Are you one of a growing number of people willing to spend more than £10 on a bottle of wine to drink at home? New figures show a leap in higher-priced wine sales in the UK. While many of us are frisking ourselves for loose change to pay the bills, others are hoarding emergency tenners for a fine wine fix. Shop sales of wine priced above £10 have risen by almost a third in volume over the last year according to trade body the Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA). Breaking the magic £10 barrier is the stuff of winemakers' dreams.
Less optimistic commentators point out that the overall UK wine market has shrunk over the past 12 months and that most people continue to buy whatever is on special offer in the local supermarket. Put in context, in a market of around 1.25bn litres, shop sales of wines over £10 a bottle still only total 8.8m litres.
It's true that tax hikes have shunted the entire pricing system upwards; wine prices are rising twice as fast as inflation, according to the WSTA, and half the money for a £5 bottle now goes to the Exchequer. This, however, is only part of the story. The £10 barrier is symbolic, but wine sales are rising healthily at every price point above £7. Price doesn't always equate to quality, but the figures do imply a significant minority of people are becoming more picky.
Cue independent retailers, undeterred by Oddbins' collapse in 2011 and armed with passion, ingenuity and few enough marbles to try to make money from wine.
Graham Holter, who publishes and edits The Wine Merchant magazine, estimates the number of specialist wine shops in the UK has risen from 500 to 700 in the last four years. These shops typically sell wine at a higher price than supermarkets, but they are also finding smart ways to engage with us, the customers.
I particularly like the try-before-you-buy system used at, among others, The Wine Tasting Shop and The Sampler in London. Meanwhile, Julia Jenkins, director of St Albans-based Flagship Wines, told a conference recently that it's all about getting out and doing tastings with real people. It's unlikely that you'll master every burgundy appellation in one sitting, but you might spot the difference between a light, fruity beaujolais and the vanilla notes of a rioja, or simply understand what chablis is. A tenner says I wouldn't learn that in my local Tesco.
Tony Laithwaite, founder of the Laithwaite's wine merchants, believes the "indies" offer a personalised service that supermarkets will never match, but am I being too romantic and London-centric in trumpeting this indie resurgence and its effects?
Do you spend more on a bottle of wine than you used to, and what do you buy? And lastly, do you agree with Tony Laithwaite that "you should never buy your wine from the same shop you buy your toilet roll"?
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