Thursday, 17 April 2014

How and Where to Buy Cheap / Good Value Wine in Singapore

Cheap wine in Singapore...an oxymoron, perhaps?  But why is this the case when taxes and duties on wine in Singapore are eminently reasonable (compared to Australia, Malaysia and even most of Europe)?

The answer is simple: trade mark-ups, which can easily exceed 200% for everyday wines.  The eagerness of wine merchants to pass on the recent 25% alcohol excise hike was, unfortunately, par for the course.  Couple this with a succession of bad harvests in Europe and consequently escalating prices, and what you might once have taken for granted is now looking a little less affordable.

So what do you do?  Like a contrarian and resourceful little rodent, you burrow deeper and harder to find sources of cheaper and better value wine.  I set out a few tips from my experiences below, and would welcome any further ideas from readers.  Contact details for my recommended merchants are at the end of the post.

NB: Please bear in mind that in writing this piece, I am NOT proposing the substitution of Chilean bulk wine if you are used to drinking decent Bordeaux.  Please also note that I have not been paid to give publicity to anyone's business.

1.  Do NOT buy from Retailers - The reason for this is obvious.  Retailers have a whole added layer of costs (the most significant being escalating rentals), as well as their own mark-up on the wholesale price at which they bought the wine.

Instead, I would recommend that you try buying from the direct importers, some of which sell to the general public.  They brought the wine in directly, probably at a decent ex-domaine (very important now that wine counterfeiting is rampant) trade price, so they should be happy to sell it at a decent price.  I recommend that you contact Monopole, Wein & Vin and Auric-Pacific and sign up for their mailing lists.

2.  Do Buy from Retailers - Ha, got you there.  

Some of you who follow this blog may have gotten the idea that I am some kind of snob.  I assure you that is not the case.  I am even prepared to recommend that you go to NTUC FairPrice and pick up a bottle or six of Ashbrook Estate Cabernet Shiraz when it is on sale, roughly $32 nett per bottle (used to be $28.50 nett for the previous vintages).  This is about the same price you will pay at Ashbrook's cellar door.  And what do you get for $32?  A ripe, rather complex yet very drinkable wine that regularly scores 90s in James Halliday's Australian Wine Companion, and which easily beat the pants off more expensive wines.  I also understand that FairPrice are the exclusive importers and retailers of Ashbrook Estate, so you won't find their wines anywhere else on the island.

And if you want cooking wine, FairPrice often does a 1-for-1 special on some Chilean bulk product, and carries a line of Aussie wine which comes in cans (seriously).

3.  Wait for Sales - You may think this is obvious, but some sales are more equal than others.  Auric-Pacific Fine Wines runs a bi-annual mega sale that seems at first to be full of typos, until you realise that yes, OMFG, they are really asking $165 nett for a half-bottle of 2006 Yquem (the cheapest price on Wine Searcher is $216 in HK).  Wein & Vin also ran an obscene 2013 National Day Sale where you could pick up a 2010 Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru for $48 nett. (the cheapest Wine Searcher result for this wine is $64, before UK VAT).  Booze also used to run an excellent annual sale, but now seem to spread their offers out across the year.  I should warn, though, that they email you roughly once every two days if you sign up, which can get rather irritating.  

My friend is a member of J&D Burleigh's mailing list.  While the prices (and wines) there are often a little rich for my tastes, he recently helped me pick up a few bottles of a 2010 Domaine de Pegau CdP for $97 nett each, which is equal to the lowest Wine-Searcher price.

4.  Try Before You Buy - There are some great value wine dinners out there.  I blogged before about one hosted by Monopole at La Strada.  For S$98++, I got a five-course dinner with seven wines from Marchesi Antinori.  And these weren't just cheap, sweet nothings, either.  Amongst others, we were given a goodly supply of their prestige labels, Tignanello and Solaia, both of which sell for three figures.  And as the cherry on top of the cream on top of the cake, Monopole offered guests special discounts on their entire range of Antinori wines.

5.  Seek Alternatives / Downgrade - If you are used to drinking good burgundy and are finding yourself being squeezed out of the market due to rising prices, it is worth seeking out alternative sources to feed your addiction.

Authentic Wine Explorers specialises in seeking out wines from lesser-known producers, as well as the rising stars of well-known regions.  So if you are being priced out of Chambolle-Musigny, you could try Vincent Rapet's exquisite Pernand-Vergelesses reds, or even Mercurey or Givry, with a lot of change left over.  As an example, AWE imports Clos Salomon, the star of Givry and a firm Burghound favourite.  The recent vintages of Clos Salomon's Givry 1er Cru all scored between 90 and 92 from Mr Meadows, who is renowned for being a hard marker.  And it's a stunning deal from $55 nett a bottle.

6.  Import Your Wines Directly - The old English wine & spirits merchant Berry Bros & Rudd (BB&R) opened its Singapore office in 2013.  This opened an avenue by which Singaporeans could gain access to a whole new (Old?) world of wines.

Now BB&R is NOT cheap.  I don't think a firm survives for three centuries catering to the Windsors (BB&R hold two Royal Warrants, they will have you know) and the English upper classes by being cheap.  Actually, if you bought wine from BB&R's regular listings, I'm not sure that you would save much money compared to regular Singapore retail.  But BB&R also runs a unique online auction service, the Berrys' Broking Exchange (BBX).  Like any auction, you try your luck and see how you go.  And like any auction, there are steals and gems within the 2,300 listed wines.

The beauty of the system is that only wines purchased from BB&R and stored with BB&R are eligible for listing on the BBX, so you have peace of mind on storage conditions and provenance right there.  BB&R will also refund any flawed (corked, oxidised, etc.) bottles purchased on the BBX, and you can start a BBX account without any minimum spend or prior relationship with BB&R.  

BB&R will ship the wines over to Singapore at S$50 per case of six bottles, or S$70 per case of a dozen bottles (duties and excise will be above this).  They can also store it for you in their climate-controlled warehouse in England for the price of GBP10.80 per dozen case per annum (no pro-rating for six-bottle cases until your holdings reach a minimum 30 bottles).

7.  Go Teetotal - Think of how much money you will save, and how much more liver you will have.  Think also, but do not dwell on, how boring life would be.  It's almost enough to drive you to drink, at which point you may feel free to scroll up the top of the screen and read this post again...

RECOMMENDED CONTACTS (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER)

1.  Authentic Wine Explorers.  Specialises predominantly in smaller quality Burgundy producers, with a growing Italian portfolio.  Name brands include Vincent Rapet, François Bertheau and Marco de Bartoli (Marsala).  
Contact Mr. William Chong, proprietor, at sales@awexplorers.com  Web: www.awexplorers.com

2.  Wein & Vin.  Specialising in cool-climate wines, predominantly from France, Germany and Austria.  Marquee names include Weingut Dönnhoff, Zind-Humbrecht, Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt and Champagne Pierre Peters.  
Contact Mr. Boon Heng, Owner, Tel: +65 9009 3827.  Email: info@weinvin.com.  Web: www.weinvin.com

3.  Monopole.  Full service international portfolio, with top brands such as Pol Roger, Joseph Drouhin, Hugel et Fils, Marchesi Antinori, Henschke and Graham's.  
Tel: +65 6554 3680.  Email: info@monopole.com.sg.  Web: www.monopole.com.sg

4.  Berry Bros & Rudd.  Massive European portfolio with the prestigious names you would expect, with a unique online auction service.
Contact Mr. Steven Chan, Fine Wine Sales Consultant.  Tel: +65 9733 4200 Email: steven.chan@sg.bbr.com  Web: www.bbr.com

5.  Auric-Pacific Fine Wines.  Comprehensive portfolio offered, with a mad sale twice a year.
Contact Mr. Eugene Yap, Sales Operation Manager Tel: +65 6291 1947 Email: eugeneyap@auric.com.sg.  Web: www.apfw.com.sg

6.  NTUC FairPrice.  Mass-market wines at mass-market prices, but with the odd rare gem if you know what you are looking for.
Various outlets around Singapore

7.  Booze.  Lots of deals on French wines, as well as Spiegelau glasses
Tel: +65 6294 7500 Email: info@booze.com.sg.  Web: www.booze.com.sg

8.  J & D Burleigh.  Focus on Italian, Champagne and Rhone.
Email: contact@jdburleigh.com Web: www.jdburleigh.com


12 comments:

  1. Still want to drink burgundy? Just wait for the Russians to invade Ukraine and the stock prices crash and Romanee Conti will become "affordable" again!! Meanwhile Julian, why dont you try some iconic Tasmanian pinot noirs like 2009 Apsley Gorge & 2012 Freycinet? These, to me, are bordering to Grand Cru quality at $70 -80.

    i am just a humble wine drinker and have NO interest in the wine trade. These wines are bought from www.tigerwines.com. If you do drink these wines, please review what you think of my assessement. Bertram Lau

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    1. By the way, Apsley Gorge Pinot Noir is available in Both Waku Ghin & tetsuya sydney wine menu. Been to both.

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  2. Thanks Bertram, I may well give those wines a go and let you know; they also seem to be well priced compared to Australian prices.

    Just for accuracy's sake, Tiger Wines' website appears to be tiger-wines.com.

    I've been to both as well. While I think Waku Ghin beats the pants off Tetsuya's, casino-inflated prices aside, I think some of WG's wine pairings need to be revisited; as of my last visit in late 2012, I did not think its wine program was quite there; there was a particular tendency to be serving some wines way too young. That predated the arrival of Julien Drevon as chef sommelier, though, so hopefully Julien will have fixed up those problems.



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    1. Hi Julian, you are right about the website.

      Just to interest your readers, another area which i usually drink is Felton Road Pinot Noirs , Calvert or BLK 5. These wines are from Central Otago and rated as top Kiwi pinots . Definitely Grand Cru quality and i first drank these in Tetsuya sydney in 2011. So, forget about burgundy for the time been. Bertram Lau

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  3. best Pinot Noirs for the $ are coming from Central Otago NZ as Bertram points out. Get some fabulous deals from the Odd Bottle. http://theoddbottle.com/

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  4. oh wow ! thanks for the tip Betram .. looks like many interesting bottles there at decent prices. Managed to stock some 2012 calverts with a friend in Auckland - have to wait for him to come back once a year during CNY though.

    thanks for the list Julian.

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  5. Hi Julian,
    Booze is going to be having another wine sale in December. It will feature over 100 wines.

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    1. Hi Jeanette, thanks for letting us know - look forward to it!

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  6. Hi Julian, whIch red wines do you recommend from fairprice-finest, at around S$60?
    Many thanks :)
    I was considering chateau Beaumont 2010 and chateau de ricaud 2010.

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    1. Hi Anonymous,

      I am not familiar with those wines, but if you don't mind me saying so, if your price range is around $60, you have quite a few options to choose from. Someone brought my attention to tiger-wines.com, which brings in quite a few excellent and very highly-rated boutique drops from Tasmania at that price level.

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  7. Hi Julian,

    Any updated list for 2016 hot new stores to buy wines? Auric pacific & authentic wine explores' website doesn't look updated since 2014, are they still around? Thanks!

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    1. Hi Anonymous,

      Auric are still around, although they don't offer the same crazy bargains they once did. Eugene Yap has moved on to Cellarmaster Wines and he runs the same crazy deals there (albeit with the Cellarmaster range) so it's worth checking out.

      Authentic Wine Explorers are still around; do follow them on Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/awexplorers/?fref=ts. Drop William an email or PM and he will get back to you with what he has.

      Hope that helps!

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