The Wine Merchant who just loves Tesco . . . well almost!
- Monday, 08 April 2013
Mike Rogers of Philglas & Swiggot Wine Merchants, London
Did you know that, as a nation, we are drinking more than twice as much wine nowadays compared with 20 years ago?
Amazing how in life, as we get older, it becomes apparent how many things remain the same rather than how many things change, but it’s also amazing how little lifestyle changes like that can take place without any obvious reasons. Of course, the supermarkets have been responsible for many significant changes in lifestyle...like the availability of a wider range of products than ever before in the history of food retailing. Supermarkets have brought fun and variety to our lives by means of their global reach and enormous resources. One has to concede, some truly life-enhancing things like new, exotic fruits and vegetables, hitherto unheard of herbs, spices, sauces and foreign cuisines.
They’ve made so many diverse and interesting wines available for the first time to a nation that used to limit itself to a glass of sherry or a fruity German white once a week.
But hold on a minute, why heap praise on the supermarket chains that have devastated our high streets in towns and villages, turning thriving community-serving independent retailers such as butchers, bakers and fishmongers into a thing of the past?
The fact that supermarkets account for over 80% of all wine that is sold in the UK is a woeful statistic and I dread to think what proportion of our meat, bread and fish is daily wheeled across the car park to our waiting cars from the supermarket checkout. But when it comes to wine, as far as I’m concerned they have, perhaps inadvertently, enlarged the market, creating more and more wine drinkers.
And happily, these newly created wine fans tend to eventually graduate towards the specialist independent wine shops once they are ready for something a bit more interesting than soft and fruity Chilean Merlot or cheap Pinot Grigio.
Of course the supermarkets are totally dominant in selling the big brand, mass-produced, safe but unexciting wines that, statistically at least, most people must be drinking. But when it comes to the truly wonderful, small production, family-owned wine estates operated by multi-generations of dedicated and passionate artisans, I’m glad to say the supermarkets have so far failed to be able to wrest the reins from the grasp of we small merchants...and for several reasons. Most importantly, the best quality small wineries simply don’t make enough wine to supply a supermarket chain. The supermarket buyers realise that even if they did, they just don’t have the staff to provide the necessary advice about these “non-branded” wines to their customers.
So, despite their attempts to grab the remaining 20% of the market, they just can’t manage to find a way to do it. In an ideal world, everyone is happy, the supermarkets introduce people to cheap, consistent quality, straight forward, simple wines . . . the Volkswagen Polos . . . leaving the specialist independents to ply their trade with the Aston Martins and Ferraris of the wine world.
My only real gripe is the fact that, even in their inability to capture the whole market, the big boys can’t resist spoiling things for the rest of us. They cynically flaunt their rock bottom prices on generic wines from well-known appellations like Chablis, Sancerre, Champagne, Rioja and Barolo in an attempt to convince customers that they are getting something way better than mass-produced, generic plonk. This is just about as honest a proposition as the fibrous and obese Mexican strawberries that are offered to us in December, or the woeful fast-track, Duracell chickens for three quid a pop that look like the real deal until you taste them.
There’s no such thing a free lunch, as they say, and there’s certainly no such thing as a proper Champagne for a tenner and the wonderful, minerally, honeyed and complex treat that is a proper Chablis cannot be had for a fiver.
This creates an unrealistic price expectation, fostered by cynical and misleading competitive practices making “authentic” wines offered by the specialist wine merchants look wildly over-priced. It’s like buying a BMW at a knock down price and only later discovering that it has a moped engine under the bonnet . . . well, it looked like the real deal.
So, on the whole, we specialist wine merchants should give some thanks to the supermarkets for getting everybody so interested in wine, but if you see yourself driving a Ferrari rather than a moped, you’d better log on to the website of your favourite specialist wine merchant, who will be happy to deliver your “authentic” tipples. Just as well, there’s only room in the boot for a Holland & Holland and a hip flask!
Some proper wines at proper prices:
All available to order online www.Philglas-Swiggot.com
Or in-store on 020 7402 0002, Richmond, Marylebone & Battersea
Soave Superiore “Il Casale” Agostino Vicentini 2011 £16.99
A classic example of the elegance, purity and deliciousness of a proper Soave that is oh-so different from the mass produced anonymous plonk served up as dry white at the Dog and Duck.
Chianti Classico Poggio Al Sole 2009 £17.15
Fine, perfectly balanced beautiful fruit and the silkiest of texture. This should be your benchmark for authentic Chianti, made by a small family owned estate.
Champagne Louis Barthelemy Brut “Amethyste” NV £28.60
Having sold their family estate in the Luberon to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, the Chancel family have focussed all of their energy on improving their already fantastic Champagne by investing in a new winery alongside Bollinger in Epernay. Voted one of the World’s top NV Champagnes by the specialist Champagne writer Tom Stevenson.