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Quality v. Quantity: Positive Action as Wine Prices Surge.

Two lovely white wines and a classy malbec reveal the value of heading for areas outside the best known ones.

Surely no one can doubt that inflation and alcohol tax changes are pushing up average wine prices.

Disheartening as this is, it could be a gentle reminder that tasty wine and a slightly higher price tag are probably permanently linked now.

Being honest, tempting as their prices often are, bargain wines are increasingly bedevilled by declining quality.

I will always feature reliable inexpensive wines whenever possible, but can I also suggest a “less but better” approach?

After all, spending a little more per bottle but slightly reducing volumes could be cost-neutral.

The real reward comes from the treasure trove of flavour, complexity and overall quality than abounds in carefully chosen parts of the £10 to £15 price band.

I fully understand that not every purchase can be an indulgence, but let’s not rule out a well-deserved Friday Night treat or a quality bottle for a traditional Sunday lunch.

Just such a wine can often elevate those occasions to major events of celebration and appreciation and fully justify not buying quite as much wine as before.

That potential celebration, coupled with possible health benefits, are merely two advantages of a “drink better but less” stance.

Here are three selections that offer bottled proof of the flavour upgrades just such a policy can provide.

The images and hyperlinks provided should help you to find them in crowded displays or web pages.

Friday Treat

2021 Bariloche Malbec (from £11.49 at Laithwaite’s and 13.5% abv):

Often switching to a less well-known area can provide that step up in quality without excessive cost.

Here, a move away from Mendoza lends credence to the idea.

Patagonia is south of most Argentinian wine growing areas but, despite its semi-arid climate, the region has a rising reputation for vibrant, minerally, fruit centred malbec.

Illustrating that point, Laithwaite (justifiably) seem to regard this Patagonian version as a gateway to quality malbec.

Perfumed with enticing raspberry aromas and soft tannin, its centrepiece is medium bodied plum and loganberry flavours.

These are attractively integrated with baking spice hints, a subtle savoury background and carefully balanced acidity.

Sunday Best

How neighbours can diverge.

Next up is another switch away from an iconic wine area.

White Burgundies from Cote D’Or differ appreciably from those produced in Mȃcon.

Versions from Côte d’Or are renowned for their complexity as well as for the mineral and oak influences they often contain.

That sophistication (coupled with their prestigious reputation and production levels far below demand) keeps their prices high.

Many options cost £50 upwards.

However, less expensive options can be found in Mȃcon – to the south of Côte d’Or – although they too are seldom at single figure prices.

Since it is slightly warmer there, Mȃconnais wines are often softer and riper with a greater focus on fruit elements.

But, unlike Côte d’Or examples, Mȃcon whites normally see little or no oak.

Consequently, oak derived smooth, complex, creamy or toasty influences are less common there.

Stainless steel tanks, however, do have a major role to play in the Mȃconnais.

Being a neutral vessel, stainless steel does nothing to diminish or overlay the natural crispness and fruitiness of the wine within it.

Thus, the area’s famed fruit flavours and freshness both shine through brightly.

Many feel that those characteristics, coupled with the approachability and price factors, amply compensate for any reduced complexity.

Here is a good example.

2022 Louis Jadot Macon-Villages (£15.85 at Ocado and 12.5%):

The point about fruit components come over clearly in this version but there remain smoothness and vague toffee hints despite the absence of oak. 

White gold in colour and perfectly balanced, it provides soft melon and cooked apple flavours combined with a trace of peach.

Additional contributions come in the shape of vibrant grapefruit acidity  and a mellow, creamy texture..

Sunday Best Bonus

2022 White Burgundy, Cuvée Mallory Talmard (£14.49 at Adnams and 13%):

As a little extra today, here is an alternative Mȃcon white – and one with slightly different features, yet it is equally impressive wine.

Medium bodied, this brings us a slightly more savoury edge by virtue of slate and saline twists.

All that builds on a flavour foundation containing orange, nectarine and green apple elements and lively lemon acidity.

An Update from Eddie

“A drama on TV recently, set in the Piedmont in Italy in the 1930s, informed a hotel customer enjoying a glass of bubbly they thought to be Champagne, that it was in fact ”Prosecco … produced locally!”. Made me laugh …

The Denominazione for Prosecco is in fact very specific, from the Veneto, a largish area north of Venice, including Treviso, and Friuli Venzia Giulia.

It was hardly known to us Brits until a few short years ago but has become a bit of a go-to for those wanting a glass of fizz!

Its main caché has always been as a part of the Bellini cocktail, mixed with peach purée, as found in Harry’s Bar in Venice, if you have enough money to buy one there!!!

Given the considerable variation in quality I personally stick to the DOCG locations considered to be best production areas of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene.

I like them a lot including the rather newest addition that is the rosé.

Interesting to note that it was only in 2020 that the rosé version appeared with a proportion of Pinot Noir

It is blended with the traditional prosecco grape (originally called that but now known as glera).

But what happens this week?

On Sunday August 13th Prosecco gets its own National Day – a development that says something of what its production means to the economy there.

To celebrate, Morrisons tells us that they have a promotion, starting on August 13th,  that runs until the 5th September, with reductions of up to £2.50 a bottle when we buy 3 of any of these Best Proseccos!




[Thanks Eddie, really helpful stuff as ever and, of course, you covered the Laithwaite promotion in the Comments section to Monday’s post Editor.]

My next post (on Monday) contains terrific recommendations of Top Tips for you in the weekly feature of the same name.

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12 Responses

  1. A great alternative to prosecco and well worth a try ,is Pignoletto (Sainsbury’s £9) from Emilia Romagna.The grape is grechetto and the Charmat method is used to make it quickly.Similar to prosecco in taste -simple green apple and fizz-but a little drier and a longer finish.
    Very good with Italian meats and a cheese board under a hot Italian sun near Bologna!

  2. Great recommendations as always.

    Sadly, as a pensioner with an income not linked to inflation, these wine prices are now leaving me behind. A bottle priced at £15 and above is simply aspirational rather than reality so I will continue to haunt the “cheap, even if not quite so good” end.

    Once again, thanks for all the great advice.

  3. I’ve been drinking wine for over 50 years, and my impression is that on average, quality has improved steadily over that time. Faulty, ie badly made, wines are almost unheard of nowadays. In the old days, when Mateus or Black Tower or Hirondelle or Piat d’Or were considered the height of sophistication, undrinkable wine was commonplace. Improved growing and vinification techniques have changed all that, for which I am very grateful.
    The worst you can say about most £5 wines is that they can be bland and lack complexity.
    You can still buy interesting and complex wine for under £10/bottle, try having a poke around the Languedoc: Corbieres, Fitou, Picpoul, St Chinian, Faugeres etc etc. Or just do whatever Brian recommends 🙂

  4. Hi Alf my situation is not significantly different to yours and my advice is use Decanter’s search feature and assuming like me you don’t pay them a fee you will only get scores for wines for wines costing less than £15. All the dearer bottles have a padlock which means you don’t get a score. I needed to develop my searching skills and sometimes the best way is just to put the shop name is so just search say for “Lidl”. One that leaps out at me is their Vacqueryas which was £13.99 and is currently reduced to £9.99 currently rated at 90/100. Or choose their Chianti Reserva rated 92/100. What I do is follow Brian’s advice to pay between £10 and £20 however sometimes things benefit from “special offers”

    Decanter’s search has 2 filters so use these as well. One is just “Wine Tasting” and the other is for “Features and Articles” Try both!

    Finally either open up Decanter and have the searches open on your smart phone before you leave home so that when you are standing in the shop you can just view them.

    Alternatively print out the Decanter article by selecting the text you want and then hitting print. It normally prints out 3 pages which is an awful lot of wines. Usually best to reorder the wines before printing to start with recent tastings.

    An alternative is to put a single wine including the vintage into Google and that finds it in Midweek wines and Decanter and other sites.

  5. Good call Paul. As you say, many do see Pignoletto as drier and rounder than prosecco and often appearing in the, less effervescent, frizzante format. That Sainsbury’s one has been listed for a while so must sell OK but, to be honest, I have not sampled it recently.

  6. Understand the point Alf and, of course, Monday’s Top Tips will continue to highlight wines at the less expensive end of the spectrum provided they clear the “acceptable quality” bar. Today’s post was playing around with the idea of buying two £10 wines instead of three at £7 – even if that is spread over a longish time frame.
    Nevertheless, with luck there will continue to be presentable wines in the Top Tips category that both you and I will enjoy. See you there on Monday.

  7. Thanks Chris – the resourcefulness of your “Wine Drinking on a Budget” plans continue to amaze. Thanks for sharing them so generously.

  8. As another “demi-centurion”, I think much the same, Jerry. Red wines in, say, inexpensive eateries were particularly dismal in what is now called “mid-century”. Technology and massively increased producers’ expertise have improved things enormously both in quality and diversity. Meanwhile, areas like Portugal, SW France, Romania, South Africa and, as you recommend, Languedoc continue to offer sound wines that represent great value for money. Equally, I cannot fault the final six words of your comment – thank you for suggesting that.

  9. There’s something a touch cheaper at Sainsbury’s just now in the way of a Macon-Villages. I’m rather fond of of them when wanting a decent French Chardonnay

    The Decanter online is very useful but I still use the monthly magazine that also can come online rather than hard copy. Just for general wine interest but there’s so little I find affordable except in their Everyday Wine, few pages .. and not their weekend/more expensive/over £20 that I can’t afford.

    Here is quite a useful site that gives availability and price history covering all the usual High Street retailers and clubs


    But I’m finding more and more that for better quality at reasonable, not dirt cheap, prices, The Wine Society is my go to for treats and stocking-up on some of their real value-against-quality offerings. OK, it costs money to join, that I did years ago, and that cost has long been swallowed-up in making purchases.

    The best feature apart from what they offer across a massive range is there’s no delivery charge no matter how few bottles we buy. And just to mention that because the customer base involves more committed and seemingly knowledgeable buyers their reviews and endorsements mean way more to me than a lot of stuff that appears on supermarket website reviews!!! Quality drinking without paying through the nose, in my book. Cheers Brian.

  10. Thanks Chris,

    Excellent advice.

    And thanks Brian, as always, for seeking out that special balance between value and quality.

  11. Thanks Eddie. Blason are indeed good producers so that Sainsbury’s option seems a good plan and, as you suggest, using The Wine Society is also a good plan.

  12. The target, Alf., will remain “seeking value wines that do not compromise on quality” as you say but it is increasingly difficult to find inexpensive options that hit that particular “bullseye”. We may need to brace ourselves for the average price of that sort of wine rising by a pound or thereabouts – with a few 11% wines still under £6 as they avoid the worst effects of the alcohol tax changes.

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