It seems that when it comes to wine, at least, we inhabit two parallel universes.
The recent seizure by HM Customs of a consignment of booze described as "car parts" was all about exploiting the pressure on our household finances by offering dirt-cheap booze for the festive period. Contrast that with the 2010 report by ex-van driver Stephen Browett, now co-owner of Crystal Palace FC. His wine company, Farr Vintners, reported a best-ever trading year with a turnover of £169 million.
Farr's top 10 best sellers, by volume, featured three Bordeaux first growths, Château Lafite, Latour and Mouton Rothschild. The 2009 vintage of each costs around £10,000 a case.
However, it's in the overlap between those parallel universes that most of us actually buy our wine. I'm not sure whether there's such a thing as a typical Independent wine drinker – but of the large number I've met over the years who enjoy their wine, you typically drink an everyday wine in the £5-£10 range during the week, a special bottle at the weekend and champagne or an exceptional wine when there's cause for celebration.
As a reflection of what we believe you're looking for, until now we've supplemented this weekly wine column with a recommendation at under a fiver, one under a tenner and a splash-out wine.
Over the past 10 years, the wine world has changed dramatically. Recent figures from Nielsen show that the average price of a bottle of wine has risen from £3.62 to £4.47. Duty's share of that has gone from £1.16 a bottle to £1.69. Thanks largely to cheap sweet rosé, the US scrapes the bottom of the barrel with a price rise of just 6p per bottle, while French wine's pedigree has lifted it by £1.47 to an average £5.13 a bottle. According to the research group Wine Intelligence, after two years of lips-sealed austerity, the UK's 28.1 million regular wine drinkers are increasingly prepared to spend more money on wine to drink at home. And recent sales figures show that the biggest increase is in the £6 to £7 price range.
The trend towards quality is supported by the fact that while supermarkets continue to merge and the high street implodes, independent wine merchants are growing all the time. Top independents like Lea & Sandeman, Philglas & Swiggot and the Sampler have all added new stores.
Over the past couple of years, we've welcomed on board Flint Wines, findwine.co.uk, Hanging Ditch, slurp.co.uk, Hard to Find Wines, Oeno, Thorold Wines, Vagabond Wines and the Finborough Wine Café. At the 510-odd specialist wine merchants in the UK, the average price of a bottle rose 3 per cent last year to £8.96, exactly double the overall average.
The problem for us all is the erosion of the value of a bottle of wine by the hidden costs of marketing and exchange rates as well as increases in duty and VAT. The latest blow, VAT at 20 per cent, means that tax now accounts for over 50 per cent, or £2.52, of a £4.99 bottle of wine.
But you still get so much more wine for your money at £5.99 a bottle than at £4.99 that we at the Independent Magazine no longer think the "under a fiver" category represents good value.
We'll still recommend wines at under a fiver where they're worth it, but we hope you'll not be unhappy with our decision to raise the bar for our Something for the Weekend wine from under £5 to below £6.Reuse content