Thursday 17 January 2013

How much is that grog in the window?

This week, I have been not buying a lot of wine. This is because I have felt overwhelmed by the pricing chicanery of the wine market. New Year special offers, bin-ends, discounts and sales – I feel I’ve had the lot; and ended up in the position of knowing the price of everything, but the value of nothing.

I have written before about the ridiculous pricing strategies you get on wine these days. On one legendary occasion, two bottles of wine cost me just one penny more than one bottle of wine. Two-for-one is a fairly standard supermarket offer these days, or Buy One Get One Free. It was but a short step, therefore, to the offer (I thought) I saw (right) in a Booth’s supermarket, in which two bottles of Chateau Pierrail, a claret, cost slightly less than one. Price for one, £9.49; price for two, £8.49. So reduced to £4.25 a bottle then, a bit under half price, fair enough, I thought, wedging a brace in my basket.

Of course, when I got to the till, it was another matter. It was carefully explained to me, in that patient tone usually reserved for small children, that if you bought two, the price was £8.49 each. Each. So the “price for two”, whatever I thought I saw on the shelf-talker, was £16.98.

I thought I was buying some wine. I did not anticipate the kind of tricky price statements I associate with mobile phone tariffs. But in fact, buying wine seems to be acquiring something of the complexity of the mortgage market. 

For example, I was sent two New Year offers of Chateau Pennautier, a Cabardes from the South of France, which blends Bordeaux and other varieties into a comfortable, easy-drinking red. I have an affection for it, because my father-in-law used to buy it for his everyday drinking (or “PP – Pensioner’s Plonk” as he would describe it), before its price went up. This week the Wine Society sent me an offer saving £10 a case, which brings the equivalent bottle price down to £6.08. Then I find Majestic are offering it – same wine, same vintage – at £5.99 a bottle when you buy two. Not twelve. Although, because it’s Majestic, you have to buy six. They listed it at £8.49 originally, the kind of price that stopped my father-in-law buying it. And of course £8.49 is much higher than the Wine Society’s original list price of £6.91. So their discount is even greater. And… I’m lost – in a fog of list prices and quantities and discounts, somewhere within which lurks the actual worth of one bottle of wine.

It’s becoming like the market for sofas, in which one is forced to distrust any price which is not discounted, and wonder who the fool is that paid “full price”. Somewhere, I imagine, there must be a little-visited sofa outlet which is full of repellent sofas at astonishingly high prices. There, these ugly specimens do their statutory time with an absurdly high price tag – just so that, come sale time, they can be “marked down” by 50%.

And then, I thought I might have found its wine equivalent. There was a supermarket Bordeaux which I didn’t buy this week, not because it was on offer, but because it wasn’t. Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte 2004, standing in a corner of the wine shelves at my Sainsbury, with a price tag of £50.99.

It’s £50.99, for God’s sake. It’s probably the most expensive thing in the supermarket, below a television set. I can just imagine Mrs K’s reaction, when I say that I’m just going to pick up a bottle from the wine aisle, shove this insouciantly amongst the groceries and then, when we get to the till, it comes up costing half of the entire weekly shop. 

Perhaps they thought someone might trolley it for Christmas dinner, or for a gift. But now, it just looks absurd, like an Hermes scarf amongst the dishcloths. 

Or perhaps, given the likelihood of purchase, it’s actually been standing there, upright, at the hot end of the store, for the last eight years. Ignored. Because if one was spending £51 on a bottle of claret, one would surely expect at least a little unctuous fawning, in addition to some proper, horizontal storage.

Maybe, one day, it will be offered at “two for one”, or “33% off”, or something. Will it then be a bargain? Or is it a rip-off now? We are often told, when it comes to investments, that “your money may go down as well as up”. To which I reply that you could say that about planes – in which case I would never get on.

Finally another “offer” arrived in my inbox yesterday. “Delicious New Year savings”; 33% off Chateau Valfontaine Bordeaux, amongst others, at Waitrose. Down from £8.99 to £5.99, but only for another week. I hurry to the interweb, to see what others have said, and there I find tasting notes from an Oxford butler - what better authority on claret could there be? He writes favourably about it, and includes a little picture of the one-third off shelf-talker. And then I see the date of his post – 20 October 2012. So – it was £5.99 in October; shifted back up to £8.99 for Christmas; and is now (“Offer ends 22nd January!”) at £5.99 again. 

Forget it.



  1. I couldn't agree more with what you say & think it's a real pity that smart pricing strategies have become so common. It is in part linked to the concentration now on commercial brands (or should that be blands?)with their massive production schedules. I imagine there are armies of buyers visiting producers, trying to do deals that will eventually become half price so called bargains. Yet, it was only 4 years ago that I found some real bin end gems, even in the local Tesco. They are now gone and the same is true of the on line direct operations, which have become steadily less interesting - in my inexpert opinion. Shame.

  2. That's some pricing strategy by Booth's. I can't imagine they even sold many single bottles after this sort of deflation at the till.

    It's a sad state of affairs for comsumers, and the fact everyone is resorting to these 'Pound Shop' tactics doesn't help value any product.

    I suppose you don't see Apple having flash sales, even when they do its not on their website. Something to be learned there.


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