According to the news pages, you never need to pay any more than £6.99 for a bottle of wine, because above that figure it's all down to personal preference. One report latched on to Decanter Magazine's press release following this month's World Wine Award dinner which extolled the virtues of "a decent bottle" for £6.99, and managed to come up with the suitably crowdpleasing headline: "Why £6.99 is the most you should pay for a bottle of wine". Robin Goldstein, an American wine critic, agrees.
Goldstein asked 500 volunteers to try out and grade 540 unidentified wines priced from £0.75 to £75 to see if they could judge the wines purely on what was in the glass. The results, described in The Wine Trials (Fearless Critic Media), were picked up by Newsweek which trumpeted the apparent triumph. In The People v The Wine Snob, a £5 fizz from Washington state beat the £75 Dom Pérignon Champagne and the cheap and cheerful Two-Buck Chuck knocked out a £27.50 Napa Valley cabernet. "Their results might rattle a few wine snobs, but the average oenophile can rejoice: 100 wines under £7.50 consistently outperformed their upscale cousins", said the article in Newsweek. Sounding familiar?
The results were not as clearcut as the magazine suggested. Novice wine drinkers were shown to have very different tastes from more experienced ones and, as Eric Asimov pointed out in the New York Times, "there is, of course, no such thing as the 'average oenophile'. Consumers have any number of reasons for their buying decisions." Asimov then asks the difficult question: "Assuming, for the moment, that it's true that most drinkers prefer the cheap stuff, why does anyone bother buying a £27.50 cabernet?"
Another experiment, this time by the California Institute of Technology and Stanford Business School, in which the subjects tasted the same wine twice but were given different prices, found that subjects invariably preferred the wine they thought was the more expensive.
In a world where brands and labels have such influence, should wine drinkers be derided as snobs for preferring a £20 bottle to one at £6.99? Consumption of wine has grown enormously in a decade. It's become an FMCG (fast moving consumer good), and yet we're still often insecure with it and the apparently arcane language sometimes used to describe it. What if my dinner guests don't like my choice? What if I've been sold a pup? Many of us still need to have our hand held when it comes to buying wine and I'd be rich if I had a pound for every time I've been told "I don't know much about wine, but I know what I like." Why not go for an everyday £6.99 bottle or less then, especially when – in such straitened times – the autumn wine fairs of the likes of Tesco, Waitrose and Sainsbury's are well worth scanning for genuine gems?
Why not indeed, and yet as the Decanter Magazine article in question in fact demonstrated from an analysis of its medal-winning wines, "statistically speaking, quality increases with price". You may not know a great bordeaux or burgundy till you've tasted one, or barolo, chianti classico, Australian shiraz, New Zealand pinot noir, Argentinian malbec and so on. But once you've appreciated the difference between a good everyday wine and a really good bottle, you know that paying that bit extra is not about snobbery but a genuine palate-seducing world of enjoyment.
No one has to pay more than £6.99 if they don't want to, of course, but we're very fortunate to have greater choice than ever, from the everyday wine right through to the very special. Maybe those inverted wine snobs who can't tell chips from chocolate pudding will just have to take it on trust. And never drink champagne.Reuse content