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Jerry Lockspeiser: why we should celebrate £6 wines not denigrate them

Published:  26 September, 2014

Wine selling for £6 or less is shit.  Not my words but those of advertising legend Sir John Hegarty at the Wine and Spirit Trade Association conference.


Wine selling for £6 or less is shit.  Not my words but those of advertising legend Sir John Hegarty at the Wine and Spirit Trade Association conference. 

Most people buy most wine at £6 or below. They are not grimacing while they swallow, nor pouring the remainder down the sink. They do not seem to be thinking 'this is pretty crap I'd better spend a few quid more'.  Allowing for the normal variations in people's taste they appear to be rather content with the choice and styles on offer. At least the sales figures would suggest so. All of which is in stark contrast to those face to face with a tannic £30 bottle.

Sir John talked a lot of sense. He knows more about brand advertising than most people on planet earth. His call to put the user at the centre of what we do is the crux of it. Let's talk to wine drinkers as an audience to engage with, not consumers to be sold to. Let's do it in a simplistic way, meaning clear and understandable, and the opposite of complex. And let's converse about things that matter to them in a language they understand.

It's so obviously right. Presumably we don't do it, or don't do it more, either because we don't know how to, or because we fear being naked, exposed without the cloak of wine speak wrapped around us.

Advertising legend: Sir John HegartyAdvertising legend: Sir John HegartySource: Bestmediainfo.comThe WSTA has asked Sir John Hegarty to give the keynote address at its annual conference

But I part company with Sir John over the "shit".  If the user is at the centre, and they like most of the wines they can buy at £6 or less, who are we to tell them they are wrong?

On the contrary, what is wrong is to think that because a wine costs more it is better. Wrong because 'better' for any individual is a matter of personal preference. Many tasting tests show this, both with consumers and amongst professionals.  

Just one example: Aldi's £12.99 own label Champagne beating Moet's £32.99 Imperial and Veuve Clicquot's £130 La Grande Dame 2004 in the International Wine Challenge. There are plenty more like this.

The WSTA has asked Sir John Hegarty to give the keynote address at its annual

Wine is far from the only category where price, be it high or low, is useless as a guide to liking or quality. Last year Good Housekeeping's pre-Christmas cheese tasting was won by Morrisons' Signature Stilton costing £3, beating Harrods at £11.99 and Fortnum and Mason at £26. Shoppers at Aldi were deemed to be getting the best Christmas pudding, topping the list ahead of Heston Blumenthal's for Waitrose.

In wine, lower yields make for a less watery drink. This can- should- lead to a final product with more intense flavours, ergo a better wine. Unless the wine has not been made well in other respects, or is oaked and you don't like oak, or is too powerful for your taste, or too alcoholic, or a myriad of other factors that may lead to preferring something  else, including one that happens to be made from significantly higher yields and which costs less.

I spend part of my life in Spain and stumbled across an unoaked Ribero del Duero in a restaurant. To my taste it is ripe, juicy, succulent, packed with flavour and easy to drink with and without food. I have adopted it as my house wine at home. Visiting friends almost always say how nice it is. Experienced colleagues in the wine trade, including MW's of both sexes, have commented on it being a good drink. It retails in the supermarket for €3 a bottle.

So, when producers around the world make wines that people enjoy at £6 or less we should marvel at their skill in making so popular a product at such low cost. We should congratulate not denigrate.

If we really want to put the user of wine at the centre and engage with them as an audience we probably have to do a lot more listening than talking. We should start by recognising that £6, never mind £10, is not a frivolous amount of money to spend for most people in the UK today.

Let's not forget that respondents to a Harpers survey said they planned to spend less on wine and drink less of it in the year ahead. Sir John told the WSTA conference the wines from his estate in the south of France sell for between £9 and £23. No doubt they are delicious, but it's a different part of the market.

If we want to build engagement with our audience perhaps we should start here, in the price lowlands, where most wine drinkers are.

* Sir John Hegarty's reference to £6 wine in his WSTA speech came as a result of the Harpers Demysiftying the Consumer Off-trade report that found the majority of consumers would never consider spending £6 a bottle of wine. The report is available to buy in our Insights section.