Cheap wine expensive

Thanks for all the comments on my blog, keep up the emails to mark@antipodeswines.com but could more of you also be brave enough to post some comments on the blog? If you are looking for which wines to buy next or the list of the top 10 cheapest best wines this autumn then I hope you have found another site on the web. I think a lot about wine, drink a bit, taste quite a lot and fortunately we sell even more than that. By all accounts our total sales of wine over 100kr is now a sizable percentage of the total Swedish market.

Since you are reading this blog then you won’t be offended if I waste a few bytes of cyberspace on the ills of cheap wine.  Generally people are interested in quality. Most of us drive quality fairly new cars, dress fashionably, prefer to buy organic and fair trade food and drinks and buy quality consumer products like mobile phones and televisions. Wine however has become commoditized where quantity rules over quality and appreciation takes the back seat to over-participation.

Being a wine journalist tasting the entire assortment of the national retailer each month must be a depressing and harrowing task. 60% of wine sold in Sweden is not in a bottle – think bag in box, tetra pack, little plastic cushions – the type of products you are grateful to have those funny plastic bags of shame to hide your purchase in.

The source of this obsession with quantity over quality, low price over good value stems from the myths surrounding the national retailers’ existence. I often ask people why the national retailer is good and two answers are always offered: the huge range of wines available and that due to its buying power the national retailer can get the lowest prices. 

If you live in the city then there is a large range of wines, but if you live near a normal store there wll be 5 white wines and 7 red wines in the base assortment over 100kr. To the next argument then. Yes, they do get the lowest prices and price is where the national retailer can use its power most. It creates a tremendously competitive environment amongst wine importers in this country so it does get low prices, which to my mind is a contradiction when trying to discourage alcohol consumption. However, as alcohol consumers have become hooked on a cultural mindset that “alcohol is bad” but “cheap is good” there has been a race to the bottom of the market so your conscience and wallet are both not hurt too much. The way the wine is displayed in the stores, by price, also encourages a price only mindset.

Many consumers will pay 500kr for a bottle of wine in a restaurant that costs 120kr in the retail store. But less than 1% of people would pay that much for a bottle in the retail store. The national retailer should encourage more expensive wines to be consumed – quality over quantity!

But is cheap wine really cheap? A purchasing mindset has developed that revolves around the total SEK paid not the value of the wine in the bottle.

3L bag in box wines are seldom found outside of Sweden. 5L is the most common format. While I do not encourage the consumption of 3L or let alone 5L of the same wine in a plastic bag, it is not a very economic size due to the high cost of the packaging. On a per liter basis it is more economic to buy a 5L box and you get more value for the wine in the bag.

Similarly with a bottle of wine. Under 100kr a bottle you end up paying more for everything else than the wine itself (in taxes (alcohol tax is 16,185kr per bottle), the national retailer and the importer’s margin, packaging and transport costs etc). 69kr is cheap for a bottle of wine but how much is the wine itself costing? Less than 10kr and you dont get much quality fermented grape juice for that. Buy wine over 100kr and the wine itself makes up a greater portion of the product and for that money you can get a significantly better wine.

Consumers should start looking at the value of the product they are buying, not the total price. As my wise old grandmother used to say: “two things you should never buy based upon price – sushi and brain surgery.” We can add wine to her words of wisdom.

Cheers: Mark Majzner

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One response to “Cheap wine expensive

  1. Never forget the famous words of Folke Andersson (chief blender at V & S) about Swedish buying habits when they find alcohol cheaper than in Sweden:”Det tråkiga är att svensken inte utnyttjar det lägre priset till att köpa bättre kvalitet utan istället köper mer av samma skit”

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