Gloomy news reaches me that the Americans will soon overtake the French as the world's greatest consumers of wine. According to a report from the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV), the USA will pass France within three years if present trends continue.
Wine consumption on the other side of the Atlantic grew by three per cent last year, while in France it fell by two per cent - following a fall of 50 per cent over the last 40 years. The only other great success story for wine is the UK, where consumption went up by a remarkable five per cent last year - which is even higher than in the USA.
Not that it will be much consolation to the French, but things are looking no better for their great competitor: Australia. Producers there have watched their home market slip by just over four per cent in 2005. And while exports are still healthy - obviously more important when the home-grown demand is shrinking - there are also signs that they too are weakening both in volume and in value. Industry analysts attribute the weakness to rising energy costs, which are putting the big chill on all discretionary spending.
Might the same thing happen in the USA, where the populace is nearly in revolt over high petrol prices? It's not looking that way at the moment. The wine-drinking classes in the USA are probably affluent enough to go drinking and driving - though they won't do them at the same time, I hope. The same applies over here. There seems to be no shortage of money sloshing around for the right stuff.
At the moment, the hot money is gravitating towards Bordeaux, where the 2005 vintage is being hailed as either fine or truly great by just about everyone. En primeur prices for the top estates are as preposterous as ever, but the great wine-ocean that is Bordeaux contains a multitude of smaller fish. And some of them are already on offer. Fine & Rare Wines has a good couple of dozen on its website (www.frw.co.uk) even as I write, and many more should have appeared by the time you're reading this. Prices there start at around £55 a case, in bond (VAT and duty will be added later), and if you have some extra money hanging around in your current account, I can think of worse ways of using it.
How do you know what to buy when you have no chance of tasting the wine beforehand? Easy: read the press reports and then find a wine merchant you can trust.
For many people, press reports equals Robert Parker - the US wine guru whom I wrote about in these pages a few weeks ago. As usual, some people in the wine trade take issue with some of his assessments this year. Parker tends to like big, super-ripe wines with plenty of "extract" - solid matter drawn from the grapes both before and during fermentation. If you like your wine to be less chunky and more enjoyable, valuing finesse over power, then you should seek advice elsewhere.
One place I would always go to for advice is Lea and Sandeman London Fine Wine (tel: 020-7244 0522, www.londonfinewine.co.uk). Director Charles Lea publishes his own points, before Parker, and has done so "as a personal exercise to see if I could second-guess Parker with the 1994 vintage". He first published his notes with the 1996 vintage. "I tend to push higher than him in the northern Medoc, and he higher than me in St Emilion and Pomerol, so it remains a question of what you like and whom you trust."
At the time of writing, Lea and Sandeman had just a few wines with prices on its site. Keep checking if you are so inclined. Ring them to discuss your requirements. Tell them I sent you. And in the meantime, feast on these three New World reds while enjoying your summery barbecues.
Three barbecue reds for summer
The Fergus 2004 (£9.99, Tesco) From the Tim Adams winery, one of Australia's most consistently awesome reds. Mostly Grenache, with minty flavours that astonish with every sip.
Carmen Reserve Syrah 2003 (£6.66 on the standard three-for-two offer, Threshers and Wine Rack) Rich and savoury, it easily stands up to its walloping 14.5 per cent alcohol.
El Dueño Shiraz 2004 (£4.99, M&S) Easy-drinking stuff, with loads of warm red berry flavours and the softest tannins. A nice little number at a nice little price.Reuse content