'OVER the past decade, Britain has experienced a wine boom, as beer falls out of favour." The words were writ large on a consumer affairs page the other day in one of the nationals.
Apparently, between 1999 and 2004, wine sales rose by 23 per cent and we Brits now consume more than one billion bottles of wine a year. And much of it at the expense of beer, it would seem.
Well, you can call me an old curmudgeon, but could the reason for beer falling out of favour to some degree not have something to do with the fact that it is four and a half times more expensive than petrol?
I worked out this week that at a horrendous 89.9p a litre, my unleaded petrol is costing me a wallet-shredding 4.08p a gallon. But far more terrifying is the price of beer. You may not have noticed (because sitting with your elbow on a bar is much more fun than standing in a windy forecourt), but you will, on average, have to pay around 2.30 a pint these days, which works out at an absolutely mind-stuffing 18.40 a gallon!
It's strange too that a 5p a gallon increase brings on a rash of picketing outside refineries. You could never imagine a similar protest outside a brewery, could you? And there's four times more reason for getting out the placards.
I could understand the sums better if they were having to drill for beer 120 miles off Aberdeen in the black depths of the North Sea, or having to buy it in from Opec at extortionate barrel rates. But it's beer, for goodness sake. The stuff you make with malted barley, hops, yeast and water.
And I know it's got a hefty duty on it thanks to the money-grabbing fist of PM-in-waiting Gordon Brown, but then, of course, so has petrol.
If the brewers are worried by the upsurge in wine sales, I wonder if this would be a good time for them to do some similar sums?
This week's offerings: Dourthe No.1 Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc 2004 (6.99, buy two, get one free, Thresher; 5.97 Asda, 6.39 Oddbins) is a vanilla- scented, modern-style Bordeaux white that's very buzzy and fresh in the mouth. As the leaves depart the trees and the dinner party season approaches, this wine will well match sea bream, snapper and lightly-sauced fish dishes. Deliciously zesty.
The nose on Saint Veran Les Monts Vin de Bourgogne (6, was 7.50, Marks & Spencer) tantalises with candy-floss aromas and suggestions of honey. Plus, there's a lovely acidity racing through it. All in all, a very well put-together Burgundy that won't disgrace your next fancy meal in.
Talking Tree Gewurztraminer 2004 (6.99, Asda) is a bit of a conundrum. You expect rose garden aromas from this aromatic grape, but this one did not push any of these buttons at all. It was more like a sauvignon- semillon blend, with no florally tones whatsoever, apart from a vague Turkish delight whiff on the nose. A gewurz more perplexing than pleasing.
Robert Mondavi Woodbrige 2003 Chardonnay (6.49, Tesco, Sainsbury's) has beautifully engaging fruit that's fabulously rich on the palate. An absolutely beautifully produced Californian, with sweet oak and spice. Loved it to bits.
Anakena 2003 Chilean Viognier (7.50, Cockburns, Morningside Road) comes over all creamy vanilla and spice, with dollops of ripe melon and apricot. Very "chewy", and viscose in the mouth, with a backdrop of lime flavours. Splendid.
Isla Negra Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot (3.98, Morrisons) has full-on drinking chocolate meets blackcurrant bush nuances and is stashed with pepper and pipe tobacco notes among barrel-loads of "sweet" fruit. It's fabby with red meats, which will camouflage the slight stalkyness of this one.
BARGAIN OF THE WEEK
PROSECCO is Italy's finest sparkling wine and the delightfully-titled Valdo Prosecco di Valdobbiadene (5.99, Sainsbury's) is one of the delights in my cellar.
With its huge wafts of apple charlotte and icing sugar, this off-dry fizz is stunning.
Welcome to La Dolce Vita on the cheap. Delish.
WINE OF THE WEEK
CHECK out the label on Wakefield Promised Land 2002 Shiraz Cabernet (7.49, Oddbins) and you'll discover it has won nearly as many medals as Steve Redgrave.
It's a heady concoction of plums, fig, dates and a wodge of red-berried fruit, with burnt sugar tinges at the finish.