Sunday, 23 March 2014

More Birthdays, Bikes and Bottles...

Last week it was Husband's birthday. Not a birthday with a zero on the end, so sadly no special River Cottage cookery course or the like for him.

It has been noted before that he is not impartial to a glass of red. 

Strictly frugally speaking we should be making our own or avoiding the expense altogether but after Husband's disastrous cider-making attempts there has been no rush for him to get in touch with his inner vintner. Maybe there's a River Cottage course on such things for his 50th...

As for unnecessary expenditure on alcohol, Husband is fond of reminding me that he spends no money on anything else for himself (except the odd bike tool) and it's true, he is the unsung eco/frugal hero here. Whilst I lounge around writing about frugal stuff, he's out there cycling 12 miles to work, or in his garage building and making. Practically, there's not much that he won't have a go at himself, be it welding, chimney sweeping or garage building. He's also happy to remind me that as he's never ever flown anywhere, his carbon footprint is the size of a gnat's. 

I think we can allow the guy his few glasses of wine at a weekend. And especially on his birthday.

We have no absolutely expertise on the subject of wine buying so we have made up our own idiosyncratic rules over the years. If you are a bottle of wine these are the sort of characteristics you need to possess in order to make it off the shelf and into our shopping basket:

  • You have to be on sale for under a fiver.
  • Usually you must have been produced close to home so that the food miles are less. French is good. Spanish and Italian are OK too.
  • You are exempt from the above rule if you are Fairtrade.
  • You are available from our local supermarket. 
  • You are not called Liebfraumilch.
  • Your alcohol content is not under 8%.

When buying for a special occasion, I apply that all-important extra selection criteria: look at the image on the label. For Husband there has been considerable mileage in labels picturing bicycles over the last few years. (Our good friends over at Spindles and Sprockets even featured a blog post on this a while back!) This birthday there was a dearth of anything velopedic in the wine section at the Co-op, so I went for the next best thing; chickens. 


Our very last wine choosing strategy is that Aldi and Lidl are always fantastic for good quality, cheap wines. For a long time this was based on our own instincts but then last year my Dad (who takes wine buying more seriously than we do) bought a copy of The Best Wine in the Supermarkets 2013 which confirmed what we had already guessed. Aldi's low prices do not reflect low quality. They are quoted as having good relationships with their suppliers and a "highly efficient" business model, so that the majority of a customer's spend is "going into the liquid itself".

I don't know how 2014 is shaping up for Aldi, but this time last year their Toro Loco Tempranillo was one of The Independent's 10 best Seasonal Reds: "Toro Loco excelled in blind tastings alongside reds costing nearly 10 times as much". And of their Montepulciano d'Abruzzo (one of my all time favourites), Ned Halley in The Best Wine book writes, "I cannot understand how they do it at the price".

I had a quick flit around the internet before writing this blog post and also discovered that Aldi's one wine buyer (as opposed to Tesco's 15) Mike James (@drmikerjames) is a keen cyclist and naturalist, with a PhD in the world's smallest butterfly. Cycling, butterflies and wine? We approve!

14 comments:

  1. I like your criteria for buying wine. I don't drink wine, so I don't have any idea what to buy. I think I'll use your ideas. It gives a little more to go on than just the picture on the label although I see that is also important. :)

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    1. You might like to look elsewhere before you use my ideas.....!!

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  2. Ha! I have to agree, cycling, butterflies and cheap wine, really... does it get any better? Hope your husband has a very happy birthday!

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    1. It was a fairly ordinary, working day for him but I think the bottle of wine and a big carrot cake made the evening happier!

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  3. Ohhh i did have a big one on the weekend - my 50th !!!! Surprise party post to come. The weekend was too full to be blogging so ill have to sit down tonight to do it.

    Happy Birthday to your Hubby!

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    1. Thanks - look forward to reading about your day!

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  4. Keep an eye out for local English wine. It tends to be on the pricey side and sometimes red is hard to get hold of as there is less produced than white or sparkling however its always good to support local producers - especially if buying at the vineyard. Don't think I've noticed bikes on labels though!

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    1. That's a really good point. There is a local vineyard not very far away from us. You're right that it tends to be more expensive but we should probably apply the same rule to our wine buying as our meat buying - quality rather than quantity.

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  5. I'm glad I'm not the only one who knows nothing about wine. We don't drink often and have seen people fill their trolleys with wine in Aldi. We may have to get a sample bottle when the next £5 off £40 is on which may be this week or next! Purely for research purposes of course.

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    1. Rest assured although I can recommend Aldi's wine, we're never filling a trolley! Good luck with your research!

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  6. Enjoyed your post! Wish we could get wine at the supermarket - we have to go to the govt-run "liquor store"!

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  7. I was wondering about your positioning on fairtrade - why can it trump a more local wine?

    We have rules in Europe on how much workers get paid, providing schooling and healthcare, so you could say that everything produced in the EU is 'fair trade'. When you purchase a 'fairtrade' product it is coming from a country that traditionally does not provide that safety net to its populace (a 'developing' country) so the 'fairtrade' companies are trying to improve lives. I support this and when I buy an 'exotic' product like chocolate I try to get 'fairtrade'. Chocolate is a product we can't grow in the UK or Europe, so it has to travel further, but wine is produced in Europe (which is 'fair trade' even if it is not 'fairtrade').

    Now here is my quandary. The 'fairtrade' mark only applies to the growing of the ingredients and not to any of the processing or packaging involved (I actually contacted the Fairtrade Association to confirm this a while back). So the farmers may get paid fairly, but there is nothing in place to ensure that the factory workers get treated fairly or that my chocolate bar hasn't been wrapped using child labour. If I buy wine from France I know that not only has every person involved in its production been paid at least minimum wage, but it has also travelled relatively few miles too. It is relatively local and supporting a local industry - especially in France which has tried to keep more rural traditions alive.

    So should we be supporting grapes to be grown in 'developing' countries, to produce a luxury item that can be sold for money, half way round the World, even if it is fairtrade? And you know why wine producers want to grow grapes in 'developing' countries? So they can undercut the traditional French industry by using cheap labour and still be able to sell it for under £5.

    Sorry to burden your Birthday gift with a complicated moral dilemma, but I am still trying to work all this stuff out for myself and every purchase is a minefield :-( Is fairtrade just another marketing ploy to persuade us to pay more? I look at companies like People Tree and think that they are really doing good stuff, but it is still taking our minds off the fact that local would be even better.

    On a brighter note there is now a vineyard in Leicestershire apparently :-)

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  8. Firstly, the criteria we use aren't followed in any particular order and whilst I endorse Aldi, it's not my nearest supermarket so I wouldn't drive there especially to buy wine. Fairtrade doesn't necessarily trump more local wines. It's just another factor to consider and from your reasoning, when it comes to wine, it sounds as though a local wine might really be the better option. I have the same the same kind of dilemma with organic versus local produce.

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