jamie goode's wine blog: Tesco wine fairs

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tesco wine fairs

It's great to see Tesco, the UK's largest wine seller, running some consumer wine shows, in four cities over the next couple of months. It's so important to get people tasting, thinking about and enjoying wine. The more people who become interested in wine, the better it is for all of us (the only downside is more people chasing after small production gems, pushing the prices up). We need more consumer events like these.

But part of me is disappointed that all these people are making the effort to taste and learn, but they're not being shown all that many wines that you can really get excited about. I'm not knocking Tesco here, who do a pretty good job; it's just that any retailer of this sort tends to carry lots of correct but boring wines on its shelves.

Let's be brutally honest. Most commercial wines are crap. The Tesco buyers are talented individuals, but the constraints they work under mean that they're largely buying wines that I suspect they wouldn't choose to drink if they had the choice. There are some very notable exceptions (and given the commercial constraints it's amazing just how good some of the wines they carry are). But most of them are still dull, especially those from the old world classic regions where buying to a price point is a tough job.

If I was given free rein to choose from Tesco's range, I could certainly put together a very educational and enjoyable tasting for consumers. But I know that I could do a lot better if I were to source wines from elsewhere.

The problem here is the modern retail environment, which requires economies of scale. To play at all, you have to be big. And it's hard to be big and good when it comes to wine. The compromises that must be made in scaling up production are almost inevitably tasted in the glass.


At 12:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Waitrose do a much better job though, don't they? Though I suppose they are operating on a much smaller scale in comparison.

At 3:46 PM, Blogger Vinogirl said...

It's a start though isn't it?
I myself (on my recent trip home), found the selection disappointing but it is just a supermarket. I'm sure people can figure out for themselves that if they are drawn to a particular varietal then they can seek out other producers at speciality wine stores. I have faith that a certain percentage of customers, at Tesco, will not be content with Ravenswood's Vintners Blend Zinfandel for long.

At 6:35 PM, Blogger Andrew Halliwell said...

I don't agree that it isn't easy to be big and good. Sure, you can't be massive and produce DRC, but big, good blends are very possible.

Large companies have economies of scale and can usually source from a number of regions. They have long term contracts, so can generally pick what they want, when they want. They often have a number of winemakers and products. When things are well organised, even companies like Orlando (who make Jacob's Creek) can and do make stunning wines in small batches, e.g. with hand punch downs, would you believe?. If something was destined for the small batch, but doesn't quite make the grade, it can then just go down 1 notch,improving the product below it.

If you've got good systems and committed personnel, you can end up with largeish subtle blends with components from different sites, made in different ways, with different oak etc, which can increase complexity. A palate or options which is, by definition, not available to the small producer.

What is hard to do is make brilliant, exciting wine at a low budget. And there are also clearly some definite terroirs which can't be expanded indefinitely. Perhaps the "failing" of large, generally new world companies is that they have mastered winemaking to such an extent that good, consistent, affordable wine is now a given and issues which can affect a small producer (such as crap years) can be largely sidestepped.

At 9:55 PM, Anonymous Steve said...

Hi Jamie,

I agree that it's probably very difficult for the talented people working there!

Besides having a dull wines pretty much across the range, the value is poor. They have a captive audience and simply don't have to try very hard.

And now the fairs! It's becoming more and more difficult to escape the Borg!

I'm sorry Andrew, but big soulless wines just can't compete with well sourced small producers, even at the same price point. A few examples of well made interesting wines at low price points:

Lea & Sandeman

Fingal Rock


Just a few of very many examples. Assimilation is not inevitable!

At 1:11 AM, Blogger Wine Splodge said...

"If I was given free rein to choose from Tesco's range, I could certainly put together a very educational and enjoyable tasting for consumers. But I know that I could do a lot better if I were to source wines from elsewhere."

So Jamie, if you did do that, but could only source from one supplier, which one would it be?

At 5:28 PM, Blogger Jamie said...

Splodge - if it had to be a supermarket/high street outlet, I'd choose:

1. Waitrose
2. Majestic
3. Oddbins
4. Marks & Spencer

Independent merchants - too many to list

At 7:34 PM, Blogger Wine Splodge said...

Thanks Jamie. We're getting a Waitrose in the west end of Glasgow very soon. An event being treated akin to a 'happening' by many here. At least the wine won't disappoint.

At 10:13 PM, Anonymous Laurence said...

Jamie - What about Booths? or even Morrisons - or are you betraying your inherent southern bias because of your location?

At 9:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Morrisons is utterly dire.

I certainly don't share vinogirl's faith that Tesco customers will seek out other better examples of grapes they like. They aren't that interested, and they can't be bothered. They buy everything at Tesco, so why should wine be any different?

At 10:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jamie - you may be able to select an educational wine range for Tesco.. but would their customers buy it?? and could the average consumer afford it..

I'm sure Tesco stocks wine that sells - if it doesn't then it's out....

I think you forget that what the average everyday punter enjoys is not going to be the same as those who spend their life thinking, drinking and talking about wine..

Loose the snob factor - there is no need to tell people what they drink from their local supermarket is crap.. but I would guess those people are not even reading this anyway..
Everyone is their own critic and if they don't like it they won't buy it again..

and lets not forget - the average consumer does not give a hoot about wine really, for many it's just like picking up the weekly mass produced chicken, if the price is right, what a bonus.

At 8:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree, Tesco's selection reflects what people are buying in general.

At 3:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe peoples palates can become more sophisticated, if they are interested. Those who stick with a supermarkets selection are only interested in alcoholic drinks, not necessarily wine. I agree with VG that they are a starting point.


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