This is no easy task. The euro is up, tax is up and unless there is an all round national wage cut, costs are going to continue to be difficult to control. Leases and rent levels have also emerged as a big problem. They grew bloated during the property boom and were bearable, to some degree, so long as consumers were buying briskly.
Now it is different and there needs to be an end put to upwards only rent review clauses. Many lessees and tenants need rent cuts and the trade may need to act together to negotiate change. Lines of credit are going to be difficult to obtain, so monitoring of stocking levels and turnover is going to be vital to avoid tying up cash.
Many independents and small supermarkets have worked exceedingly hard over the past decade to improve consumer awareness of wine and there is a palpable sense of anxiety that all that effort could be gone with the wind. More than ever, they need to find wines at affordable prices which deliver reasonable margins while encouraging customers to stick with quality.
Consumers may be less adventurous than before, tipping the sales balance further toward mainstream labels but, hopefully, retailers will still stock interesting wines and come up with strategies to move them; food and wine match suggestions, shelf displays with striking descriptors, and special occasion promotions to make the best of times like St Patrick’s Day and Easter. Don’t forget to tap suppliers for pictures and posters you can use to liven things up.
Over the past year, we’ve tasted some bottles which offer especially good value for their price and are useful alternatives to expensive classics. Prices are approximate retail.
Domaine de Pellehaut Harmonie Cotes de Gascogne 2007 (Mitchell €10). France’s Cotes de Gascogne is a good source of inexpensive whites. Local grapes, notably manseng, are used in blends and wines are often full flavoured yet pleasantly aromatic. This is great value, perfect for fans of Bordeaux whites looking for something cheaper. Good with chicken and chacuterie.
Kleine Zalze Chenin Blanc South Africa 2007 (Allied €9). Apple and pear fruits with zesty acidity. For riesling lovers on a budget and customers seeking wine for fish.
Wakefield Clare Valley Riesling 2007 (Findlater Grant €10). Buffs love riesling but don’t always want to splurge. This one overdelivers consistently on its price. Good food white.
Ch. Rauzan-Despagne Reserve Blanc 2007 (Searsons €15). Not a cheapie but here because although enthusiasts always insist that white Bordeaux is underrated, the fact is that it’s often very pricey for the good stuff. This is a fairly priced alternative to the trendier numbers. Under screwcap, it is the classic blend of semillon, sauvignon blanc and muscadelle; it’s got good body and would work with roast chicken and pork.
Casa Silva Coleccion Chardonnay 2007 (Febvre €10). You’ve got to have some sort of decent New World chardonnay on hand and this is ideal. Chilean, yet not from one of the more obvious estates, it’s quite a classy food wine.
Jean Claude Boisset Marsanny Blanc 2006 (Liberty €16). Decent white Burgundy at a keen price for what you get. Stony yet ripe, with well-defined citrus, and very good harmony. Under screwcap.
Yering Station Shiraz Viognier 2006 (Ampersand €15). One of several shiraz and shiraz viognier blends from Australia’s Yarra Valley which offer those black olive and smokey plum flavours that characterise northern Rhone syrahs. They generally cost less than Rhone wines of similar quality and there are some with seriously classic flavours, and only some added ripeness giving their origin away.
Montana Pinot Noir Reserve Marlborough 2006 (Irish Distillers €14). One of several New Zealand pinots offering sound value at this price. This is much better structured than the entry point pinot from the same label at only a euro less, and could be offered to Burgundy fans without embarrassment. Even cheaper, at around €9, is Chile’s Cono Sur (Findlater), while for a few euro more, Tasmania’s Devils Corner Pinot Noir (Ampersand) offers fresh underpinning to the typical summer fruit palate.
Ch la Rose Bellvue Cotes de Blaye 2005/6 (Mackenway €11). As with white, finding a soundly delivering Bordeaux red can be a challenge. Again, it often pays to go to the less glamorous areas where producers are happy to give value for money. This a tasty example, merlot dominant, but with a good bone of blackcurranty cabernet and nicely supporting tannins.
Colle Secco Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2006 (Febvre €12). Know someone who likes expensive Italian classics but is feeling a bit strapped? Try them with this, it’s got lovely cherry and plum, decent structure and refreshing acidity. Great red meat wine. In fact, though there’s a lot of poor, cheap Abruzzo red about, spending a couple of extra euro on a Montepulciano almost always pays off. Other good names are Illuminati (Select Wines) and Zaccagnini (Searsons)
Marques de Ballestar Crianza 2005 (Allied Drinks €10.50). Spanish rioja has become expensive but several regions offer fine alternatives from the same base grape, tempranillo. This is a tasty, nicely concentrated wine from Carinena.
Principe de Viana Tempranillo 2006/7 (Febvre €11). From Spain’s Navarra, this is an elegant treat which really blossoms in the glass. Gorgeous berry and cherry fruit with fresh, balancing acidity. A nicely priced choice for those who enjoy cool climate classics. One for the Easter lamb.