Don't knock people who buy cheap wine

on 15 November, 2013

What’s the point of wine? If you’re Catholic wine is for communion but for some Muslims it’s for infidels. For collectors wine is self-fulfilment, but for alcoholics it’s self-destruction. For some, wine is for quiet contemplation, for others it’s for spraying over people in nightclubs to show you’re classy.

If you’re reading this column, then wine is almost certainly involved in your line of work, although I sincerely hope you don’t mind frequently taking that work home with you.

Wine fascinates because of its endless interpretations. The range of styles and flavours in wine surpasses every other kind of thing you can put in your mouth. There’s a wine out there for everyone. When people say they don’t like wine, I’ll only believe them if they’ve tried every single wine ever made.

The wine trade loves to eulogise about wine’s infinite diversity, almost as much as it loves sobbing about the average price of a bottle. But, in reality, most people who drink wine couldn’t give a stuff about that. For them, wine is a way to unwind, relax, forget their ghastly boss, celebrate special moments and lubricate awkward ones.

Affordability is key. Would we prefer that the least wealthy among us couldn’t afford wine? Should we be patronising them by saying that their £5 bottle is only worth 10p?

One counter-argument is that cheap wine encourages binge-drinking. That’s like saying cheap avocados encourage guacamole. It just isn’t true that cheap wine causes excessive consumption. I don’t deny that wine can be involved in problem drinking, and that the industry has a responsibility to help, but I do deny that raising prices will solve the problem. Another gripe is that cheap wine is bad for the industry because it’s financially unsustainable. There’s truth in that and many parts of the trade are squeezed by pressure on prices. Yet for every wine that exits the cheap market, plenty are queuing to enter. That might make life tough for some, but the variable nature of wine production means there will

always be plonk. But that doesn’t make the people who drink it plonkers, Rodney.

As for the argument that most cheap wine is not as good as most expensive wine – well, duh. That’s beside the point. For those who don’t care, the wine trade should be celebrating the best wines you can buy for £5 instead of harrying them into spending more.

Sure, some people do want to trade up, and that’s great. Then by all means discuss soil and climate, vine age and yield, yeast and sulphur. Just remember that the requisite majority that perpetuates that average bottle price of just over a fiver are just not interested. It’s worth repeating: for many thousands of people, wine is a simple, thoughtless pleasure. Surely it’s pleasure that is the

ultimate point of wine. And no person should dictate to another how to please themselves, be it with wine or anything else, frankly.

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