Leiston Abbey

Uncorked – August 23

Food & Drink

Andy Newman unveils another blow for the wine drinker this month

It may be sunny and it may be the holidays, but there is a huge cloud looming for wine drinkers this month.

1 August sees the introduction of a new system of duty on alcohol, and you won’t be surprised to hear that this hasn’t been introduced to make drinking cheaper. All alcohol duty levels are rising, but none more so than those on wine.

The UK already had the highest levels of taxation on wine anywhere in Europe.  Prior to Brexit, some 63.3% of all wine duty collected across the EU went to the British Chancellor. Despite the fact that France, Italy and Germany each drink more of the stuff than we do, the combined tax take of those three countries is less than a sixth of the amount British wine drinkers are being clobbered.  And that doesn’t even include the VAT.

From the beginning of this month, the duty on a bottle of wine rises from £2.23 to £2.67; for wines from with more than 14.5% alcohol, the figure is £2.99. The price of the wine is immaterial, so the hard-pressed supermarket shopper buying everyday wine effectively subsidises the plutocrat drinking Château Lafite.

Add in VAT, and the tax you pay on the average bottle of wine (currently standing at £7.10) now accounts for 54% of the price.

If you plump for the £5.99 bargain bottle, 61% of your hard-earned cash goes straight into Mr Hunt’s pockets. Spend twice as much, and the slice taken by the tax man is just 39%.  Choose a bottle of 1989 Château Petrus (currently £8,073 at Berry Bros & Rudd), and just 16.7% of your cash will go to the Chancellor, of which just £2.67 will be alcohol duty (the rest is VAT).

It’s not just the tax, either.  Factor other fixed costs such as the bottle, transport, wholesalers’ and retailers’ margins, and how much do you think the winemakers receives from that £5.99 price tag? The answer, even before the increased rates of duty from this month, is a miserly 31p.

With the best will in the world, no-one can make a decent bottle of wine for that. That 31p has to pay for buying the land, planting the vines, pruning, picking, investment in the winery and bottling plants, making the wine, putting it in the bottle and labelling it. No wonder so many of those highly-promoted supermarket bargains taste pretty awful.

Spend £10 and the winemaker will see £2.70 – nearly nine times as much as he gets from that £5.99 bottle.  Splash out £20, and the winemaker has over £7 to play with. This, of course, will be reflected in the wine.

My advice therefore is to spend as much as you can afford on your bottle of wine, even if that means you end up drinking slightly less of it.

It does seem unfair that those of us on a budget are once again getting hammered by the taxman, while oligarchs blowing thousands on a rare bottle of Burgundy will still only pay £2.67 in duty. It’s enough to drive you to drink, if only you could afford it.

Blanquette de Limoux
(Marks & Spencer, £10)

Unlike Crémant de Limoux, which is made form the classic Champagne grapes, Blanquette must be at least 90% from the local Mauzac variety, with a little Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay permitted.  Part of M&S’s ‘Found’ range, this is indeed a find: decent Champagne method fizz for a tenner.

‘Chosen’ Vinho Verde 2022
(Majestic, £8.99)

Part of Majestic’s new ‘Chosen’ range, which includes keenly priced examples of core grape varietals from key wine regions, this is an easy-drinking white from the far north of Portugal, an area which benefits from a cool(er) climate.  Crisp, dry and with a hint of minerality.

Château Cissac Haut-Médoc 2016
(£19.50, Bakers & Larners)

Cru Bourgeois wines are where the sweet spot is for value in Bordeaux, and Cissac is one of the best, with 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot.  Sadly the 2015 is almost exhausted now, but the 2016 is a steal at this price.