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  • What is fine wine?

    “Fine wine” is a term used by many in the wine trade (including us, SommelierCellar), but what exactly does it mean? Part of the problem is that there isn’t a commonly used opposite term: what should we call “unfine” wine? Everyday wine? Rough wine? Plonk? For the purposes of this blog, I’ll use the slightly politer term “table wine”, even though it doesn’t make much sense: “Fine wine” will almost always be savoured while at a table with a meal, while “table wine” is far more likely to be consumed in front of the telly, propped up in an All Bar One, out of mugs in the kitchen of student digs. Everybody in the wine trade talks about “fine wine”, but no-one has really bothered to make a clear case for what it is. Given that we sell what we believe is fine wine, I thought that we should at least try to define it. So here it goes:

    The average money spent on a bottle of wine in the UK is £4.24. 63p of that is VAT, and 1.69 is excise. Let’s assume that the retailer and the importer both take a fairly modest cut of 15%. The wine has to be shipped, bottled and labelled. By the time you add all that up, more than 80% of your money is going to the taxman and the middle men. If we were to define “fine wine” as wine where most of what you are buying is actually wine, then using these assumptions you’d have to pay at least £13.09 per bottle.

    That said, a purely monetary definition of what is “fine wine” feels somewhat cold and mechanical. What’s more, price is not always a direct indication of quality. There are some wine-makers out there who are trading on their name and past glories, rather than the quality of what they put into bottles.

    Wine is a fickle mistress: hard to understand, different every year, offering the possibility of great pleasure and so heartbreaking when disappointing. A more romantic way to describe fine wine is to say that it is wine that tells a story: wine where the experience of buying and drinking it connects you to the producer.

    A well-made wine will take you on a journey: it is something you will have an emotional reaction to at the first sniff or sip (rather than after the second bottle). Taking these two definitions together is quite useful: a wine that will tell you a story is one where a good winemaker invests the right time and tools to create something great.

    Tuesday, 5 October 2010 17:12:00 Europe/London