Author Archives: The Editor

Devious dealings

So, if tax alone is nearly £2 how do the supermarkets put a bottle of wine on the shelf at £4.00 – or even less? There’s no single answer of course (except that it’s not magic), but read on to find some of the ways it’s done, both fair(ish) and foul.

THE GOOD
As we all know, supermarkets are big operations and can buy a lot at a time (reassuringly referred to as ‘buying power’). Wine makers, like most other producers, welcome large orders: the lower marketing and admin costs allow them to offer better prices and these can be passed on to the retail customer. In fact, Manor Wines does something very similar through its buying consortium – a group of independent wine merchants with similarly high standards who work together to buy wines at the most advantageous prices.

THE BAD
There are clear guidelines on how retailers may promote ‘special offers’, for instance the ‘Code of Practice for Traders on Price Indications’ from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), but these are almost impossible to police effectively, particularly with wine. Take the case of The Offer That Never Was. A wine is offered for sale at a much inflated price, say £10; it doesn’t sell at all well but a big noise is then made offering it at “half price: only £5!”, and this is where the bulk of sales are made – on the back of the supposed reduction. The wine may only be worth £5 at best, and the DTI specifically requires that the comparison should only be made “in the reasonable expectation that [the wine] could be sold by you at the higher price” – but who can prove that? Dissatisfied drinkers comfort themselves that “at least it was cheap …”

Dodgier yet, a brand is established and sold at a reasonable price. It builds up a following of customers, but when the “special offer” is announced the contents behind the brand will not be the same as the full priced wine. It will be from similar grapes but of lesser quality. Any perceived discrepancy in quality can be passed off as vintage variation or the vagaries of a natural product. Known as ‘de-engineering’ to those that practise it. Lovely.

THE UGLY
A favourite with big retailers: simply charge your suppliers to sell their products! Supermarkets pressure wine makers to pay them fees to list their wines.

Additionally, they may pay such a low price for the wine that the maker has to save money elsewhere, perhaps by paying the workers badly (South Africa and South America have been particularly vulnerable here). Or by not investing in the future of the winery, and when quality inevitably falls and/or the winery goes bust, they move on.

And then there’s the good old loss leader: sell your wine at a loss, it brings in business to other sectors of your store which will create enough profit to cover the loss in the wine aisles, and soon you will have disposed of any local businesses that cannot afford to play this game.

It’s enough to make you turn to drink …

Wine that costs too little

There is a point where good value becomes just too good to be true.

It pays to know that the fixed costs in a bottle of wine remain pretty much the same for the humblest eastern european plonk to the grandest domaine in Burgundy.

These prices are approximate but are certainly close enough to make the point:

Bottle, cork, label, shipping, storage say £1.50

Duty £2.00 (yes, that’s £2.00, as of the 2013 Budget)

VAT £0.70 (20% on ALL the above … even our tax is taxed!)

This means that before you’ve paid for any wine at all the bill is £4.20 So, if you’ve gone down to the supermarket and paid £4.50 for a bottle of “good value,honest, everyday” wine you’ve actually spent 30p on the liquid you’re going to imbibe – and it’s not surprising if you’re not as happy as you might be.

On the other hand, if you pay about £5.50 you will have paid 3 times more for the wine, and given the winemaker at least a chance of putting something worthwhile into the bottle.

So spend a little more than the bare minimum on a bottle of wine – you (and the winemaker) are worth it. And funnily enough, a little over £5 is the price our wines start at: in our view you can’t have a decent drink for anything less.

As if you didn’t know already …

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… it’s now been confirmed by Eurostat that the UK is second only to Ireland as the most expensive country in Europe in which to buy alcohol. All the more reason to make sure that what you do buy is delicious as well as costing less.

One way of achieving great value is to avoid the obvious: great French Pinot Noir comes from Burgundy and all the world knows it. There isn’t that much, so it’s expensive. BUT the French do make Pinot Noir outside Burgundy and it’s called Le Fou (because only an idiot would try this), and, lo and behold, it’s delicious AND affordable. Get it now before the rest of the world finds out.

En Primeur Madness

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The arcane process of the annual Bordeaux wine price fixing (oh OK, better make that price setting) jamboree is well under way. With three “once-in-a-lifetime” vintages already this century, what’s a sensible drinker, who simply wants to enjoy one of life’s great pleasures without trying to outbid the combined financial muscle of the Far East, to do?

Look no further than Chateau Batailley. As a recent comment in the wine trade press remarked, it’s excellent wine at a very fair price. You’d be crazy not to.

New Massaya

To the Lebanese restaurant Ishbilia to meet Sami Ghosn, who, with his brother Ramzi, runs the Massaya vineyards and winery in the Bekaa valley. The cooking of the Lebanon is rightly famous and, naturally enough, it has the wines to go with it. Manor Wines has long been a supporter of the great wines from Château Musar but we reckon cellar space must be found for those of Massaya, too.

It was a great lunch, with Sami talking knowledgably and with justifiable pride about his wines and the Bekaa valley. It’s a fascinating place, steeped in history, with a wine making tradition going back 6,000 years. One of the keys to its successful wines is the altitude: even though it’s so much further south, harvests come later than in the Rhône valley, so the grapes ripen gently without producing that ‘raisin jam’ effect of so many hot climate wines.

We finished with Massaya’s remarkable arak, unlisted but it you’d like a case we’d be happy to get some in with the next consignment of wines.