The Ocelot

A collection of my monthly wine columns for this southern-UK entertainment and lifestyle magazine.

May 2017 – Trading Up

Ocelot 2 May 2017

The triggering of Brexit has finally begun and the implications on the pound, the markets and our trade deals are all still unknown quantities.  With the majority of our favourite wines coming from within Europe there will undoubtedly be some impact on pricing.

Several years of austerity have already made us tighten our belts and become increasingly price-conscious, so it may seem odd if I suggest that you should perhaps want to pay more for a bottle of wine.

No, I don’t mean arbitrarily handing over more money than you need to the cashier and, with care-free flair, telling them they can “keep the change”, but in much the way that the craft movement has thrown open the beer market and moved many people away from larger mass produced brands, people are increasingly aware that sometimes paying slightly more can mean a lot extra in terms of quality.

Quick question: When you buy a bottle of wine, how much of that cost actually goes towards the quality of what you are drinking?  100%, 50%, 10%?

If you don’t know, read on!

A bottle of wine costing £5.39

£5.39 is a fairly specific amount, but that’s the average cost for a bottle of wine in the UK*.  The first slice of the bottle price goes to the retailer who would expect to make something like 22-25% of the value as their profit. The next big slice of the pie goes to the government who will take a fixed amount of excise duty (currently £2.16) as well as VAT at 17.5%.

Once you factor in the packaging costs (labels, corks/screwcaps) and logistics of getting the bottle on to the shelves in the first place, the amount left spent on the actual quality of the wine is a mere 60p.

Yes, that’s right, just 11% of the bottle price goes on the actual wine whilst the government take nearly 60% of your money for themselves.  Boo!

A bottle of wine costing £7.50

If you trade up slightly to a £7.50 bottle of wine, what do you get for your extra £2.11?

Well the good news is that most of it goes on the wine itself.  As the packaging and logistics costs are exactly the same regardless of the wine inside, and the fixed excise duty doesn’t change, the only percentage increases are the extra VAT and retailer margin.

What this means is that now you are actually paying £1.50 on the contents of the bottle, so well on the way to three times the quality for not much extra cost.

The extra money spent on wine quality allows the winemaker to shun bulk production methods (which can see stalks, vine canes and even insects go in to the vats) and be more selective about what grapes they include.  In the long term it can lead to them buying better equipment to produce and mature their wines.

Excluding prestige brands, which can cost fifty times the price and not be fifty times the quality, the good news is that this carries on up to scale.  If you’re feeling flush and spending £20 on a bottle of wine, you’re still paying the fixed excise duty and packing/logistics costs and, consequently, a lot more for the contents of the bottle.


Note: Of course it is absolutely possible to find £5 bottles of wine that shine for the price, and sometimes they just need rooting out.  Head on over to my website if you want some help locating one.

* Source: Bibendum

April 2017 – Food & Wine Matching

Ocelot April17

Knowing that I love my wine it’s perhaps no surprise that my dining companions invariably ask me to choose the bottle when we go to a restaurant.  In many chain establishments or in pubs, when perhaps there are only a handful of different bottles available, it is good to know that a wine buyer somewhere along the way has taken all of the hard work out by only choosing wines that will pair well with their food offerings.

If you’re going somewhere that offers a greater range or if you are preparing a special meal at home and want to go the extra mile, it’s very true that you can become sufficiently over-whelmed by all of the variety and begin to panic.

Like anything though, there are numerous tricks and tips you can use to get the right wine for your food, and certainly for you to get in the right broad category.

If you follow the below tips there’s a good chance you will probably enjoy your meal more, and it may inspire you to try out new and exciting combinations.  Above all, it may just mean you look a bit fancy in front of your friends!

Tip #1 – What grows together goes together

Even if you’re not too hot on your geography this is nice easy way to make a good match.  When just dipping your toe in to the world of wine it can sometimes look like anything grows everywhere, but there is a pattern.

The grape varieties that survive and thrive are there for a reason and so, if you are ordering Italian food, invariably a bottle of Italian wine will match best.  Great swathes of the Mediterranean have a culture of wine being present at the dining table, and the style of the wine has developed to specifically blend and compliment the food in advance.

Tip #2 – The colour code

So you’ve got the right country for your dish, but which wine do you go for: red, white or rosé?

Even just the colour of a wine can give you hints as to what it will pair best with it.  At the simplest level this can be matching a white wine with lighter coloured foods such as fish and pasta, red wines will go well with darker dishes such as meatballs or steak, and rosé is good with salmon or cut meat such as prosciutto.

Tip #3 – How much do you weigh?

No this isn’t a personal question, but more about the weight of the dish you are ordering.  I’m going to expand on my above tip to ensure you are matching your wine to the overall weight of your dish as opposed to its main ingredient.

The oft repeated myth that fish pairs with white wine and meat dishes pair only with red can easily be turned on its head by the style of the dish.  For example, if you are ordering a well grilled fish, or a meat dish with a creamy mushroom sauce, the opposite of which wine is best is actually true.

Think about the overall weight of the meal and then balance it with the weight of the wine you eventually order. Along the same lines, the sweetness of the wine needs to match the sweetness of the foods, so when heading for the dessert menu, your standard dry wines will be easily over-powered and you’ll need to head for a specifically labelled sweet wine.

By using the tips above you are 90% of the way to choosing the right wine for your food but, like anything, there is a whole level of detail you can immerse yourself in, such as the specific flavours that each particular grape variety will add.

The last thing I will say though is that, in most cases, the best wine that will go with the food you are eating is the bottle you are drinking at the time.