While listening to a BBC 4 podcast (Thinking Aloud) titled ‘Too much choice: how this may cause anxiety in our lives” lead me to reflect, do we have too much choice when it come to wines on our supermarket shelves ? Would we be better served by fewer wines, allowing the supermarkets’ educated wine buyers to select for us and only offering us a limited range of three to four wines at each price point.
I decided to turn this reflection into an investigation and take a trip to two major supermarkets to examine the level of choice we, the consumers are given and explore the difficult choices facing us when it comes to purchasing wine. Ten years ago wine was only given one small section in the corner of the supermarket, five years ago wine only made up 30% to 40% of the total alcohol isle, with beer and spirits making up the rest. Now wine gets its very own isle with beer and spirits being relegated around the corner. How absurd would it be if cheese had its own isle, I know there is a dairy isle but it is made up of cheese, milk, cream, yogurts etc. Imagine an isle of white slice pans or just pasta, how very strange. It just indicates how the sales of wine have grow in recent years.
In the larger of the supermarkets the wine isle has 352 wines of different grape variety and colour (this took so long to count I was afraid of being thrown out). There was three of every wine on display which equates to 1056 bottles; thats a lot of wine. When looking more closely you find that 80% of these 352 wine are from the three major red and white varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz and Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. The majority of these wines are from new world countries and fall into the same price bracket of under €12.00. While the countries may differ, the taste and style of the wine making do not; light, simple, fruit driven wine made not to offend anyone and appeal to a mass market like easy-singles or sliced pan.
So while it would seem that we have 352 wines to choose from what we actually have is a very limited range of wines. It is interesting that the product given the most shelf space and with its own isle in fact offers the most limited choice. What we need is not more wine on the shelves, but more variety or more varietals ! Maybe instead of twenty Chilean chardonnays and twenty New Zealand sauvignon blanc, what we need is one white wine from the top ten countries that produces white wine, giving us less wine but actually more choice. If you find you need help buying better wine read our post Tips on Buying Better Wine
While there I did find an interesting Riesling, the review will follow next week.