It's time to champion mid-tier wines

on 06 February, 2014

It seems a bit rich describing wine as democratised when in politics the concept of one person, one vote is something for which people are prepared to die.

It’s true that millions of Britons can now enjoy wine with casual frequency, and so much the better. If some of the best-selling styles seem objectionable to many wine commentators, well, that’s democracy for you.

Nobody advocates a return to “pre-democratic” times, when only the privileged had access to the best wine while the proletariat made do with industrialised, confected brands – though you could argue that not much has really changed.

I have no objection to the plentiful cheap wine that bedecks our supermarket shelves – my problem, in fact, lies firmly at the opposite end of the scale.

The past few decades have witnessed a colossal increase in the prices of the world’s most expensive wines, in line with the growth of personal wealth among the world’s richest.

Sadly, it’s not breaking news that the most sought-after wines are now way beyond the reach of most mere mortals. Yet these legends still have undue power over the wine world, and it’s high time to break the spell.

The likes of Lafite, Screaming Eagle, DRC, Grange and their elite peers are invariably atrocious value for money, routinely over-hyped, and prized more for their status and rarity than their intrinsic quality.

I don’t deny they can be excellent wines, but their prices are beyond grotesque. That means that far fewer people, both within the wine trade and outside it, can experience them. Whereas once they were integral to every vinous education, they are now often simply playthings for plutocrats.

Why do they still command so much attention? Because they are worth so much money: where only the wealthiest can pay, we are drawn to the honey pot.

Meanwhile, the abundance of interesting, authentic, world-class wines that sell for between £10 and £100 don’t get the attention they deserve. These are the wines that should be championed.

The blinkered adulation that accompanies the world’s most expensive wines implies that anything cheaper can never be as good.

Ironically, the democratisation of wine has created the gross prices we see today: because more people would like to buy them, they’ve become overinflated by huge demand and low supply. But that doesn’t make them sacrosanct. We need to get over our fixation with the famous and expensive, and rally behind the underdogs.

RICHARD HEMMING is a wine writer, educator and MW student. As a former Majestic manager, he brings hands-on experience of selling wine.

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