It's a load of Plonk

It's a load of Plonk

6th Sep 2010

Supermarkets - the true heretics of the wine trade?

Are supermarkets such a bad bunch? Ask any owner of a wine merchant and his answer could well be 'yes'. They bully producers into selling them wine at super low prices, they lie to consumers and generally sell plonk he would tell you. They encourage binge drinking he might argue. They have been a disaster for wine merchants and completely ruined the market. They should all be shot.

OK, maybe that's a little excessive! However, supermarkets have undoubtedly totally changed the way we buy wine in the UK and nowcontrol in excess of 80% of all retail take-home wine sales, with big name brands and bulk production wines dominating sales. This has largely been driven by two factors. One is that over the last 20 years the majority of wine purchases for home consumption in the UK has switched from males to females, who are now responsible for over 65% of wine purchases in supermarkets. Secondly, supermarkets use powerful marketing tools; 3 bottles for 10 pounds etc - and wine sales are used as loss leaders to get you in the store to buy things you didn't really want, like Shake n' Vac and a deluxe golden toilet brush holder. Their wine buyers have economies of scale at their disposal, plus power over producers to get the price down.

Yes! We know this has been discussed many times before, but we wanted to respond directly to thewineremedy community questions about wine buying. Many of you have e-mailed us asking why there were not any supermarket wines in our stars of the new world guide? Well, we did release a guide to good value supermarket wines earlier this year. We admit that some occasional gems exist on the shelves, but you really need to look hard. Of course, not all supermarket wine is awful, and not all branded wines are bad. Nor are all wine merchants worth a look either. Thresher's wine selection was pretty poor and overpriced, and they have now gone bust. Waitrose wine selection is by far the best amongst the supermarkets with some good wines. We enjoy Black Tower Ros and Cloudy Bay (although it is too expensive!) So we don't think supermarkets only palm off dross, but we know that wine merchants overall sell much better quality wines and at comparable prices. Special offers and discounts are not limited to Asda!

In fact, we saw a prime example of why we don't generally recommend buying wines from supermarkets without prior recommendation last week. In a supermarket that shall not be named, the store 'wine specialist' was manning a taster stall promoting a typical big brand wine from Australia. In spite of our suspicions, we tried it with an open mind but were immediately disappointed. Coarse and bland, it could be the worst wine we have drunk this year. They actually had the nerve to put the words 'Fine Wine' on their label. So we asked, if this company made fine wine, then what did the Rothschild family or the Sacred Hill guys make?

We all know that supermarkets and bad wine merchants can make a lot of money by convincing the consumer to buy the wine on special offer, (which invariably is mediocre) rather than showcasing quality and value. But when you actually witness it, you cannot help feeling angry and saddened by the ugliness and insincerity of it all. Despite the blatant absence of quality, the 'wine specialist' insisted that the bottle was 'fantastic', never forgetting to mention that it appears in a recipe book. Nothing sells more crap than the stamp of approval from a celebrity chef!

So, rather than grumble to ourselves, we decided to undermine the whole charade and recommend some better wines to the shopper who was considering buying the unspeakable. We advised her to try her local merchant who were selling bin end wines with 50% discount as they had over-ordered. In our own miniscule way, we made a difference and so can you. This is the main reason for his article, to encourage you to drink better wine and always be wary of celebrity stamps of approval! We recognise that supermarket wine can be very cheap but it's not generally good value, in that the wine was never worth more than 4 quid anyway. Most staff in merchants are friendly and helpful: passionate about their subject. They will give you good advice and are generally quality conscious, giving wines a rigorous tasting before stocking them. My local merchant, for example, has plenty of special offers: 2 bottles for 10 pounds, discounts if you buy several bottles, etc - all the things you encounter in Sainsbury's, but crucially on wines you would actually want to drink. As a consumer you get better wines, more selection and real value for money. So next time you want some wine, try the local outfit . I mean, lets face it, Tesco don't need to make any more billions do they?

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