great wine. The major drawback with traditional, allegedly great vineyard sites such as Bordeaux, is the unpredictable weather, making a good vintage a rare thing and very sought after. In Argentina every year is a good year because the weather is constant, year in year out. As for the price, the cost of living and therefore the cost of labour in Argentina is low. In a lot of the good family owned vineyards the picking and sorting is done by hand – now that would cost a small fortune in a European country!

But how do I find GOOD Argentinian wine?

There’s still plenty of rubbish out there, peddled by the big corporations. To find good wine you need to avoid brands. Look for wines produced by family owned wineries who will take pride in their wine and use minimal chemicals and additives. Some names to look out for, who are amongst the best producers in Argentina include: El Porvenir de Los Andes, NQN, Benegas Lynch, and San Huberto Nina range.  Gouguenheim also make some cracking wines in the middle price range. Steer clear of anything cheap and mass produced. It’s well worth trading up a few pounds per bottle if you can, as the quality improves dramatically. For £10 you should get a great bottle of wine. For £25 you’ll get something very, very special.

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