Cheap wine is an inverse gamble. In most forms of gambling, the greater your outlay, the greater your gamble. With wine, the opposite is true. Spend a tenner on a bottle of wine, and you approach it with eager curiosity and cautious optimism. Spend £2.99, and that is replaced with fear and trepidation.
A couple of things can alleviate that. First, the merchant. Most connoisseurs will tell you that the name of a good wine merchant can be an imprimatur of quality. The very term “wine merchant” alone would suggest you’re buying from a specialist. Unfortunately, the terms which occur more frequently in Sediment purchasing are “off-licence”, “supermarket”, and “that place on the corner and can you pick up some Pringles while you’re there”.
And then there are reviews. Perhaps not surprisingly, you don’t get many positive reviews of wines under three quid. So, when the Observer recommends a bottle for £2.99, an absurd optimism takes over.
Last Sunday (August 1), I spotted this in my Observer supplement: “This ridiculously cheap French number from Tesco is not only drinkable but has a fair bit of charm too. It’s light and fresh, with a nice mix of floral and citrus flavours.” Of course, amongst that expressive description, it was the words “ridiculously cheap” which caught my eye, especially in an unusual juxtaposition with the word “drinkable”.
The writer was David Williams, deputy editor of The World of Fine Wine, a wonderful looking magazine in whose rarefied world I would love to sup. Each issue costs £20. So when he recommends a wine from Tesco which costs £2.99, it’s barely hours before I’m excitedly clutching a bottle.
The whole package has a reassuring air of authenticity – the name, the label design…and even a cork. Not a real cork, of course, just one of those plastic versions, but at least you get to use a corkscrew and persuade yourself that this is a proper bottle of wine.
And upon first opening, the wine did indeed live up to all of Mr Williams’ adjectives.
But I do wonder if Mr Williams encountered this wine in the swill n’spit of a tasting. For, as I made my steady way through the bottle, the flavours gradually collapsed. “Light” became syrupy; “floral” became undergrowth; and “citrus” deteriorated into a vague clenching at the back of the palate. In the time it took me to down the lot, things went from the sylvan to the frankly vegetable.
Of course it is “ridiculously cheap”, and most people would say there is hardly room for complaint here. Ditto “drinkable”, no mean achievement in itself at £2.99. The trick, presumably, is to either share it out amongst half a dozen people, so they all knock it back before it deteriorates, or just swill the lot yourself as quickly as possible. But good white wine does, actually, hold its flavour throughout the bottle. Only, in the World of Fine Wine, I can’t even read about Montrachet for £2.99…