Are higher wine prices on the horizon for 2008? The pressure is building. Short harvests in key wine producing countries like Australia and Italy are likely to have a knock-on effect on prices and the capacity of the supermarkets to continue discounting. And a powerful new temperance lobby calling itself the Alcohol Health Alliance is pushing for raising taxes to discourage under-age binge drinking. They are also holding out for warning labels, but maybe they should take a leaf out of the Burgundy-loving David Blunkett’s book. ‘If you frighten people to death and tell them that their two glasses a night is suddenly too much they’ll stop believing you’, he says, adding ‘as Shadow Health Secretary, I went to a number of health conferences and I found that medics never follow their own advice.’
Champagne will be one of the most visible ‘victims’ of price rises this year. Massive promotional deals over Christmas may have lulled us into a false sense that champagne will continue to bubble under cheaply forever, but it’s not to be. After having to pay substantially more for their grapes last year to feed the growth of their brands, the major champagne houses have already announced that prices will go up by up to 10 per cent. Pink champagne in particular is on a roll, so if there’s a wedding or big occasion in the offing this year, now is the time to take advantage of any lingering post-Christmas deals before prices rise steeply.
On the ‘fine wine’ front, one region that’s unlikely to see huge price hikes is Bordeaux. Despite September sunshine bringing a last-minute reprieve to the 2007 harvest, a disastrously wet summer and its accompanying low expectations point to an average vintage at best with little consumer enthusiasm for buying en primeur (pre-release) in the spring. While 2006 has turned out better than expected, ‘classic’ in the euphemism of the wine trade, it was no great year for buying early either. That should at least firm up the values of clarets from the excellent 2005, 2003 and 2000 vintages, while the more reasonably-priced 2001, 2002 and 2004 clarets come on stream for earlier drinking.
Always later to come out of the starting block than Bordeaux, Burgundy has been holding tastings of the as yet unbottled 2006 vintage in London. 2006 may not be in the mould of the great 2005 vintage, but it is starting to look as though both whites and reds will make delicious drinking in the short to medium term. Since Burgundy doesn’t suffer from the price hype that afflicts Bordeaux in a good vintage, and bearing in mind that it’s made in much smaller quantities, savvy consumers with post-new year sales cash to burn might hold something back for the imminent 2006 Burgundy en primeur offers. Watch this space for a report in a couple of weeks. In the year to come, we also have the excellent 2004 rioja reservas and chianti classico riservas to look forward, long with some fast-improving Portuguese and southern Italian reds and a growing demand for riesling, whether from Germany, Alsace, Austria or the New World.
In the high street, in case you were wondering why your local Oddbins has morphed into a Nicolas, it’s because Nicolas’ French parent, Castel has started converting Oddbinses to Nicolases. Not the brainiest move, you might think, but sadly 2008 could see the final curtain call for a once great high street chain. Somerfield and Morrisons need to raise their game following the recent departures of their respective long-serving wine buyers. Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Asda though are on the up, while Sainsbury’s continues to dither. Independent wine merchant are fighting back thanks in part to our growing confidence in the internet and improved online services. Could they be threatened by a new virtual wine selector being tested by Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s allowing shoppers to choose wines to match foods and for social occasions? I doubt it. The best independents are still the place to go for the most interesting retail and mail order ranges.
Something For the Weekend 12 January 2008
Under a Fiver
2006 Preignes Cabernet Mourvèdre, Vin de Pays d’Oc, £4.99, if you buy 2, otherwise £5.99, Majestic.
With its attractively fresh cherryish aromas, this southern French blend of cabernet franc and mourvedre boasts plenty of robust mulberry and raspberry fruitiness, with a cherrystone twist of refreshing astringency and an appealing gluggy fruit quality spiced up with a touch of oak.
Under a Tenner
2004 Clairault Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon, £8.99, Marks & Spencer.
From the Clairault Estate in Margaret River, this is a Western Australian take on the Margaux style with a sweet vanilla fragrance and plenty of powerfully intense opulent cassis fruit tinged with the herbaceous borders of cool climate cabernet sauvignon. Its top wine, the black label Clairault Margaret River Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, £17, is distinguished by an extra helping of richness and power.
2005 Quinta do Vale Doña Maria Douro Red, £17.99 - £18.70, Waitrose (and, due in soon, Laithwaites, Tanners of Shrewsbury, Corney & Barrow, The Wine Society).
Owned by Cristiano van Zeller of Quinta do Noval fame, this 15 hectare Douro Valley estate produces fine, dark-fruited red table wine from the classic port varieties such as this bright 2005 blend, which displays dark berry fruits with a bittersweet chocolatey richness, smooth tannins and a damsony bite of acidity framed by well-crafted oak.