News & views
Is Wotwine the UKIP of the wine world?
The news that an organisation called Wotwine has nominated Lidl their supermarket of the year - and M & S the worst for value - inevitably hit the headlines this week. There’s nothing the tabloid press likes better than a story claiming that wine is overpriced.
My initial reaction was to dismiss it as an attention-grabbing publicity stunt from a headline-seeking startup but the story is a bit more complicated than that. The tasting panel includes a number of of Masters of Wine and sommeliers and even a winemaker. They meet weekly to taste a certain category of wine - say Chablis or Malbec - from all the major supermarkets and give the ‘would pay’ price they think they’re worth. You then evaluate if what the supermarket is charging for them is fair. They buy all the wine they taste (for which brownie points) but I wonder who pays for it? According to one of the regular panel, Nayan Gowda, it's funded "by a group of private individuals". With deep pockets, presumably.
It’s a clever anti-establishment idea which arguably has more merit than wine competitions where companies pay to enter wines and can therefore pick the stock they choose to submit. (Supermarket wines could have been languishing on the shelf in less than ideal conditions) It’s ideal for people who buy the same wine regularly and simply buy it on price.
But isn’t wine a little bit more complicated - and rewarding - than that? Unless we're on a particularly tight budget we don’t buy our food simply on price. Do you want to know where you can buy the best value chicken? I suspect you don’t. You want to know where it comes from and how it’s been treated. Some of us want someone to talk to about that, hence the survival of butchers - and in the case of wine, local wine merchants. Naked Wines - whatever you think of them - has shown there’s a huge appeal in selling wines with a story behind them, not necessarily at the cheapest price.
And what of more adventurous wine drinkers - a minority but a growing one. Does the team tackle wines like the Txakoli I was raving about the other day for example? Or orange wines (one of the more commendably off-piste wines in Wotwine's much maligned M & S)? Or natural wines - on which I’m sure most MWs would disagree. Isn’t it right that a winemaker who takes inordinate time and care cultivating his vineyards, hand-harvesting his grapes and ageing them in just the right kind of barrels shouldn’t charge more for them? Wine is not just about price.
The actual experience of using wotwine also doesn't quite stack up to the headlines. I did a random search on the site for white wines from M & S and got a selection that included a "real go-to" burgundy (their words) they valued at £16 for which M & S was only charging £14.99, an "excellent, proper" £42 Puligny Montrachet they also valued at £42 (value?) and a "crisp, bright, balanced" Hautes Côtes de Beaune "with nice intensity and character" they valued at £13 and for which M & S was charging £13.99. Hardly a rip-off.
But make no mistake it’s a sign of the times. Just as Aldi and Lidl have shaken up the world of wine retailing, wotwine could shake up the world of wine judging and wine criticism. The future in my view will be all about “trusted voices”. But I’ll come back to that.
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