WINE MERCHANTS OR SUPERMARKETS?
My final epistle from the UK before our return to the sunshine is largely a reflection on my wine buying experiences here in the UK, but it is still relevant to readers in Spain – in fact, readers all over the world where there are choices regarding where to buy your wine.
Put simply, though I’ll expand on this shortly – I don’t just ‘highly recommend’, in fact I implore you to buy your wines from wine merchants whenever you have the opportunity, and if you don’t have it, please make it!
I once went to a splendid, celebrated Country House Hotel in the Lake District of the UK some 25 years ago. At dinner I was amazed, and rather disappointed to see that, of the 24 or so white wines listed, about 20 of them were Chardonnay! Variety? Balance?
I accepted of course that business was business, and Chardonnay produces were surfing their own products all across Britain in those days – many readers will remember this, I’m sure. Hotels and restaurants had to pander to the demands of the market, but, for me, this was ridiculous.
Fast forward a quarter of a century, and yesterday, as indeed it was every time I walked into a supermarket, when I approached the white wine shelves I was confronted with a veritable army of Sauvignon Blanc bottles. Sauvignon Blanc full stop! If looking for variety, there were, I admit, examples of Sauvignon Blanc from several different countries, but it’s still SB (as we heard it referred to a number of times!).
So, the grape variety has changed from Chard (I can abbreviate too you know!) to SB, but the principle is the same. There is far too little choice in supermarkets!
TBH (To Be Honest – ok, I’ll stop now!), I’m not sure who is driving whom – is it the distributors or the wine commentators who are responsible for this homogenous glut? My wine writing colleagues here in the UK are invited to all of the various press//trade tastings, mostly by the UK based distributors acting on behalf of the producers with whom they work all over the world.
I would like to think that most of these trade tastings offer many, or at least, several different wine styles, grape varieties etc, so there should be a variety of articles born of each writer’s own preferences. However, at such tastings, the supermarket buyers will also be present. Enter the dreaded ‘price point’. It is not just the buyer’s palate that makes the decision as to which to buy, it’s all about the base, profit!
The waters muddy, and I can’t see through them, except to say that the result is somehow that supermarket shelves are full of whatever the distributors/writers want us to drink – and like lambs to the SB, we do what we are told. And, of course, consumers ‘get a taste’ for Sauvigning, and so the cycle continues.
Well, it didn’t with me, anyway!
I boldly went to find the lamentably lonely, deserted bottles of: Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Albariño, Godello (I was delighted to see this Spanish variety available in a quiet corner!), etc, albeit occasionally akin to ‘mission impossible’! But, supermarkets please note, these ‘weird’ varieties were invariably well received!
On just one occasion in the UK (in fact the town where I grew up, and even more nostalgically, in Majestic Wine Merchants which now occupies the site where my father worked, Tottey’s Garage, 60+ years ago) I was able to enter the Aladin’s Cave of a wine merchant.
It’s true, I did see Sauvignon Blanc (and Chardonnay) – but what a wealth of other grape varieties and blends of! It was a pleasure to roam the aisles and select from such a vast variety. Wine Merchants offer true consumer choice – supermarkets don’t. I rest my case!