Drinking less but spending more on better quality wines is one sign of our changing consumer habits.

At first it was ‘dry January’, which I don’t really mind.  After the excesses of the festive season everyone’s liver needs a period of rest and recuperation.  And the fact that my family has several birthdays during the month means that dry January has morphed into ‘slightly damp January’.  But now there is ‘stay sober for October’, when we are all supposed to give the money we might have spent on alcohol to a very worthy charity. I have many reasons to support the charity in question, and do so on a regular basis, but I don’t see why I have to turn October dry, or even damp to do so.

These initiatives have very sound foundations for the health and general well being of the nation, and perhaps they are having an effect on our drinking habits.  This may be good for our health, but there could be a downside too.  Pubs are still closing at a rate of around 14 pubs a week, and while the rate of closures has slowed, around half the pubs that were thriving businesses twenty years ago have now called time for good.

Many people do most of their wine-drinking at home, but even here the choices are changing.

Steadily, year on year, from the last five years that statistics are available, we have reduced the amount of wine we drink.  It works out at no more than a 2% drop over five years (Wine Intelligence) but for a market that grew at a tremendous rate just a couple of decades ago, this is a dramatic change.

The upside of drinking less is that we are choosing to drink better wine.  Over the last 12 months there has been a real shift away from wines priced under £5, to wines priced between £5 and £6.  Sales of wines priced above £6 are growing steadily, which may be down to better understanding of how the quality of wine in the bottle is affected by price.

Naturally, if you pay more for a bottle of wine, you would expect the quality to increase, but because of all the taxes that are imposed on wine, the quality improvement is dramatic as the price goes up.

Duty is £2.23 on every bottle of still wine, and then there is the cost of the bottle, cork, label and transport.  With VAT on the whole amount, plus a few profit margins along the way it is quite likely that a £5 bottle of wine contains liquid worth less than 50p. Think of that the next time you share a £5 bottle of wine with your friends on a Friday night.  Is there anything else on your table that costs so little? Maybe a packet of crisps?  Is this how you value their company?

Scale up your spending to £10 and the £2.23 duty remains the same, and the cost of the bottle, cork, label and transport is roughly identical.  VAT takes a bigger chunk of the purchase price, but it still means that there is almost £3 left to pay for the wine.  That means a significant jump in quality.  Your guests will taste the difference in their glasses.

It is the millennials who are drinking less.  Many 18 to 34 year olds are actively reducing their alcohol consumption while older drinkers at 55 plus are not really bothered.  Perhaps that is because they have had a lifetime of drinking moderately and haven’t been out on the binge for many decades.

While the UK market is slowing, the world’s production of wine is growing.  The top four wine producers of the world – Italy, France, Spain and the USA have each increased production by over 20% in the last 10 years. Chile has been even more productive with an almost 50% increase in grape production.  But just because they make it, we don’t necessarily drink it.

Australia is our favoured nation when it comes to choosing wine, with Italy, USA and France following. Surprisingly New Zealand punches well above its weight, coming in as our eighth favourite source of wine, from a nation that ranks 14thin production.  We are also happy to pay a lot more for New Zealand wine, averaging £7.18 per bottle compared to a mere £5.50 for Italian wine.

We are also becoming more adventurous with wines from South Africa, Greece, Moldova, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary becoming regulars on most supermarket wine shelves.  China makes a lot of wine but its population is managing to drink most of it, so far.

So now it is time to look at your wine rack and see what kind of drinker you are.  Are you following the trend by drinking less but better? Are you paying at least £6 a bottle for your wine, and preferably £10 a bottle to really experience quality?   And are you stretching your taste buds to appreciate wines from around the world?

Just in case you were contemplating a sober October, here are a few suggestions to tempt you away from that idea.  You can still support the charity, even with a glass in your hand, or even donate your savings if you buy wines on offer.

Errazuriz Costa Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Aconcagua, Chile, Waitrose down from £11.99 to £8.99 until 8 October

Bright, breezy, lime-zesty flavours with a touch of salty freshness.  It tastes like summer could last forever.

Exquisite Collection Lyme Bay Bacchus 2018, Devon, England, Aldi £9.99

Bacchus is rapidly becoming the go-to grape variety for still white wines in English vineyards. Grapefruit, herbal and peachy flavours.

Taste the Difference Morador Malbec 2018, Argentina, Sainsbury £8.50

Dark mulberry fruit with damsons and a layer of spice.  Smooth luscious flavours and enough power to partner a steak.

Willunga 100 Tempranillo 2017, Australia, Booths down from £12 to £10.50 starting 25 September until 22 October

Serious fruit-packed flavours with blackberries, spice and an earthy streak that makes it big enough to accompany a winter casserole.

Morgenhof Estate Merlot 2013, South Africa, Waitrose, down from £13.99 to £11.99 until 8 October

Ripe, juicy red berry and plum fruit with an edge of spice and light, supple tannins.  Pour alongside red meat and cheese.




About The Author

Christine is a wine writer, broadcaster and a wine judge for several international wine competitions. She has a technical background and spent five years as a buyer for a major supermarket before moving to wine writing.She writes for The Yorkshire Post Magazine and organises the York Festival of Food and Drink. She has won both the Lanson and the Roederer prizes for wine writing.

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