Is good wine bottles of First Growth Bordeaux at £1000 per bottle? Or is it a wine you can really enjoy that costs £10? Or there again is it a top class Argentine red for £30 which blows the French away on quality, let alone the price/quality ratio?
There are plenty of refined gentlemen sitting on their chesterfields, wearing a blazer and peering over their spectacles who’d tell you that good wine IS French. They’ll happily pay £40 for a bottle of Puligny Montrachet – which in fact tastes something like sucking a battery – from their wine merchant, who incidentally is also middle aged and also wears a green tweed smoking jacket. They’ll also buy expensive red Burgundy, severely lacking in fruit and severely overpriced, but be quite content because this is the wine their peers drink. Thirty years ago these were the leading wines that everyone aspired to drinking. But times change and nowhere quite so quickly as in the wine world.
Thirty years ago these people all aspired to drive a Jaguar XJS or a Mercedes 280, but would you want one now? Mechanical windows, poor economy, AM radio and the same performance you can now get from a 1.9 turbodeisel? These cars were great in their day but things have certainly moved on.
The same is true in the wine world. New world countries like Argentina and South Africa are producing some of the best wines in the world. In fact there’s now great wine coming out of virtually every wine producing country thanks to developments in technology and the sharing of information.
Over the last decade French wine sales have taken a pasting as more and more people are discovering that they can get way better quality for far less money by expanding their horizons and trying these new wines. Typically some French producers in Bordeaux and Burgundy have been in cahoots with British wine importers keeping the price of their wines artificially high. Some of these British wine merchants continue to attempt this today by playing on the old school traditions and maintaining the stuffy image and snobbery traditionally associated with fine wines, to charge a hefty premium.
The irony of all this? It’s the same upper middle class, middle aged gentlemen sitting on their chesterfields who are being overcharged. Those who will steadfastly defend the very same French wine producers who have annual meetings each vintage to discuss what price the UK market will bear! Yes, that is how the price of fine Bordeaux is actually set! It has nothing to do with the quality of the wine, it’s based purely on the economic situation in the UK and how many punters there are out there.
Personally I wouldn’t buy any of these wines on principal. But now there’s an even better reason not to buy them – quite simply there’s far better wine from new world countries readily available at far cheaper prices. And today you no longer need a face to face interaction with a gentleman in a tweed blazer, you can simply buy it online and have your wine merchant deliver it to you for a change. Yes, times have certainly changed – and definitely for the better!