Drinking Outside The Box

With Simon Woods – wine for people who have a life

What’s so special about that? – How special is that special offer?

We all love bargains. There’s nothing quite so satisfying as getting something we really want at a knock-down price. The same of course is true for wine. We resent paying more than we have to for our grog, and this works its way out in two ways, depending our outlook. Some people will delight in drinking, for example, vin de pays Merlot from southern France because it offers the quality and style of inexpensive red Bordeaux for fewer centimes. Others will head for Store A rather than Store B because their favourite Sauvignon Blanc is 10% cheaper.

But when is bargain not a bargain? Let’s delve into the grubby world of wine marketing. It would be nice if price and quality went hand in hand, but in wine, they don’t. True, if you look at a company such as Penfolds in Australia, each step up the price ladder from Rawson’s Retreat (RRP £4.99) at the bottom to Grange (RRP £110) at the top shows a step up in quality. However, at that £4.99 price point, there are wines from other companies that taste better, and there are others that taste worse. And we wouldn’t expect otherwise.

However – and this is where things get murky – many companies around the world now tailor-make their wines for major supermarket and other big retailers so that they can sell for £4.99 for most of the year, but then be promoted at £3.99 or even £2.99 for a couple of months. A £2.99 wine is too cheap for some people, but a £4.99 one reduced to £2.99 is somehow acceptable. And – surprise, surprise – at least as much wine is sold during those two months when the wine is on promotion as in the other ten months. The average price paid per bottle is then £3.99 or less, and both the producer and certainly the retailer are making a decent profit on this.

This begs the question, was it really a £4.99 wine in the first place? Answer, no. Moreover, where such promotions were once rare occurrences, they now seem to dominate supermarket sales. And as only large wine companies have the volumes necessary to cater for these offers, the good little guys – whose £4.99 wines actually merit the £4.99 price tag – get elbowed off the shelves. Once again, the result is less choice, more blandness.

So by all means, try the wines on ‘special’. There’s a glut of wine around the world at the moment, and the BOGOF – buy one get one free – offers and £2 off deals will be with us for the foreseeable future. But don’t think you’re getting a bargain – you’re simply paying the market rate.

(this was written in 2003 – I’ll let you update the prices…)

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