Monday, 2 August 2010

Welcome! A little about me and this blog...

Welcome, and a little about me…

Welcome to my Wine Blog for the Frugal. My introduction to wine was probably 17 years or more ago, drinking Liebfraumilch, Blue Nun or Matteus Rose with my parents’ Sunday dinner. Not the best match for Roast Beef, but more on that later. In my late teens and early twenties, wine became a tool for getting drunk. It had the added bonus of being fruity and made a change from lager. It’s only recently, in the last 6 or 7 years or so, that I started to appreciate, and now love wine.

I’m an average sort of guy, 30-something (very early something though I’ll have you know), from South Wales but living in the West Midlands. I live with my Girlfriend “D” in a shared house and we’re saving for a house deposit in these crazy economic times. I went to University in Cardiff, moved away to get a job and some years later met D and settled down. I am not rich. My cellar is my wardrobe.

About the Blog

On average I spend between £5 and £10 on a bottle of wine for everyday drinking. More than £15 only gets spent for a treat or special occasions and more than £20 is either Champagne or something for a really special occasion! So this price area is really where I want to concentrate, i.e. between about £5 and £25, concentrating more on the lower end. Value for money, good quality stuff at a reasonable price is the goal.

What I can promise is that…

1. …I’ll try to keep it light hearted. “Stuffiness” and pretentiousness in the wine trade is one of the reasons why many people find it inaccessible.
2. …I won’t dismiss a £3 or £4 bottle of wine without trying it, especially if it is on sale (although supermarket “sales” often reflect the true price of a wine, they rarely make a loss)
3. …I’ll aim to give reviews of good value wine, aiming a level above the “3-for-£10” deal in the local Spar, in search of good quality-to-price ratio. I will try to avoid the major supermarket labels such as Gallo, Wolf Blass, Hardy’s, Jacob’s Creek etc. Why…?
  • Because although these are normally consistently drinkable year in, year out, they are a little unimaginative.
  • If you like, or even love wine, you’ve probably already tried them (they were more or less my first wine purchases)
  • I find them a little over-priced. For example, over £9 now for Wolf Blass Yellow Label normally, whereas they can sell it for £5 in the “sale”. It really is a £4 or £5 bottle, nothing more. However, there’s nothing wrong with them. I often receive them as Christmas presents and enjoy them. Millions of people do, they are massive sellers!
  • What I might cover though, is the more “upmarket” offerings from them such as Gallo Sonoma or Wolf Blass Gold/Brown/Black Label etc. if the price is right!
4. …I will endeavour to describe what the wine tastes and smells like (to me) in straightforward terms. If I can taste Blackberries I will say so. If I can smell tobacco I will say so. Sometimes you can’t pick out a distinctive taste or smell just hints of something quite vague, in which case I will try to do better than “fruity”! What I will not do, is say that it has “A nuance of Rose-Hip, intermingled with a spider-web of crushed almond and grated coriander leaf, with a smidgeon of wet-Golden-Retriever” because:
  • It’s utter bollocks, and
  • My nose and palate are not that good.
If D has something to say about it I’ll include that too. I might be subliminally-influenced by what I’ve read in the wine books and magazines and may start to drop clichés. The beauty of her opinion will be its untainted nature, not influenced by what words should be used when describing the smells and tastes of wines.

What I can’t promise is that…

1. …I know everything. I’m no expert; I have no formal Wine qualification. I’m just a Wine lover.
2. …you will agree with me, or that the wine will taste/smell the same for you. Everybody’s palate, nose and preferences are different.
3. …that I will refrain from swearing (expletives for the Posh) as you may have already seen – so please, if you’re easily offended then maybe this isn’t for you!
4. …I won’t be slightly biased (wine is so personal how can you not be?), but, I will be upfront about it:
  • I do favour reds (but love whites, Rosé and Champagne too) – but will try to cover a good mix
  • I buy most of my wine online as I buy by the case (I can’t be arsed to park up and carry a case back to the car) – but will try to cover a range of stores online, on the high-street and major supermarkets.
  • I’m not a massive fan of certain grape types (yet) – but will keep an open mind.

Food and Wine

The “proper” wine critics might kill me for saying this but…Wine is for drinking and better enjoyed on its own! I can hear them now…“Heretic! HERETIC! BURN him!”. Don’t get me wrong, proper food and wine pairing can enhance both the food and the wine – that is a well-known fact. However, the majority of our wine drinking occurs after food, relaxing watching the TV, or a DVD, or when with friends, or even on its own for the sake of “ooh I could do with a glass of wine right now!”. Yes, we might have a glass or two with dinner, but the bottle is finished when relaxing afterwards. One or two further bottles may follow!

D says I make cracking Bolognese, Curry, assorted Mexican dishes and a white wine/crème fraiche/bacon/mushroom pasta sauce. If the wine we had was good with one of these, or anything else we ate (e.g. takeaway pizza, Chinese, salad etc.) I will give it a passing mention. However, wine for us is an entity in itself to be savoured and not spoilt. I am no sommelier, so I am more than likely to inadvertently pair it with something that would mask the flavour. That to me would be half a bottle wasted!

Equally though, if a wine is intended to be a “food” wine, overtly tannic (that mouth-drying, lips-sticking-to-my-gums, teeth-staining feeling!), it may work better with food and I will let you know. However, If someone cares to comment in the fashion of “Dear boy, the only thing you should drink that with is braised Quail’s eggs on a bed of rocket with a raspberry Jus” they will get a curt reply – “Piss off!”. But, looking at it pragmatically, we’re not talking about the best wines in the world here on our budget, so they won’t require Michelin-starred food to “work”.

My Rating System…

I will score wines on a scale of 1 to 10, in steps of 0.5. The reason for the 0.5 is that I can envisage tasting a wine and thinking “Mmm, that was good. Better than last week’s that I rated 6/10 but not quite as good as Yesterday’s which was a 7/10”.

This is roughly how the scale translates:

1 to 2    – Faulty wine. “Off”; corked or otherwise faulty.
2.5 to 3 – Not faulty but terrible, I couldn’t finish the glass.
3.5 to 4 – Poor. I finished the glass but poured the rest of the bottle down the drain.
4.5 to 5 – Still not great but some enjoyment, would finish the bottle if nothing else was in the house.
5.5 to 6 – Now were getting there. Enjoyable, would finish the bottle but maybe try something different next time.
6.5 to 7 – Good wine. Definite enjoyment here. Would buy again if nothing better available or the price was favourable.
7.5 to 8 – Very Good wine. Really enjoyed this one. Would catch my eye and tempt me to buy it again.
8.5 to 9 – Excellent wine. Superb. I would actively seek this one out to buy again and probably pay a few extra quid to get it.
9.5        – Almost Perfect. Better than excellent. Would scrimp and save to get a bottle of this!
10         – Absolute Perfection. I can’t imagine anything better.

However, this does not tell the full story. Being budget conscious, I would also like to get some measure of the price-to-quality ratio. With this in mind I will introduce the Value for Money (VFM) ratio. So many ways of doing this came to mind but I settled on the simplest, albeit not perfect, way of doing it.

The VFM is simply; the score divided by the price.

If I spend £6 or £7 on a bottle then I expect it to be at least “Enjoyable”, hopefully “Good”, therefore giving a VFM of around 1 (A score of 6 divided by £6 = 1.0). I rarely want to pay more than £10 for a bottle and although I do not expect perfection from a £10 bottle of wine, I would hope that it would be at least “Very Good” to “Excellent”, giving a VFM of between 0.75 and 0.9. A VFM of around 1.0 is the benchmark. If a £5 wine was rated as a 10/10 then a VFM of 2.0 would be a superb score. Alternatively, if a £10 wine was only rated a 5/10 then a VFM of 0.5 would be considered fairly poor.

With prices over £10-a-bottle the scale starts to show its flaws. Consider a £20 bottle purchased for a special occasion and achieved an almost perfect score of 9.5/10; the VFM would be 0.48 – seemingly poor. Above £10, the bottle starts to become more luxury than value and hence the VFM value gets penalised. However, with very high-scoring wines, quality is the overriding factor and price starts to become immaterial. They may not be value for money in the simple VFM scale sense, but it all depends on how much you’re willing to pay for a cracking wine for a special occasion.

In all honesty, I don’t expect to see many 9.5s or 10s in our price bracket, or VFM ratios bigger than about 1.5, knowing that there are £3000+ bottles out there in the world! Also, I don’t expect to see many 2.5 to 4s as most wine is at least drinkable these days (even £2.50 Soave as I found out recently!). But, who knows what future tasting will hold?

Coming Soon

I’ve waffled on enough now and I promise some reviews are coming soon! We get through about 2 or 3 bottles a week so you should find some regular updates here. We’ve just bought mixed cases from Tesco ( and Laithwaites ( in preparation, which I will review as we get through them. Also, I may talk about other wine related stuff from time to time, for example, D and I recently put all our savings into wine investment, as complete novices. Yes, all of it (not that it was very much; well, it was to us)! I’ll let you know how we get on.

Feel free to comment. If you like what you see, say so! If you don’t, say so! Feel free to leave your own reviews also; I like to discover new wines too, especially good value ones!

Speak to you soon!

1 comment:

  1. Hello Frugal

    I like your scoring / VFM comments - I've put down my own ideas here: