Monday, 8 November 2010

Mulled Wine

If you like the warming effect of a glass (or mug)! of mulled wine during the autumn and winter months it really is worth making the effort to make your own mulled wine.  Don't be tempted by the tea-bag style sachets of gunk which are somehow supposed to magically convert regular red plonk into delicious mulled wine, they don't.  Here is our own mulled wine recipe (tried and tested by Mrs W and refined each year)  it's easy to make and thoroughly rewarding.  This mulled wine recipe is enough for 8 people.

2 bottles of red wine
100ml of brandy (optional)
600ml red grapejuice
75g granulated sugar
2 oranges
1 lemon
6 cloves (whole)
1 cinnamon stick

Put the grape juice, sugar and cinnamon stick in a large saucepan and place over a gentle heat.
Remove all the rind (but no pith) from one of the oranges in small slithers using a paring tool or potato peeler and add this to the pan.
When the sugar has dissolved, heat for a further 5 minutes but do not let the mixture boil.
Remove the pan from the heat and leave to stand for 10 minutes while you slice the oranges and lemon, pressing the cloves into some of the slices.
When the mixture has stood for 10 minutes remove the cinnamon stick and add the fruit slices and red wine.
Gently heat the mixture until it is "steaming" and add the brandy.
Remove from the heat and serve.

This mulled wine recipe dilutes the wine with red grape juice and you can serve it at that strength without the brandy if you wish, but the brandy does provide the prefect finishing touch!

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Rolf Binder

Deep in the heart of the Barossa Valley in South Australia lies the winery of Rolf Binder who, along with his sister Christa, make a captivating range of wines.  Rolf’s father, Rolf Snr, was a Hungarian immigrant in 1950 who arrived in Oz with his Austrian wife Franziska.  Initially they worked on the railways but soon befriended a couple of vineyard owners and by 1955 they’d bought the winery and renamed it Veritas.  Their daughter Christa joined the family business in 1981 and young Rolf follwed in 1982 making wine in what they named the “shed”.  In 1999 a new winery was built and the old press made the journey.  It’s still in use today.

It’s the red varieties that tend to perform best in the heat of the Barossa Valley, and Rolf Binder has extensive and old plantings of Shiraz and Mataro (aka Mourvedre) as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Grenache.  While the Barossa Valley is renowned for its very full bodied, sometimes somewhat unsubtle, reds of great weight and considerable alcohol, Rolf Binder looks for a more refined style with a degree of elegance and balance.  They’re still big wines mind you; big but balanced.

Rolf Binder’s 2009 Highness Riesling actually comes from the Eden Valley which borders the edge of the Barossa Valley, and is mouth watering and outstandingly fresh.  Its nose of fragrant lime citrus with a hint of tropicality and steely dry palate makes Highness the prefect match for fish, seafood and oriental cooking.  In our opinion Highness Riesling is as fine an example of southern hemisphere Riesling as you will find anywhere.

Rolf Binder has many reds to choose from but the two that really float our boat are the Halcyon Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot blend and the Heinrich Shiraz, Mataro & Grenache blend.

The Halcyon 2008 is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot which has a super ripe nose of berry fruit with tremendous depth.  The Halcyon is a smooth rich wine that shows notes of blueberry in the mouth, fully-flavoured without being overpowering; an excellent demonstration of Rolf Binder’s ability to maintain restraint and balance from the power of Barossa Valley fruit.  Halcyon would be perfect with a roast leg of lamb, studded with garlic and scattered with rosemary.  Mmmm.

Heinrich is a blend of Shiraz, Mataro and Grenache.  The 2006 Heinrich has these in the proportions 50% Shiraz, 35% Mataro and 15% Grenache.  Heinrich is made from selected parcels of old vines and is a fascinating and complex glass of red; spice and depth from the Shiraz, structure and richness from the Mataro, and a whack of big ripe fruit from the Grenache.  The resulting marriage is wonderfully harmonious and rich, with a pleasing silky texture, and a prime example of a Barossa Valley Shiraz blend.  Heinrich would be perfect with a Fred Flintsone sized rib of beef and an empty afternoon!  It would also be hard to think of a better glass of red to enjoy with a selection of fine cheeses than Heinrich.

Rolf and Christa make several other wines, all of which reach their extraordinary high standard. Watch out for these wherever you are. Sadly, we cannot list them all, much as we’d love to!

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Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Half Price Wine

You see them all the time don’t you – half price wine offers (well, not at Wines of Interest actually – unless you’re a member of the Sampling Club). Was £9.99 now £4.98 and so on. Let’s be absolutely clear about this – there are only three mechanisms that enable retailers to sell wine at half price:

1. Someone, somewhere, makes a loss. It might be the producer, or the importer, or even the retailer, but at least one of them will be losing money on the deal if they are genuinely selling at half price. Margins in the wine trade - coupled with the taxes that still have to be paid - mean that this must be the case.

2. Nobody is making a loss, which means? Yep, you’ve guessed it, the price was vastly over-inflated (doubled dare I suggest?) to start with.

3. Can’t think of a third. Sorry. Answers on a postcard please.

So, putting your Sherlock Holmes hat on for a moment, which of the above do you think is most likely to apply where you regularly (or even constantly) see wine offered at half price?

Doubling the price to start with is not against the law of course, but it does seem to be a widespread practice in some establishments. It depends on one crucial factor to succeed though. It depends on the customer not being able to tell that the wine advertised as a £10 bottle, yet being sold for just a fiver is, in fact, a £5 bottle in the first place (d’uh)!

If you’d like evidence of this, next time you are tempted by one of these half price offers, buy a bottle and then go to a specialist merchant and confess everything. Ask them to sell you a bottle of genuine £10 wine which you could compare with your supposedly £10 bottle purchased at half price. Take them home and taste them side by side.

Actually (Sherlock Holmes hat back on please) you may already know what you’ll discover – that there is a difference in quality which is easy to spot. It may not equate to the different prices you paid for the two bottles of course (much of this depends on you actually) but there will be a difference. Guaranteed.

But let’s be honest, unless you’ve taken the trouble to conduct this experiment (and we have, several times, with the same result) you will only ever end up drinking the half price bottle on its own. You might never have the chance to taste it alongside both a bottle that’s not reduced and another that’s genuinely worth the original advertised price. And that’s why the half price merchants persist of course. They know that from the moment you put the half price bottle in your basket you are already in “swipe me, what a bargain” mode. When you pull the cork you will be patting yourself on the back so hard that you will remember only that you paid just a fiver for the bottle. That the retailer was claiming it to be worth £10 will have completely slipped your mind. You will probably also have forgotten that the only reason you picked it up in the first place was because it was on offer. Even if the wine itself is horrid, you will still be able to console yourself with the knowledge that at least you weren’t daft enough to have paid full whack for it eh?

So, have you been conned then? After all, you’ve paid £5 for a bottle that’s worth £5 haven’t you, so where’s the problem? Well, there may not be a problem, but if the reason behind the purchase was your perception that the bottle was worth £10 then, at best, you have surely been misled.

So consider this then, if you were looking for a second-hand car in the back of the local paper and found just the make, just the model and just the specification you were looking for, with acceptable mileage on the clock but the price just seemed a bit too low, what would your first thought be? …… Exactly! So why, when we find the same set of circumstances when buying wine, namely a deal that looks too good to be true, why do we respond so differently?

We know that any genuine price reduction also comes (or should come) with a story. There is always a reason why this offer is on, and thoughtful customers should not be afraid to ask why a particular line is reduced. Thoughtful retailers will always be pleased to explain.

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Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Alcohol Pricing

Good old Tescos eh? Way back in May they grandly announced that they would support a minimum price for alcohol as long as it became a legal requirement (which incidentally did make me wonder if they only refuse sales to customers under 18 because it is a legal requirement rather than simply the responsible thing to do). We’ve not heard much from them on pricing since though have we?

I don’t suppose that’s surprising really when they can continue chugging along selling volcanic cider for less than mineral water whilst simultaneously disassociating themselves from the consequences; there’s no need for them to act unless minimum pricing becomes a legal requirement and even then they’d be pretty safe because the various mechanisms being considered for minimum pricing all look pretty ineffective. No doubt they’d worked all this out before their pronouncement in May.

Minimum Unit Pricing is the method that the Scottish Parliament has been debating recently. A minimum price is set per unit of alcohol below which it would be illegal to sell the product. First job is to work out the units in each drink; to do this you multiply the alcoholic strength of the drink (expressed as a percentage of alcohol by volume) by the number of centilitres in the container. So a 75cl bottle of wine at 12% ABV contains 9 units of alcohol (12% x 75cl) whilst a 70cl bottle of Whisky at 40% contains 28 units (40% x 70cl). Sounds pretty straightforward doesn’t it (and rather dull actually) but the only bit left to argue about is at what level the minimum price should be set. The University of Sheffield study which kicked all this off suggested 50p per unit whilst the Scottish Parliament debated 45p before kicking the idea into the long grass. The coalition government have kept pretty quiet to date, perhaps realising that this particular can does seem to be quite wormy.

Some prices would have to go up under the minimum unit price system of course, but not many. A recent visit to one of the major supermarkets suggested that a 15 can pack of 44cl Carlsberg would need to increase from £17.99 to £18.38 (2 pence more per can) whilst of bottle of “branded” wine on the shelf at £6.99 was already nicely clear of its theoretical minimum price level of £4.27. Certainly nothing on the shelves at Wines of Interest would be affected. Shame really, because as this system stands the extra revenue from these enforced price increases would belong to the retailer! Oh well.

Two other main suggestions for minimum pricing exist (and some further variants of these) which are a ban on selling below cost and a restructuring of Excise Duty. Governments traditionally like to tinker with Excise Duty, singling out particular drinks that they think deserve higher (or lower) duty; cider, alcopops….. but it all just seems to be fiddling around the edges adding a few pence here and there but not really doing anything other than increasing prices across the board each spring. If this is to be the preferred mechanism for getting the price of alcohol right something much more radical (and therefore costly to implement) would be needed.

To enforce a ban on selling below cost opens up the debate as to what “cost” actually is – is it taken as simply the combined total of Duty and VAT (the bits that must legally be paid) or does it include the costs of production and transportation as well? Frankly, either of these looks pretty impotent as a mechanism for preventing sales of “cheap” alcohol since they would have less of an effect on shelf prices than a minimum price per unit. Not really an effective mechanism for tackling “binge drinking” (you knew I’d have to mention it didn’t you) which is the banner under which the minimum price enthusiasts march. This does seem to be something of a distraction though since whilst the binge drinking culture urgently needs to be addressed there does not seem to be a consensus of opinion on what causes it and, as a result, no clear agreement on how to deal with it.

Certainly “cheap” alcohol sold in a few high profile retailers fuels binge drinking, but why do people choose to drink in this way? Can it really only be because they can?

The imbalance between irresponsibly low off-sale prices on some products and the high on-sale prices paid across the bar must be addressed. But it is just worth reflecting on the fact that if mass retailers such as Tescos took responsibility for the alcohol that they sell instead of simply worrying about the market share they’d lose, then it is unlikely that the issue of minimum pricing would ever have arisen in the first place. It’s one thing to claim the moral high ground by announcing that you intend to do something if the government force you to (actually, it’s not particularly high moral ground when you think about it) but it’s quite another to go ahead and do it anyway because you know that it’s the right thing to do.

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