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Wines for $5 – good drinking?

 

What do you get for $5? In an Australian supermarket, you can get two loaves of bread on deal. You can probably get one and bit (maybe a third of the bottle) 2 litre bottles of branded soft drink when not on deal – say 2.60 litres. And a Big Mac with a couple of coins as change.

You can also get a 750ml bottle of wine. Often for less than $5.

On a recent trip to the USA, it was not hard to find quite a selection under USD $5, even more around USD  $3.99 and some around USD $2.99. Earlier this year, it was announced that Two Buck Chuck had to succumb to reality and while it is still in the two buck price bracket, it is now USD $2.49.

At least, in both countries wine is still more expensive than Coke, but actually, not by much. I say this with the greatest respect to Coke. However, to make a bottle of wine for $3.99 in Australia means that the juice is being somewhat treated like a soft drink.

As I sit down to taste these wines, I think about the cost of making the wine, growing the grapes, picking, pressing and fermenting. I then think about the cost of the dry goods – bottle, screw cap and label. Don’t let me tackle the costs of getting the wine to the actual shop. This is so much more complex than adding flavouring to water and applying bubbles- don’t forget the advertising and product placement.

And yet, who really wins when wine is sold so cheaply?

Well ….

When I purchased my wines this week, I cheekily asked the purveyor of two of said wines if they had tasted these said wines. He told me that no, he had not, but assured me that was drinkable and actually very popular. As if it would not be …

In the under $10 category, there is still many contenders in the guise of clean skins. Now, there was a time when the term ‘clean skin’ indicated a reasonably good drop that a winery put out at cellar door. It might have been a bin end, finishing up a vintage so that they can get on to selling the next. It might have been a blend of well handled but surplus wine bottled up and sold without a label but usually you got a lot of bang for your buck if you knew what you were about.

Then they became mainstream. There were not so many retailer-own brands on the shelves at that time. And with this momentum they became less of a ‘great little find’ bottle to ‘you get what you pay for’ bottle. It may have ‘clean skin’ on the label (yes, a label may have sprouted on the supposedly ‘clean’ bottle) or it might be a brand that the retailer has created so that they do not need to pay the margin to a producer for branded product.

Either way, you will get what you pay for. The cleanskins that you are buying from your local wine chain store are not delivering massive savings to you. Rather than looking at them in the light of rescuing the budget, buy them because you like them.

At the $5 mark, they are wines that are uncomplicated, often lesser quality fruit, definitely less characterful fruit, that has typically been tricked up with acid, higher residual sugar level or both.  They are at their best when you serve them with a meal and are attractive if you are on a constrained budget. Also, for some drinkers that extra hit of sugar makes them softer drinking, preferable to a wine that may have an extra hit of oak.

Yes, there are better wines out there but they most probably will cost more. Albeit, often not much more if you can take advantage of any multiple buy discount. Ranges from large producers such as De Bortoli (Windy Peak), Angoves, the Oxford Landing range from Yalumba, and Wolf Blass will have deals from time to time that will bring them closer to that $5 price point and will offer greater pleasure. Their strongest selling point is the name attached to the brand. They stake their reputation on your enjoyment not just their margin!

And the answer to the question of winners. Who wins? The consumer, with lured by price to drink wines that are too often rectified within an inch of death? The producer who has to be so focused on quantity and not quality to meet the middleman’s requirements and make ends meet that they slip into the uninspired grape grower frame of mind and cannot afford to take the measures to improve the character of their crop? The environment, when this focus often will exact a heavier toll on the vineyard and surrounds than quality grape production?  

From my experience, the winner is usually the very large retailers who can afford to put these products on their shelves.  They still make adequate margin delivering a product that has suffered somewhat of a character assassination to get there.

Here is a run down on my four random purchases that you will find in the major chains at the moment:

Bowler’s Run Shiraz 2010 ($3.99) BWS– Light and fruity. There is some pleasant spiciness on the nose with some black fruit. The lack of body has been fleshed out by some sweetness and it alludes to some structure. I think that I might try chilling this down for summer and it might play out well with Thai or Indian takeaway. *** This wine is $2.99 in Dan Murphy’s or $2.89 in any 6

Clean Skins Chardonnay 2012 ($4.99) BWS – Simple sweet tropical fruit with a hot wash of acid at the back of the palate that calms significantly with chilling down. Medium bodied fruit weight and is one that you might fancy on a hot afternoon. Serve very chilled and drink with a spinach and ricotta ravoli with a mushroom and white wine sauce livened up with a sprinkle of grated nutmeg and slivers of parmesan. Use the white wine in the sauce and have a glass with the meal.

Special Reserve Semillon Chardonnay 2012 ($5 on special, normally $6) Liquorland – This wine has a ripe off dry entrance into the mouth which then sours by the finish with hard hot acid. It has some fruit weight but lacks freshness. Again, serve it very chilled and eat with food to get the best out of it.

Special Reserve Soft Fruity Red ($5.00) Liquorland – As it says on the label, a soft fruity simple red. Medium bodied but has the fruit concentration and some oak to give some depth to please for $5. I drank a glass and was well satisfied with that. Of course, it does have a good shot of sugar on the finish but was balanced. One for the bangers and mash.

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