Better quality wine for less
Wine expert, Toby Spiers, reveals his top tips for getting a great bottle of wine at a bargain price.
Ever since I got the wine bug and started to consume wine on a regular basis, I have always been on the hunt for bargains at sub £10, especially sub £7.50 as, like most wine drinkers, my increasing love for wine did not transcend into a fuller wallet, surprisingly quite the opposite.
My system is to use a basic set of rules: don't buy into advertising, inspect the wine bottles on shelves more closely, bulk buy strategically, a little knowledge is king, and above all, after reading this, ask yourself why the wine is seemingly a steal or is it just a marketing blindfold?
I not only want to save you money, but my key issue is the quality of the wine in the bottle and I want to help you gain greater enjoyment for every penny that you part company with. I might teach you to spend 50p more per bottle, but this will be on wines where you will receive an extra £3 of added quality.
Don't be afraid to be adventurous
The first piece of advice is to avoid big brands and don’t be afraid to buy wines that you have never heard of before - as normally this is where the value is. If you have seen the wines advertised on TV, don’t buy them as I believe these companies are not investing in the wine that we are going to drink, but wasting millions to make up for the poor quality of their wines.
Be dubious of wines under £5
Current costs of a bottle of wine include duty at just under £2, VAT at 17.5% and rising, and packaging at £1. I hate to say this, but without taking into account the cost of international transport and distribution, the grapes in your bottle of wine, the very quality of the raw product that you are going to drink, is pretty worthless.
As a customer, you want to be spending your money on quality grapes and not tax and logistics. So be wary of wines costing less than £5.
Avoid high street and supermarket multi-buys
I can think of a dozen or so wines that are constantly on the value aisle or on offer at supermarkets or high street retailers. Why? Because the offer price is their true value and the pre-offer price has been hyper-inflated.
If you have seen any wines on offer before, don’t buy them as they are one of these brands.
A different multi-buy, but the same hyper-inflation, occurs with a discount on a case of 12 bottles at certain retailers also.
Stock up on bin end sales
Twice a year there are normally big bin end sales whereby surplus stock is heavily discounted to make way for new vintages coming in, or to just release some cash flow from slow moving lines. These normally occur in January and July/August and are a great way to make big savings as wines are normally reduced by up to 50%, especially if it is unknown or an unfashionable wine.
Read the small print
As with all products, it is important to look beyond the aesthetics of labelling and look for the facts. With wine, it is recommended to read the back label and if it talks about the estate it is likely to be a well established producer with a solid reputation, otherwise it would not mention it.
Moreover, there could be interesting information on the style of the wine, as well as the alcohol level which gives a good indication of body - the higher the level, the fuller in style. 13-13.5% is reliably good, ripe and well balanced, not too heavy or light.
Focus on sun-blushed wines from the Med
Wine as an agricultural product is climate dependent. Therefore, for value, head for regions and countries that have a warm climate where their crops are more reliable and thus raw materials and production costs are lower.
This typifies the New World, but for something more classy, if slightly less fashionable for the price, head to southern France (Vin de Pays, Minervois, Corbieres, Picpoul de Pinet) or Italy (Sicily, Puglia).
Stick to the producer
When learning about wine, it is important to learn about the grapes, climate, production, and vintages, but the most important thing to learn is to find a reputable producer for the area and stick to them. They know what is best to do year in, year out.
The pick of the bunch
Best own brand: Tesco's Finest Fiano from Sicily (made by the legendary producer Planeta)
Best value region: Sicily
Best value country: Spain
Best value New World producer: Nederburg
Best well known larger producers from Old World: Guigal, Chapoutier
Best well known larger producers from New World: Peter Lehmann, Concha Y Toro
Best wine brand seen in Off Licences: Yellowtail