The Wine Price Spectrum

The Wine Price Spectrum

Boxed Wines (£2 to £5 per 750ml)

These wines are usually sold in boxes of 3 litres, with a bag inside the carton of wine that can be dispensed with the turn of a tap. Although these boxes are often bought for parties, they are also popular with anyone who just wants an occasional glass of wine in the evening. Once the box is opened, the wine inside will last a week or two before starting to deteriorate.

The drawback of boxes is that the wine is often made from less expensive grapes and is designed for early drinking, so they're not ideal for wine buffs. Nevertheless, boxes can be excellent value when the occasion calls for a simple wine.

Having said this, there is a move to make box wines more upmarket, and they are being re-termed as "cask wines". The new ones are from top producers, such as Hardy's and Sonoma Hill, and are made with premium grape varieties and vintage-dated.

Value Wines (£3 to £6 per 750ml)

This price range is seen by the majority of the public as being the best value for wines, and is the amount most of us tends to pay for a regular bottle of wine. Consequently, this has led to some serious competition between the major retailers to offer a wide range of wines within this price bracket. Although you won't get the very best Merlot or Chardonnay at this kind of price, you'll certainly be able to find some good (and maybe even great) tasting wines.

However, you will find that increasing your budget by even £1 can make a tremendous difference. Once you hit the £5 a bottle mark, a whole new range of possibilities opens up, with wines made by producers who are not so constrained by impossibly low margins, and have a chance to add real character to their wines. In general, it is usually better to buy three genuinely interesting £5 wines, than four easy-drinking, but probably dull, £3.49 bottles.

Mid-Range Wines (£6 to £14 per 750ml)

Whilst certain kinds of wine (and certain wine-growing regions or wine producers) are sold at a premium because of their history, their prestige or their sheer marketing skills, there can be great value in this section of the market. At this price, wines can either be a superb find, or a waste of money - depending on your perspective and the kind of choice you make.

For example, if you wanted to buy a bottle of classy Bordeaux red, you would have to look for something at the very top of this price range, and even then, you'd have to be quite choosy about what you bought. On the other hand, if you'd rather spend £10 on a Chilean or South African Cabernet blend, the chances are that you'd end up with a bottle of something fairly special. Likewise, you'd pay far more for a really good bottle of white Burgundy than you would for, say, a really good bottle of Australian Chardonnay.

To take the best advantage of this price range, you either need to know a little bit about wine or find a wine retailer you can really trust. Never be afraid to ask for advice - wine buffs are usually more than happy to share their knowledge.

Premium Wines (£15 and upwards)

These are usually hand-crafted wines, made by small, 'boutique' wineries. Production is typically limited, and stock may sell out within any given year. Unlike larger wine producers who strive for a uniform product from each vintage, hand-crafted wines may vary from one year to the next, and the wine will reflect the idiosyncrasies of each vintage.

The price of fine wines - particularly those from Bordeaux and Burgundy - can be astronomical, fuelled by speculators who are willing to spend fortunes in auctions at Sotheby's and Christie's to secure the great names. These wines are now out of the reach of many ordinary wine lovers: top Bordeaux of the 1996 vintage fetched over £160 per bottle.