The media, in Britain and further afield, made much of an ‘experiment’ at last month’s Edinburgh Science Festival in which 578 people were asked to taste a wine and say whether it was under £5 or between £10 and £30 a bottle. That they managed this only half the time, as often as they would have done if they had chosen at random, gave rise to such headlines as ‘Wine drinkers wasting money on expensive vintages’.
What fascinated me was how passionately wine drinkers reacted to this story. Those who presumably rarely spend much on wine patted themselves on the back, while those used to spending double- or perhaps even occasionally treble-digit sums per bottle were incensed by the stupidity of the comparison and leapt to the defence of fine wine, for all its apparent lack of immediate appeal.
But do you get what you pay for with the wine on offer today? I strongly believe there is little correlation between price and the pleasure a wine gives. There are overpriced wines at all price levels, and certainly many underpriced wines at well under £30 a bottle.
Despite all the attention given to a tiny number of trophy wines, France is stuffed with underpriced wine that is better quality than it has ever been but is struggling to find a market. I am thinking specifically of the more handcrafted wines of the Loire, the Languedoc, Beaujolais (resoundingly back on form since the 2009 vintage) and the southern Rhône where, so long as you can stand alcohol levels well in excess of 14%, you can easily find £8 Côtes du Rhônes that are far more characterful and delicious than most supermarket Châteauneuf-du-Pape at twice the price.
Read Jancis Robinson’s full article in this weekend’s edition of the FT Magazine or look online at www.ft.com/magazine.