Has the Emperor Lost His Clothes?

Or are expensive commercial wines really worth the money?

About a year ago, Elaine and I discovered a local wine tasting group which had been in existence for nearly 50 years (we have only lived here for 35 years!). Anyway attracted by the idea of belonging to something we didn’t have to organise (must be a first) and the fact that they have a membership of around 100 we thought we would give it a go. Typically, we found that we were towards the lower end of the age profile of the group. We also noted that they usually have 2 white and 6 red wines for each tasting. The people we sat with the first time, explained that the membership’s preference was for wines that are red, fruity and alcoholic (normally New World) and that white wine was just used to cleanse the palate.

It has to be said that we have had some good tastings and some excellent speakers over the past year, notably a Master of Wine who has her own vineyard in Languedoc. Also they have a dinner/wine festival in November which is a superb event. There have about five different tables each with a wine theme where they have a selection of wines available of which you can purchase a glass using vouchers issued as part of the ticket price. You can of course purchase additional vouchers. This was a most enjoyable evening, which definitely required a taxi ride home. Unfortunately we will miss out this year as we will be away.

Anyway, to come to my theme, we went to a tasting of Modern Australian Winemaking the other month. The cost for this meeting was higher than normal reflecting the prices of the wines which ranged from £20-40 per bottle. Funnily enough, we actually had 3 white wines this time round. The first two whites were examples of extended skin contact. The first wine was certainly fruity and full-bodied, albeit with a nose like 4 star in spite of a low percentage of Riesling. The second was orange in colour and distinctly cloudy. It tasted sour, with high acidity and dominant oak on the aftertaste. The final white smelt of burnt matches (apparently it had undergone natural fermentation – that explains it then), although to be fair it didn’t taste too bad.

Then we got onto the reds. These inexorably crept their way up to 15% alcohol. Although a couple of them were quite reasonable wines, they were nearly all characterised by jammy fruit, burning alcohol at the back of the throat, harsh aftertastes and in a couple of cases heavy use of oak. One of them was just like drinking alcoholic Ribena. We reflected afterwards that many of the wines had reminded us of homemade (and not good examples at that) and given the methods used that was not entirely surprising. There were a few gasps of horror from the assembled when the prices were announced and I don’t think that anybody present would have bought any of the wines. But the presenter insisted that these prices were justifiable for special wines in the current market – weakness of the pound, high rates of duty etc. He also eulogised about most of the wines and certainly the audience seemed to like the red wines if not the prices – I don’t think they were just being polite, because they were vocal about the whites which confirmed their prejudices.

So are we being conned here into paying silly prices for something that’s a bit different but not necessarily particularly good? Or am I just a lousy judge of commercial wine? I’d certainly rather drink some of the home-brew wines I’ve judged recently than most of those Australian wines.

Peter Robinson

The above image is in the public domain.

An interesting comment. How much do you think you should spend on a bottle of wine? How much do you think you should pay for a wine tasting? Does it matter where it comes from or what colour it is? Is there a need for specialist wine merchants or do the supermarkets provide everything you need? Was Peter’s experience typical or did he just go to a tasting presented by some crank? Answers please, in any form including Royal Mail or via our contact form.—Editor