With the third lockdown, home-schooling, and the food and drink industry on its knees, this is not the year for a ‘Dry January’. I say instead we make it a ‘Damp January’, using the time to improve our relationship with booze, find new loves, and support independent food and drink businesses. Here are my top tips for buying, sourcing and enjoying wine in the new year.
Now more than ever is the time to search out your local wine shop or importer. Get to know them and show them some love. Supermarkets selections have gotten a lot better over the years but nine times out of ten you’ll get more wine for your money, better service and a good feeling from buying local. They’re also trained to advise you: the less you know about wine, the better it is to go to a specialist whose knowledge you can lean upon.
Improve your relationship with wine
Restrict your drinking to just one day, one night or the weekend and make it a special treat. Instead of spending your money quantity, try investing the whole week’s budget into one special bottle of wine. You’ll be surprised how quickly the quality of the wine will improve when you spend more.
When you spend £5 on a bottle of wine only 31p goes toward the cost of the juice – the rest goes on excise duty, VAT, packaging, logistics and total margin. Compare that to spending £20 on a bottle, where an average of £7.03 goes towards the wine. This is why quality increases so rapidly when you move up the scale. You should aim to spend more on the winemaking and vine growing as well as support smaller growers with wines you can easily source between £10 and £20.
You may not be able to travel to exotic locations at the moment but we can always relive experiences. Source bottles from your local shop from regions and countries that you’ve visited and relive your holiday memories without leaving your house. You can even cook the local dishes to match and pair with your wine. One of my favourites is drinking Manzanilla sherry with every kind of snack you can think of and pretending I’m in Sanlúcar de Barrameda.
Here are a few quick rules to live by when choosing wines, be it from a local emporium or a vast supermarket.
• Be open-minded to new choices and unusual regions – less well-known wines are generally better value.
• Don’t go much below £10 in a shop – which is still only the cost of two glasses of wine in a pub. Any less, and tax, packaging and marketing make up virtually the whole price, leaving precious little for the wine itself.
• Ignore medals and awards on the bottle – it’s marketing nonsense.
• Don’t judge a wine by its label. Even if it’s a cute cat.
• Never be afraid to ask for help from a shopkeeper or sommelier. They won’t judge – they’ll be delighted to talk about their favourite subject. Let them know your price range, any wines you know you like, and any dislikes. At Bottles ‘n’ Jars we love taking time out to discuss choices with customers.
• Always ask lots of questions – there’s no shame in not knowing. Wine is such a vast subject, no matter your level of knowledge, everyday is a chance to learn more.
Sommelier Bert Blaize decided to leave hospitality in August 2020 to open Bottles ‘n’ Jars, a food and wine shop in East Finchley. The inspiration for the shop came from his recently published book ‘Which Wine When’ published by Ebury Press and co-authored with food writer Claire Strickett.