Why big wine brands de­serve a higher rat­ing

The Guardian - Feast - - Feast - Fiona Beck­ett

I’ve been think­ing a bit about wine brands lately and why we don’t rate them as highly as we do brands in other fields. Think of fash­ion, cos­met­ics and even food, and brands gen­er­ate an en­thu­si­as­tic and loyal fol­low­ing, yet wine ex­perts tend to be de­cid­edly sniffy about them.

What brought this to mind was a re­cent trip to Por­tu­gal with lo­cal wine gi­ant So­grape (pro­nounced So­grap) that, among other things, owns Ma­teus. No, I’m not a fan, ei­ther, but I can see the ad­van­tage: the in­come stream from Ma­teus helps to fund the cul­ti­va­tion of vine­yards on the pre­cip­i­tous slopes of the Douro, which have to be worked by hand. At the top end of the scale, So­grape also makes Barca Velha, the wine Manch­ester United boss José Mour­inho fa­mously gave to his pre­de­ces­sor, Alex Fer­gu­son.

It’s a sim­i­lar story with other big com­pa­nies. Aus­tralian gi­ant Pen­folds, now owned by Trea­sury Es­tates, makes Raw­son’s Re­treat, but also the strato­spher­i­cally priced Grange. Like­wise, the Chilean win­ery Er­razuriz makes af­ford­able wines un­der its own name, but also the much-ac­claimed Seña.

The ad­van­tage of a brand is con­sis­tency, a qual­ity prized much more in spir­its than in wine, where vin­tage vari­a­tion is ad­mired as part of a wine’s DNA. But if you’re slightly anx­ious about your wine choices, pre­dictabil­ity is re­as­sur­ing. The down­side of brands, how­ever, is the pric­ing. Not nec­es­sar­ily that they’re more ex­pen­sive, though that may well be the case, espe­cially with cham­pagne, but that prices fluc­tu­ate so wildly be­tween one out­let and an­other. That isn’t al­ways down to the pro­ducer, though – su­per­mar­kets can and do dis­count wines to what­ever level they feel will give them a com­pet­i­tive edge (hav­ing of­ten charged over the odds in the first place).

The other day, for in­stance, Mor­risons was sell­ing Villa Maria Sauvi­gnon Blanc for £6 a bot­tle at the same time as you could find it for £3-£4 more in its com­peti­tors (the same wine was £9.49 at Bar­gain Booze, iron­i­cally). What’s the harm in that, I hear you ask. Well, for starters, the fact that in­de­pen­dent shops can’t hope to match those prices, so suf­fer from the im­pres­sion that they’re over­charg­ing (a bit like book­shops and Ama­zon); in fact, I found the Villa Maria at twice the Mor­risons price in one mer­chant.

The an­swer, of course, is not to buy a well-known brand in an indie (con­cen­trate on their more ob­scure finds in­stead) and to look out for spe­cial of­fers on those you buy in su­per­mar­kets.

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