Published 10 February 2011
I would love to say that the reason I enrolled on my first WSET wine course was because I wanted to understand grape architecture, what effect carbonic maceration has on a wine, or to discover lesser known wine countries like Brazil.
Unfortunately, my real objective was to find “the nicest wine for the cheapest price”. Or, maybe I should say, to find wines in my preferred styles at the optimum price. However you phrase it, what I pay for a bottle of wine was, and will always be, important. After all, nobody wants to pay over the odds for anything.
When I read a recent article in Which? magazine that reported on special offers that weren’t so special, I started to wonder how special the offers on wines really are. The magazine article, by the way, had classic pseudo offers such as a 100g jar of coffee for £2 and a 200g jar of the same coffee for £5.79; a bottle of ginger beer for 50p or two bottles for £1.60; and the packet of peas at the amazing “NEW LOWER PRICE” of 35p… discounted from 35p!
Although some of the above examples could well have been genuine mistakes (or just acts of pure stupidity), I wanted to find out whether the discounts and deals that we see every time we visit a supermarket, off-licence or wine merchant are genuine offers.
First, let’s confirm what the law considers a ‘discount’ or ‘special offer’. In the UK, the price used as a basis for comparison (i.e. the higher price) should have been available for 28 consecutive days or more. However, it can then be on ‘special offer’ for the same amount of time that it was at the full price. For example, if a bottle of wine has being sold at £10 for two months, it could then be sold at the special discounted offer price of £5 for the next two months. For further details, see the Department for Business Enterprise & Regulatory Reform’s “Pricing Practices Guide” (May 2008)
But, there’s an old estate agent adage: “A house is only worth what someone is prepared to pay for it”. On this basis, a £10 bottle being sold for £5 is… a £5 bottle of wine.
But what about bulk discounts and BOGOFs (Buy One Get One Free offers)? Unless we are talking serious bulk levels (such as those offered to restaurants), these offers are just the above discounts being offered in a different way: one £10 bottle discounted to £5, or two bottles for £10. Whichever way you dress it up, a single bottle is costing (and therefore worth) £5. However, the BOGOF has the added benefits to the retailer of ensuring that they sell two bottles in one hit and avoid many of the regulations covering discounts.
Mostly, you get what you pay for. If you want to spend £5 on a bottle of wine that’s been discounted by 50%, then go ahead. Just don’t think that you’re drinking a £10 bottle of wine because it’s probably not the case.
However, there are exceptions. Bibendum Wine’s annual winter sale is currently on – but due to end shortly on Monday 14th February. You could certainly do worse than picking yourself up a case of the 2009 The Stump Jump from d’Arenberg (which has been reduced to £5.86 a bottle), or the Agustinos Syrah Reserva Privada Cachapoal 2008 (reduced to £5.39). I was very impressed with both of these. If you’d like more info on the sale, check out the review on The Spittoon.
The problem is, with every supermarket and wine merchant offering you so many ‘special offers’, how are you meant to sort the genuine bargains from the duds? I think that an offer worth taking can be identified by asking “would I pay the full price for this bottle?” In the case of the Bibendum wines, I would happily pay the full price – so any discount is a good thing. I’m not sure the same could be said for most other ‘special offers’ out there. Maybe that’s a good rule to use.