Archive for May, 2010

Que syrah syrah

Stumbled across Underground Wines which specialize in perhaps lesser-known wines from New Zealand, names such as Stratum, Lime Rock, Kina Beach, Whitehaven.

It’s an interesting and varied selection on offer but the only one that catches my attention is:

2007 / Unison / Hawkes Bay / Syrah / S$52.50 – Wine Advocate rates this wine at 91 points, said it was excellent and drinking 2010-2016. It sells in New Zealand for around NZ$38 so at S$52.50 it’s an OK price, not great, but OK. Maybe worth a look if you want to try a syrah instead of a shiraz, mate.

Why spend $21.50 when you can spend $30?

Did my usual wander through the liquor section of some of the retailers and noticed The Little Penguin merlot selling for S$21.50. Now, The Little Penguin sells in the US (where it’s pretty popular) for US$6 and is rated by Wine Spectator at 84 points (3.5 stars) so it’s not my cup of tea, but if it’s selling at that price in the US, my guess is that the wine going in to the bottle is (wholesale) less than a dollar. Bear that in mind.

Add freight, Singapore duty and VAT and you’ll come up with a figure of about S$10.50 in total, double it for the mark-up (and I have no qualms at all about that level of mark-up) and you quickly get to around $21.50. So, the pricing is understandable. And it’s mainly tax.

But…..if you could just drag yourself up the pricing point a fraction, to say S$30, look what you can get!

All of the wines listed here rate 90 points or better (4.5 stars or better) and they all sell at a RRP in Australia of between A$19 and A$25 so in pricing terms in their home market, they’re good mid-value wines. And if you’re on a budget, I think they make sense in Singapore too.

Turkey Flat Rose S$27.50
Majella The Musician Cabernet $29
Tim Adams Riesling $30
Lengs & Cooter Riesling $30
Kilikanoon Mort’s Block Riesling $30

All the above from Wine Exchange Asia. The following from Island Wines:

Jackson Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc $30
Charles Cimicky Trumps Shiraz $30

So no excuse for not drinking well at an affordable price.

Had a quick look to see if I could find any Babich wines on offer in Singapore. Only turned up the 2008 sauvignon blanc which doesn’t rate particularly highly (Wine Spectator 88 points, Bob Campbell 78 points) so will pass on Babich for now. Also tried to get some pricing on Wither Hills but pinning the retailer down on vintage has been a work in progress.

An unashamed recommendation

Have you ever bought wine at a service station? No, neither have I. And I personally don’t buy wine from a place that sells toasters, bicycles and dishwashing liquid all under the same roof. I know many of you do, but I prefer a place that focuses on wine.

The question I get asked by newcomers to Singapore, or newcomers to Australian and New Zealand wine is “OK, I know where NOT to buy wine, but can you recommend where I CAN buy wine confidently?”

The key word here is “confidently”. I buy wine all over the place based on price but when I get stuck or frustrated by the pricing or service, I have two sources that I regularly fall back too. Unashamedly, I mention Le Vigne and Wine Exchange Asia.

If you’re relatively new to Australian and New Zealand wine, and want to wander the shelves, touch the bottles, and maybe just buy the odd bottle or two initially, then Patricia and Lewis at Le Vigne in Holland Grove Road would be my tip. They know their stuff and they’ll take their time to understand what it is you like. I’ve been buying from them for years.

More recently, I’ve been following and buying, from Robert Rees at Wine Exchange Asia. It’s on-line shopping so you need to have some idea of what you’re after (although Robert’s on hand to provide advice) but the pricing is consistently good and stock seems to turnover quickly which is no bad thing in this climate. There’s also a good smattering of older and better quality wines.

Neither of these places are easy to get to but both will deliver. Le Vigne is in a suburban strip, and Wine Exchange’s pick-ups are in Kallang. If you still prefer the convenience of paying at a checkout, just do your homework first.

On that note, my recommendation for this weekend is:

2004 / Kay Bros Amery / Hillside / McLaren Vale / Shiraz – Halliday rates this wine at 94 points (4.5 star), drinking 2010-2018, suggesting RRP A$40. He says (and I quote from the Australian Wine Companion 2009) “Bright red and dark fruits on the bouquet, with a little savoury edge of dried leather and spice; the finish is long, pure and even. Screwcap. 14.5alc.” The Bastard Box Index suggests that this wine should sell around the S$51 mark so I’m happy to see that Wine Exchange Asia has it listed for S$54 by the bottle or S$49 by the case. I just hope they’ve still got stock!

The Henry Tax Review and you

One of the things that distorts pricing for Australian wines in Singapore is the differing tax treatments between down-under and here. In Australia, they apply a 29% wine excise tax (WET) to the declared wholesale price. It’s a value-based tax so the higher the wholesale value, the higher the WET. In Singapore, it’s a volumetric tax based on S$70 per litre of alcohol, which means for most wines the duty comes in around S$7 per bottle, irrespective of price. Roughly calculated, for an A$100 retail bottle of wine, the WET is about A$13. Remember that the WET is then GSTd and the retailer marks it up so the real impact in that A$100 is closer to A$28.

Helps explain why two buck chuck is a bad deal in Singapore when it sells around S$20, but the more expensive wines are a better comparative value because you get more WET back when it’s exported and pick up the “arbitrage” between Australian and Singapore tax.

But that might all be about to change.

Australia is apparently mulling a volumetric tax and dropping the WET.

The May/June issue of Winestate magazine says that the impact might be that a cask of wine would jump from A$14 to A$31, but that a bottle of A$30 wine would drop to A$27.53.

I’ll take their word on that.

I’ve been around long enough to expect that the premium wines will remain about the same price after any tax change (just more margin for the winemaker/retailer) so I don’t expect there to be huge changes on how much we pay for wine in Singapore, except………. if Australia and Singapore’s volumetric taxes end up being similar, the only significant difference in the Singapore price should be the exchange rate, freight and the mark-up. For those in the know, the mark-up would stand out like the proverbial, well you know what, and that’s got to have a few distributors/retailers worried.

Watch this space.

The gods must be crazy…or think I am

When we lived out that way, I used to wander through the supermarket in Tanglin Road and notice the E&E Black Pepper Sparkling Shiraz on the shelf at around S$95. A great wine but I was never tempted. I wandered through there today, and I see it’s jumped to S$122. If you’re down that way, have a look. It’s the 2003 vintage but there’s no rush, as I expect it’ll be there for a while, a long while.

You see, that wine, and yes that vintage, sells in Australia for A$50 (winestar, winehouse) which means my slide rule calculation says it should sell here for around S$62, not S$122. And here’s the rub. You could buy the wine retail in Australia, ship it up on an A380 at S$10 a bottle airfreight, pay the duty and VAT and still land it at S$85 a bottle. Hell, if you bought 2 dozen, you’d save S$888 so you could fly down with just hand luggage to pick it up as that’s exactly what it cost me to fly down to Melbourne and back last week! But wait, there’s more…..if it came back as accompanied baggage you’d get the Australian WET and GST back at about A$9.50 a bottle. A silly idea of course, but you get the drift.

Not one to be deterred, I wandered into their cool room and spied the (non-sparkling) 2003 E&E Black Pepper Shiraz, another terrific wine. At a terrific, or should I say terrifying, price. S$208. Gulp.

More research and I see it sells down-under for A$80, so a reasonable expectation would be around S$87 here. By the same process, you could buy it retail in Australia and ship it up airfreight and land it all up for around S$125. Hey, this looks even better – at a saving of S$83 a bottle, I might even be able to afford business class.

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir – fair and reasonable in Singapore

Thought I would check out the Ata Rangi pinot noir to see what’s on offer in Singapore.

2008 / Ata Rangi / Martinborough / Pinot Noir – It’s a Kiwi icon, and despite some variability in some years, it’s up there with the best that New Zealand produces. Bob Campbell rates this wine at 96 points and it looks like it retails in New Zealand for around the NZ$72 mark. My quick slide rule calculation says I’d expect it to sell in Singapore at around S$84. Let’ see:

The Cellar Door – S$79
Wine Exchange Asia – S$80
Crystal Wines – S$97 (Member price S$92.15, case price S$89.24)

Looks like you can get it on a pretty good comparative basis then.

The final word on duty free shopping

You’ve heard of the Big Mac indicator. Well, this is the Bastard Box indicator.

Jacob’s Creek Johann South Australia Shiraz Cabernet

This wine is for sale at for A$55. I reckon there’s a smidge over A$10 of GST and WET (wine excise tax) in that price. Bear that in mind as we do the comparison: (including Australian duty and tax, but not delivery) – A$55

Melbourne Airport duty free – A$65

Changi Airport duty free (S$140) – A$115

Say no more.

And I won’t.

I’m speechless – a $100 difference in an $85 bottle of wine!

Surely that’s a misprint I hear you say. Apparently not.

The wine I’m talking of is the 2005 Elderton Command Barossa Valley Shiraz. Now, to put the record straight, I’m a BIG fan of this wine, so I’m usually on top of the pricing. I see that it’s available in Australia at A$80, which with my slide rule calculations suggest that a comparable price in Singapore might be around S$85. Without going into too much detail, I take the Australian retail price back to wholesale, take off the 29% wine excise tax and the 10% GST, convert it to S$, add back freight, Singapore duty and 7% vat, add back the mark up (i.e. double the cost so far) and there’s the start point for comparison. It’s not a perfect system but it’s usually not far out, and to prove my point, Wine Exchange in Singapore shows that they sold some Command at around S$87 in recent times. Not quite as attractive, but Vineyards Direct have regularly listed the 2005 Command at S$110.

So what’s the problem?

Well, I happened to be passing through Changi airport last night, and out the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of that familiar Elderton Command label in the duty free store, and 2005 to boot. Bet you can’t guess what it sells for duty free? Try S$168, (and showing a RRP of S$189). Huh?

I think the motto is “buy better with Bastard Box”

Crystal Mega Sale – 15th May at Delta House 10:00 to 20:00

I’m travelling at the moment but it would be remiss of me not to cast a quick eye over Crystal’s offerings. There’s just short of 100 Australian wines on offer and I can’t possibly list them all for good/bad value so I’m concentrating on those wines that (according to my data) rate 95 points or better and fall within my price tolerance as comparative value with their Australian retail price. So if you read between the lines, you’ll understand that not all wines meet that price threshold.

Here’s what I found:

2008 / Clonakilla / Canberra / Shiraz Viognier S$83.30 – Epicure rates this wine at 5 star and RRP A$95 drinking 2015, Halliday rates it at 97 points RRP A$90 and drinking 2015-2025, and Gourmet Traveller Wine rates it 96 points also drinking 2015-2025, so no doubting its quality then. Its one of my favourites too, but I must admit that I’ve been buying it at around this price on a regular basis, so not sure about the “mega discount”. That having been said, it’s a good wine at the right price so if you want to try what is arguably Australia’s best shiraz viognier, give it a go.

2007 / De Bortoli / Estate Grown / Yarra Valley / Cabernet S$44.10 – Halliday rates this 5 stars and it sells RRP for A$35.

2004 / De Bortoli / Reserve / Yarra Valley / Chardonnay S$51.10 – Another Halliday 5 star wine (95 points) that sells for A$40.

2008 / Frankland Estate / Isolation Ridge / Frankland River / Riesling S$36 – Epicure liked it giving it 5 stars, drinking 2011-2019, Gourmet Traveller Wine liked it too giving it 92 points, suggested retail at A$28.

If the wine you want is out of stock, just make sure you know when it’s going to be delivered.

If there’s a wine on Crystal’s list that you’d like some data on, send me an e-mail at , and if I can help, I will. If you send it tonight, you should have an answer in time for the sale tomorrow.

Airport duty free – be afraid, be very afraid

I’m betting that whenever you’ve looked at Australian or New Zealand wine at an airport duty free shop, you’ve wondered whether it was such a good deal. But in that last minute rush, you buy something – it can’t be that far out can it?

I’m in Australia at the moment so I’ll be checking what’s on offer at the airport on my way back, but I can tell you this about buying at Changi on the way down (and I honestly don’t know the name of the duty free store).

2007 / Penfolds / Koonunga Hill / Seventy Six / shiraz cabernet on the shelf “duty free” at S$39 a bottle.

Hang on a minute? Isn’t that exactly the same wine that I just bought retail from Wine Exchange in Singapore at S$32 (OK, S$34 for a single bottle). Yep, sure is. So not only is the “duty free” price at least S$5 higher than what I can buy it for retail, it doesn’t include duty of S$7 a bottle that my retail purchase does.

Unless my maths is screwed up (highly likely!) then that makes the “duty free” price S$12 out of whack. In a S$34 bottle. Ouch!

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Wine quotations

"A good bottle of wine contains more philosophy than all the books in the world" - Louis Pasteur

“The unexacting palates of the masses…are content to ask no question [on origin] so long as a florin or half-a-crown will purchase a roomy flagon of strong , full-bodied, fruity wine” – CE Hawker writing in 1907