Drinks: 1993: the cork is out of the bottle: Wine prices are under pressure as the single market comes into effect, but too much penny-pinching could force those in the industry to cut a few corners, warns Anthony Rose

We have seen the impact on Calais of the new year armada of bargain drink hunters, but what effect will they have on the British drinks trade? If day trippers continue to pack their cars to groaning point with cases of wine, beer and spirits, the drinks industry will squeal.

Could this force the Chancellor to bring duty into line with our partners by cutting the rate on EC wines in the Budget? It would put a rosier complexion on shopping at Thresher, unless you are buying New World wines.

The new guide levels for imported drinks, which replaced the old duty-free allowances on 1 January, should give a boost to wine tour operators, as vineyard-visiting becomes a more tempting prospect. If there is no devaluation of the French franc, brush up now on your Spanish and Italian and phrases such as caveat emptor - buyer beware. Visiting a vineyard can be a wonderful way to idle away part (or all) of a holiday, as long as you remember there is no obligation to buy. I was told of a grower in Sancerre who charges an entrance fee. Anyone that desperate should be avoided.

At home, the bargain-hunting spirit is likely to make the competition between supermarkets and off-licences at price levels of pounds 2.99, pounds 3.99 and pounds 4.99 hotter than ever, with occasional forays into the pounds 1.99 loss-leader zone. The trouble with penny-pinching is that it creates all sorts of pressures from buyers through to producers to cut corners, not the least of which is for buyers to choose the cheaper blend in preference to the better-quality one. The buyers I have spoken to say they are against lowering quality in this underhand way. But they may have no alternative.

The new year kicked off with news to gladden the hearts of an endangered species, the sherry drinker. Thanks to legal action by the sherry producers against the Government (for treating so- called British sherry more favourably than the real thing from Jerez), agreement has been reached on a reduction in the duty on sherry. Current levels of 42 per cent will drop to 25 per cent by 1996, with reductions applying to all fortified wines such as port and madeira. The effect will be to bring the duty on a bottle of sherry down by 8p this year and of port by around 30p, although how much of this is passed on to the consumer remains to be seen. Further phased reductions will follow over the next three years, which should leave sherry 54p cheaper overall and port roughly pounds 3 cheaper.

Unless you have been in hibernation for the past three months, you will know that much of France suffered a pretty average vintage in 1992, nowhere more so than Bordeaux. It looks as if there will be no en primeur (futures) market for the second year running. This is a blessing in disguise. Prices in the Eighties were too high for too long. So we can expect plenty of fine wine bargains this year, like some of those that were around at Christmas. We are in a buyer's market once again. Selective buying of earlier vintages of the Eighties, either at auction or through one-off special offers, will be a good way of starting a cellar or filling gaps in an existing one.

This year will be difficult for any producers who still live the lie of the 'If you've got it, charge for it' era. France, Italy and California come first to mind, although all are now taking a crash course in the Nineties school of new realism. A poor 1992 vintage, a strong franc in the wake of Black Wednesday and an increasingly competitive New World could make this a crunch year for France's 'classic regions' in particular.

After successive bumper crops of indifferent quality, a drop in grape prices and pressure on fizz prices from the New World, there is no reason why champagne prices should not continue to fall. In fact, champagne may even go a pound or so better than the pounds 7.99 bottom-dollar 1992 price. However, on the evidence of last year's examples, I would not be in too much of a hurry to celebrate.

Developments outside Western Europe have never been more exciting. Eastern Europe is still more full of dross than promise, but from its bottomless vat of cheap wines there will be some excellent stuff coming from the likes of Bulgaria's go-ahead co- operatives at Russe and Sliven.

Hugh Ryman and the new group of flying winemakers should bring us selective pickings from the east. And now that Moldova is desperate for Western cash, we should soon see a trickle of surprising bordeaux-style reds from one of the few parts of the world whose enormous potential is still untapped.

On current form there is no reason why Australia and New Zealand should not continue to swallow most of the New World column inches, but more New World countries are doing their best to elbow them out, some with more success than others. Chile today is not unlike the rioja of yesteryear, a discovery of often good-value reds (and whites) to watch. The added attraction lies in the fact that Chile has gone down the classic varietal route of cabernet sauvignon and merlot, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. Expect ripples if not waves from Argentina, a country which some believe has even greater potential than Chile.

South Africa remains an enigma, still promising more than it delivers. Now that its industry is moving towards a market economy, we will see more cheap, good-value wines - whites in particular - from the better co-operatives such as Robertson. If the estates get their pricing right, there could be some fine wines, too, notably from Rustenberg, Thelema Mountain and Neil Ellis. South Africa also has the potential to produce sparkling wine to rival Australia in quality, although again the value equation is crucial.

California is still the dark horse of the New World. Despite the strong dollar, there could yet be surprises if Oddbins carries out its threat to bring over some good, inexpensive California wines.

And so back to Europe, where the South of France remains the best hope to offset the hot competition from Eastern Europe and the New World. Vins de pays and appellation wines are fast displacing the classic regions for everyday recession drinking.

When the royal appointee, Corney & Barrow, tells us that what its customers want more than anything is 'an expanded selection of keenly priced French country wines', clearly this is the place to explore. The beaujolais crus, too, from 1991, one of the best vintages there in a long while, will be drinking beautifully this year with lots of juicy, soft strawberry fruitiness.

Quantity-wise, there is no reason why Italy's Mezzogiorno should not follow the example of France's Midi. Puglia and Sicily each produce more than most countries. But, so often, southern Italy has failed to live up to expectations. If you can call back in the year 2000, I may have better news.

voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn