Posh Plonk Comes to Chelsea

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Oh, dear. This won’t go down well with the chaps, but I hereby confess to being a bit tight when it comes to buying wine. That ‘three for £10’ deal that screams at me from the supermarket shelf is monstrously tempting. Three bottles! I can go home with three bottles and only part with a tenner! They look decent enough, I tell myself. Pretty label, recognisable brand. And, more importantly, I can have three of them. They’ll taste fine, probably…maybe…hopefully; doesn’t matter, they’re cheap. Yes, I’m sorry, Arbuteers, but I fall regularly into this trap. And I know I’m not alone in this.

Strangely, we compromise on our wine in Britain. We, a nation increasingly demanding of quality, especially in our food, are for some reason prepared to spend absurdly small sums of money on our wine rather than handing over just a few more of our sterling for a better drop. This is something The Fine Wine Fair 2010 intends to put right, by introducing discerning consumers to affordable, delicious mid-range wines that are appropriate for their tastes and for the budgets they’re prepared to keep in all other areas of life.

I’m one such consumer. I like to pay more for a good cup of coffee to avoid a mediocre one; I spend a bit more money to have fewer clothes that will last rather than many cheap garments that won’t; and I like good quality, perhaps even organic food. So why am I not spending a few extra quid on a slightly better bottle of wine? I talked to Anthony Hawser, one of the fair’s founders, to find out what’s gone awry in the modern consumer’s relationship with wine. Are we lacking some sort of requisite knowledge about wine and therefore just choosing whatever is promoted by a special offer?

“Why should people be knowledgeable about a product in order to enjoy it?” says Hawser. “Most people aren’t knowledgeable about a cup of coffee, but they recognise a good cup of coffee from a bad one – and they’re prepared to pay for it. But they’re not prepared to pay £8 or £10 for a bottle of wine. That’s not logical, and it’s the wine trade’s fault. We’ve made wine elitist; we’ve made it snooty. We’ve done what you should never do when you’re marketing something, which is put hurdles in the way.”

The aim of The Fine Wine Fair, Anthony tells me, is to show consumers who have a bit of money to spend that there are better quality wines on offer that fall somewhere in between the cheap-and-cheerful supermarket bargains and the high-end vintage bottles. And it’s these mid-range wines that represent the best value. “When you buy a £3.99 bottle of wine, you’re spending roughly £3 on the Government,” he explains. “You’re paying tax, you’re paying VAT, you’re paying alcohol duty, and the actual cost of the juice that you’re drinking is very little. And when you pay £8 for a bottle, you’ve got a fiver more, effectively, to pay for the wine. The wine’s going to be incomparably better, and it’s that side of the market that we’re interested in.”

Why host a consumer event now, I ask Anthony, whose own company, The Drinks Business, is established as a trade publisher for the wine and spirits industry, and what’s the drive behind the fair? “This is the first time we’ve touched the consumer market. We think there’s a genuine problem with the wine trade at the moment. Wine is the only product on the high street that has decreased in price in 25 years. It’s insanity, and it’s not giving the consumer what they really want which is a wine they really like.”

It’s going to be a fun, experimental event, with the emphasis firmly on tasting and enjoying wine. Big, well-known brands will be bringing a cross-section of their mid-range wines, such as Wines of Chile, and Wines of California, and Bordeaux will be giving masterclasses in how to invest in wine. “What we want people to do at the fair,” says Hawser, “is taste the wine and say ‘this is good; I like this’. We don’t want somebody to taste it and say ‘Ah, south end of the vineyard, picked on a Tuesday by a man with one leg’. We don’t want to be the Sherlock Holmes of wines. We want people to enjoy themselves and to taste wines that are well made and good and actually represent very good value.”

To help people taste the wines and to create a relaxed atmosphere that removes any feeling people might have that wine appreciation is elitist and formal, there’ll be wine students on hand to offer information about the wines, and a variety of foods served such as Spanish hams and Italian chocolates. The focus is on taste – and nobody needs an extensive knowledge about wine to be able to choose one they like and for which they’re prepared to pay a little more. “The real test of a good wine is whether you like it,” says Hawser. “You can have all sorts of scientific explanations, but do you like it? A nice bottle of wine’s a nice bottle of wine. Does it change your life? No. And it doesn’t make you live longer. But it’s much more enjoyable! And that’s what it’s about.”

The Fine Wine Fair is catching us before ‘three for £10’ becomes so embedded in our shopping ethos that it becomes too big a leap to pay a bit more for our wines. I’ll do my best to resist those bright shiny special offers and remember that there’s no point, really, in buying wine if it’s going to taste cheap. It’s a classic false economy. Three mediocre – or even quite bad – bottles of plonk, with most of the money going to the Government on tax and alcohol duty, or one jolly lovely bottle of wine, made well and packed with flavour, which will match the quality of food I’m bothering to buy? Well, it’s perfectly obvious.

Chaps, I’m a changed lady. No more £3.99 plonk for Miss York. Fine wine is the future; let’s taste it. Cheers!

The Fine Wine Fair runs from Friday 15th October to Sunday 17th October. To win exclusive VIP tickets to the fair, please enter our competition. For more information about the fair and to purchase tickets, please visit their website.

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