Published on November 4th, 2013 | by Alastair Gilmour


Do half-price wines add up?

One of the country’s leading wine experts explains what supermarket discounts really mean

 We buy 1.6bn bottles of wine every year in this country, nine out of ten being from supermarkets.

Supermarkets are where we can touch for some vast discounts, so we flock there – but, asks wine expert, critic and broadcaster Oz Clarke, what we’re investing in is very poor value for money.

“There are more wines available to us now from countries all around the world than ever before and thanks to the supermarkets, much of it can be bought at prices that won’t break the bank,” he told the BBC’s Watchdog. “But alongside other wine writers I’m increasingly more irritated at the way supermarket wine is being marketed to us and concerned about the way a lot of us have got into the habit of buying it. »

“We’ve become addicted to deals – irresistible bargains – and 60% of wines are discounted, most of it at half-price. But are we getting some amazing deal or just having the wool pulled over our eyes by some smart marketing device?”

Oz reveals that the average spend on a bottle of supermarket wine is £5. Discounted wines could spend a two-thirds of the year sitting on the shelves at £9.99 a bottle then reintroduced for the remaing four months at £4.99 – the £10 to £5 offer appears to be the one that captures our imagination.

“If a supermarket is selling a £10 wine for £5 and for a period of time that could be between 37% and 60% of the year, that supermarket is going to be making a loss – and they simply wouldn’t do it.

“The only way they can make a profit out of the wines they sell so many bottles of is if the wine was never worth more than £5 in the first place.”

He takes a slug of a former £10 wine and though he thinks it’s OK-ish in its smoky, acid, spice and fruitiness, he says: “I taste hundreds of wines all the time and one thing I can say is this is not a £10 bottle of wine.”

So, what’s going on? The first £2 of our £5 bottle is taken up with excise duty, then with 20% VAT and an extra 11p if it comes from outside the EU, it comes to an inescapable £2.94 in tax. Transport, storage and packaging swallow up around 60p per bottle and with the supermarket taking 30% after VAT (£1.25), what is left? Twenty pence worth of wine, actually. Yes, 20p.

Oz says: “So not only might your £10 bottle be only worth a mere fiver but that fiver bottle might only have a few pence worth of wine in it. You might want to think twice the next time you buy a bottle of wine from a supermarket.”

He does recommend we look around at “proper” bargains such as wines from Eastern Europe. “Hungary and Romania have some of the finest vineyards in Europe,” he says. A country such as Australia or South Africa might want to promote their wines through genuine generic discounts (South Africa needs the money) and own brands can be very good value.

“With ‘house’ wines, the supermarkets take smaller profit margins and with the likes of Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference range you’re often getting some of the best quality in the whole supermarket.”

The BBC Watchdog feature concluded that Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s all denied they mislead customers on the price of wine, stressing that they take their responsibilities to customers very seriously.

And the good news

A glass of wine a day may keep the blues away, according to a study of the benefits of a Mediterranean diet. The research, conducted in Spain – and part of a broader report – found that those who drank two to seven glasses of wine a week were less prone to depression than non-drinkers. The results were the same for men and women.

“Depression and heart disease seem to share some common mechanisms because they share many similar protective factors and risk factors,” said lead researcher Angel Martinez-Gonzalez.

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Alastair Gilmour

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