Living in Singapore - first impressions: wine

Wine cabinet in Singapore.jpg

I’ve lived in Singapore for five days and the wine proposition here has made an immediate impression, in two particular ways: range and price.

From what I had heard before arriving, Singapore was obsessed with top-shelf wine, and in particular grand cru burgundy. My assumption was that wine shops would therefore cater primarily to this type of customer: wealthy, label-focused and conservative. No doubt those consumers exist here (as they do in London and everywhere) but it’s immediately apparent that the wine range goes way beyond that niche.

Every wine shop I’ve visited - and every wine list I’ve seen - has a selection that could easily compete with London. I’ve seen everything from big New World brands (Casillero del Diablo, Jacob’s Creek) to minimal-intervention Aussies (Lucy Margaux, BK Wines) to the largest selection of Tokaji Aszu I’ve ever seen - as well as all the classics from Europe, from Muscadet to Margaux and Gavi to Gattinara.

Wine is available in convenience stores, supermarkets and specialist merchants and the proliferation of shops gives all the indications of a thriving wine scene. This is supported by numerous events around the city, including a ‘safari rave with a pop-up natural wine bar‘ and Wine Lust month, a series of dinners, tastings and promotions throughout August, including free corkage (albeit only a restaurants that belong to the group that have created the event).

So what’s the catch? Prices.

I already knew that wine was expensive here, but it wasn’t until looking at bottles on shelves that I appreciated what a big difference there is between prices in the UK and Singapore. Everything I have seen is two to four times the equivalent sterling price. Here are some examples.

Taittinger NV at $99 is £60; it costs  £30 at Lay & Wheeler

Taittinger NV at $99 is £60; it costs £30 at Lay & Wheeler

Chapoutier’s Les Meysonniers Crozes-Hermitage at £60.50 is £36; it costs  £16.96 at Alexander Hadleigh

Chapoutier’s Les Meysonniers Crozes-Hermitage at £60.50 is £36; it costs £16.96 at Alexander Hadleigh

Jacob’s Creek Merlot at $38.40 is £23; it  costs £6 at Dike & Son

Jacob’s Creek Merlot at $38.40 is £23; it costs £6 at Dike & Son

That means my London comfort zone price for good wine - roughly £15 to £25 - only just buys you entry level bottles here. (I suspect I will be drinking a lot of beer, which at $4/bottle (£2.40) for Little Creatures IPA is much less painful. There’s a burgeoning local craft beer scene too.)

However, this raises a much more interesting question about price. For years, the UK trade has been complaining that wine prices in Britain are too low. Producers find it hard to make money, retailers have low margins, and taxes are deemed punitive. Wine still sells, and companies stay in business (although only just, in some cases - consider the recent tumult for Majestic Wine and Conviviality), perhaps because of the volumes involved, but there seems to be general agreement that wine prices need to go up to be sustainable in the longer term.

Perhaps wine prices in Singapore are simply more realistic - and, crucially, profitable. If you are prepared to pay £35 for a good joint of beef, then why shouldn’t Crozes-Hermitage be the same price?

Of course, it’s not that simple, and I will be looking more into how the pricing structure of wine in Singapore in the coming weeks, months - and years.