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Good, cheap wine
it needs to be 'dishy'

Iím weird. Iím not like most other people. For me, wine is a hobby Ė Iím interested in all the detail; the regions, vineyards and people behind the wine. For most wine drinkers, though, itís just a drink. Itís a commodity, like bread, sugar and tea. They want a glass of wine. It just needs to be good enough, and appropriately priced, which for most means cheap. So hereís my personal view of what makes a good cheap wine. It has to be Ďdishyíóin a very corny play on this word, here are some of the virtues I think are important.

Good cheap wine has to be easy to drink. Often when I do tastings for non-expert groups, they have a small pour of each wine and I ask them which they liked the most. But the easiest way to find this out is to see which bottle is finished first when we get to the drinking stage of the evening. Itís hard to say what makes a wine drinkable: itís a sort of combination of all its properties. The most striking or initially flattering wines arenít always the most drinkable. I guess balance and harmony are the keys.

One of the appealing things about wine is that it isnít a manufactured beverage: itís a largely natural product that can bear the imprint of the region or even vineyard that it has come from. I love wines that carry some sense of identity or place: this is possible even in cheap wines. Itís like human personality: the highly polished, smooth, flawless Harvard MBA types arenít always terribly interesting company. Give me someone with distinctiveness and a spark of originality. Think of it this way: quality is not an absence of flaws.

Savoury, not sweet
Lots of cheap wines are deliberately made in a slight sweeter style, whether this is by means of a sweet character to the fruit or even some residual sugar left in. Itís meant to make them more flattering and appealing to non-hardened-wine drinkers. But I like a table wine to be savoury. I like acidity. I like a bit of structure or spice. I donít like cloying, jammy fruit.

This is important: we want our wines to have integrity and authenticity. We donít want them to be manufactured, or forced. Again, itís like personality. I want my friends to be honest: I hate it when people are putting on a face for the world that differs from how they really are, or when they say things for effect or to manipulate others. Thereís a boundary line in winemaking (hard to draw, I know, but still real), which, once crossed, takes a wine from being natural to one that is manufactured. This could be through particular additions, or through technical manipulations, or through stylistic choices. Fake wines abound at lower price points, and I like to look for the real ones.

Finally, thereís an almost indefinable yet important characteristic shared by all good cheap wines: that of yumminess. You know whether a wine has this property or not when you take the first sip. Itís very much context dependent: is this wine the right one for here and now? It could depend on what you are eating, or who you are with, or even where you are. Itís very satisfying when the wine matches the occasion perfectly and just tastes yummy.

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