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How Best To Value Wine

Some wines are excellent, but very expensive. Others are good quality and inexpensive. I'm not a fine wines investor, nor so wealthy that I am able frequently to drink very expensive wines. Probably, there are many like me that would like to drink good to very good quality, at a fair price. But how do we find and assess a wine for this kind of 'value for money'?

My method suggested here is to have a two part score. The first part scores highly as the price goes down, so a very inexpensive wine scores 10 and a very expensive wine scores 1. The second part is a quality index between 1 and 10, with poor quality wine on 1 and superb / fabulous on 10.

So, with this system, a fabulous wine (quality score = 10) sold at a ridiculously low price (price score also = 10) could achieve a 'vfm' score of 100. This would be the amateur wine drinker's Nirvana. On the other hand, a nasty wine (quality score = 1), sold expensively (price score also = 1), would have a 'vfm score' of 1. A wine experience we consumers must avoid like the plague!

Rushing for a train at Paddington, late last Friday evening, I fancied something quick to eat and a glass of red. Not wanting to pay high prices in the train buffet car, I spotted a Marks and Spencer's mini supermarket on the station. I purchased a small packet of chocolate brazil nuts (99p) and a 25cl bottle of 'Classic Claret (2008) Appelation Bordeaux Contrôlée 12.5%'. At 25cl, the bottle was a convenient size (two standard glasses) and very affordable at £2.75. But, was this wine 'good value' at this price?

The back label says about this wine "Medium bodied. A fruity, ripe and well-balanced red Bordeaux with a good depth of blackcurrant flavour, and a twist of black pepper on the finish".

On the train I sample the wine. In my opinion, it was quite fruity, but also quite a bit more acid than was comfortable for me and in that sense I did not agree that it was 'well balanced'. Tannins were moderate, but it was a bit thin and young (2008). The finish was not smooth.

On the quality score (see above) I would give it 2 (slightly better than outright vin ordinaire plonk).

On the price score, since this was a 1/3 standard bottle, the full bottle price was actually equivalent to £8.25, which I think is higher than other wines I have experienced, that are better in quality. Obviously I was being asked to pay for the miniature bottle packaging costs, but, even so, I would give this wine a price score of 7.

Multiplying the quality score (2) together with the price score (7), this wine comes out with an overall 'vfm' score of just 14 out of a possible 100. So, my conclusion is that this wine is quite a low on the 'vfm' measure.

Price Score

Here's a suggested price scoring scale:

Score Criteria
10 Less that £5
9 Less that £10
8 Less that £20
7 Less that £40
6 Less that £80
5 Less that £160
4 Less that £320
3 Less that £640
2 Less that £1280
1 £1280 and greater

Quality Score

Quality scoring is not so easy, because it's obviously a subjective opinion, both as to the scoring system and to the judgement of a particular wine.

Anyway, here's a suggested quality scoring scale:

From To Criteria Description
9.710 Fabulous Better than the best; outstanding; or perfect in every way.
9.09.6 Exceptional Very pleasurable with no detectable faults.
8.08.9 Very Good High quality wine with minor detectabel faults.
7.07.9 Good Good quality wine, but with detectable faults.
6.06.9 Average Pleasant, fair quality, with detectable faults.
5.05.9 Average Pleasant to drink, not high quality, with detectable faults.
4.04.9 Below Average Bland, flat, not very interesting to drink, below average.
3.03.9 Well Below Average Not very enjoyable to drink. Significant faults.
2.02.9 Poor Not enjoyable to drink. Poor wine, not really worth bothering with.
1.01.9 Unacceptably Poor Uncomfortable to drink. A waste of money at any price.
0.00.9 Unpleasant or Undrinkable Very acid, unpleasant flavours, or aromas, thin.

Low Price But Reasonably Good

The following two suggestions are not very well kept secrets, but are two very reasonably priced wines with enough quality to make comfortable drinking during weekday evenings, or even for a dinner party.

The first is ASDA's own brand Chilean Merlot, product code 610890, bar code 21119934. Fantastically cheap, used to be only £2.95 a bottle, now both in our local store and in their online grocery store £3.28 (price at 23.Sep.09). A medium bodied wine, with pretty red colour and qualities that other wines at three times the price don't better. Often I find that the shelf in our local ASDA store has been cleared by previous customers who also appreciate value. Vendor's label comments, by Philippa Carr, ASDA's Master of Wine, "Jam packed with berry flavours and a brilliant choice from Chile to go with lasagne or chicken fajitas." My own impression is a fruity nose of raspberries, a palate of moderate acidity (expected in a young wine), very moderate fine grained tannins and a flavour of fresh raspberries. Quality score : 3, price score: 10, 'vfm' score 30, reflecting its good value.

The second is Concha Y Toro, Casillero del Diablo, Merlot, 2008, Chile. The back label says "A smooth Merlot that perfectly combines plummy, herby flavours with smoky cedar wood. A fruity wine with a full well-structured texture and soft tannins." Here's my opinion of it: the colour is dark ruby, with purple and the nose is fruity, with pronounced blackcurrants. Its mild acidity and young, uncombined tannins leaves the wine rather tart on the tongue. I do get the plum, blackcurrant and herby scents, with a hint of medicinal eucalyptus and an after taste smoky hint. So, I largely agree with the winemaker's notes, except for the word "smooth"; for me this wine is not smooth. Maybe, this wine would improve with keeping a few years. At £6.58 in ASDA, it's double the price for ASDA's own brand Chilean Merlot above, but the quality is a little better. Quality score: 3.5, price score: 9.4, 'vfm' score = 32.9.

Bottle Casillero Del Diablo Chilean Merlot with glass of ruby purple coloured red wine

Medium Priced But Very Good

Twice now I've purchased better quality wine at Berry Brothers & Rudd and on both occasions received good advice and very helpful encouragement to widen my choices. Try the modestly priced, but very enjoyable, Château Marsau, Côtes de Francs, 2001, code 592008.

I bought two bottles at £13.95 each, and would give that a price score of 7. For the tasting experience, very fruity, smooth and long enjoyable finish, with a quality score of 6. So, the 'vfm' score comes out at 42, which is high, reflecting a good combination of quality and price.

High Priced But Fabulous

Once per year, we normally have a family outing to a special restaurant. In Feb 2008, my wife chose the Pétrus restaurant, in The Berkeley hotel. The food and service were excellent and we had a great experience. For our pudding course, I took courage and we shared a half bottle of Château d'Yquem, 99. Of course, for sauternes, this wine is the pinnacle. However, buying wine in a restaurant is not so efficient. At £205 plus 12.50% service charge, the full bottle equivalent was £461.25. For me, the flavour, silky finish and perfection of the wine was worth the expense!

For a quality score I would give this wine 10, and for price a score of 2. The 'vfm' score comes out at 20, which is low, but I wouldn't have missed experiencing this world famous wine.

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