The Losh Cause – Fair question
By Chris Losh | 7 May 2008
In anticipation of the London International Wine Fair, Chris Losh has put together a few questions, touching on some of the imponderable puzzlements of the drinks industry, for visitors to mull over, or perhaps fume over, on their way to the show. True to form, Chris has his own answers, which are likely to be as thought-provoking as the questions.
It is May, which means that the world and his wallaby are booking their airline tickets, scouring Late Rooms for vaguely decent hotels and stuffing their suitcases with chorizo, biltong or foie gras to get them through one week in London later this month. Yes, the London International Wine Fair beckons.
To keep you sane on your journey to London, and whet your appetite for the heated discussion and debate - sorry, industry gossip - of the coming week, here are ten questions for you to mull over and get annoyed about.
Why are wine bottles 75cl?
Yeah, yeah, history dictates etc. But really, viewed with any logicality at all, it makes no sense whatsoever. Who drinks wine? Couples, for the most part. How much would anyone usually want to drink of one wine? Two glasses each, probably, which means four glasses in total, which suggests a 50cl bottle would be infinitely more convenient. And for a party of four, two 50cl bottles, one white and one red.
Why this hasn't happened I do not know. It's probably due to retailers. More to the point, why does no one talk about it? Just think - drop to half-litre bottles and we have the joy of trading people up over the GBP4 price point all over again!
Talking of which, is there really a move to premiumisation?
Ask owners of style bars and top-end restaurants and they'll say 'yes'. Walk down the aisle of your local supermarket and it all looks rather different. Which suggests that maybe 10% of the population are trading up in a 'splash the cash and follow the herd' kind of way, but that for most people drink remains an effect to be pursued rather than a product to be savoured.
Why is Cognac so expensive?
How is it that VSOP Cognac (minimum age four years, and in most cases not good enough to drink neat) comes in at around the same price as a decent 12-year-old single malt Scotch whisky? Or a big-name VS Cognac (minimum age: two years) should be 50% more expensive than an older blended Scotch. Yes, grapes are more expensive than grain, but I don't buy the argument that they're sufficiently more expensive to explain the vast price differential. Anyone from south-west France prepared to share the maths with us?
Should we mourn the economic downturn?
Yes, I know business is harder now. But when luxury London hotels start putting together 30-bottle 'water menus', with the most expensive selling for GBP50 a litre, it's absolute proof that the world has disappeared up its own fundament.
Why do New World countries make expensive sparkling wine?
There are, of course, a handful of savvy New World producers in genuinely cool regions who make fizz that is both elegant and ambitious enough to justify elevated prices. But too many just end up making something that tastes like Banrock Station that's been passed through a Sodastream. It's fine for barbecues and Friday nights in front of the telly, but please don't delude yourselves into thinking that it's like Krug, but at half the price. Putting it in a two-tonne bottle with a second-mortgage price tag fools nobody.
Why does the drinks industry promote at Christmas?
Go into a clothes shop in spring, and what's on discount? Winter clothes. Go in a supermarket at Christmas, and what's on discount? Drink. Yes, the one time of year when customers are virtually guaranteed to be buying Port, spirits, Sherry and mountains of beer and wine, and we're giving the stuff away. Of course, it's all a political game between supermarkets to use booze to drive footfall. But as an industry I can't believe we're stupid enough and craven enough to go with it. Ask yourself: do holiday companies run half-price offers in January..?
Why can't wineries write back labels?
Think about it. You've got a product that is grown in beautiful places, made by committed people, and that gives the consumer the feel-good factor. So what do you write about on the back label? Soil. And oak. Get a grip! If I buy a stereo, I don't care how the microchips have been fabricated, so why should the purchaser of a GBP4 bottle of Sauvignon Blanc give a damn about fermentation temperatures or lees stirring? Leave the technical stuff in the winery where it belongs and get poetic.
How big a con is ultra-premium vodka?
I'm not going to trot out the 'it tastes of nothing anyway' line, because there patently are differences between a sub-GBP10 bottle of semi-industrial alcohol and Belvedere. My contention is that above the GBP30/US$50 mark, the differences are due to gimmickry in the production method, and have zero impact on the actual taste.
Does anyone seriously think that a vodka filtered 25 times through precious gems tastes better than Wyborowa? No. It's just an excuse for a big price tag. And when punters clock that they are being taken for a ride, vodka will lose kudos faster than Britney's hairdresser.
Why are wine serving sizes so inflexible?
So the UK government is firmly against binge-drinking. Really? Currently the law states that wine has to be served in glass sizes of 125ml, 175ml or 250ml. But restaurants are not allowed to serve anything smaller. So, it's OK to serve a third of a bottle in a glass the size of a goldfish bowl, but not a delicate taster of something expensive. Remember that the next time some rent-a-quote MP is ranting on about irresponsible drinking.
Why can't the EU sort out Pinot Grigio?
Everyone knows that far more 'Pinot Grigio' comes out of Italy than is ever grown there. So if the EU is so bothered about provenance that it chases down rogue bottles of 'Chablis' or 'Champagne' outside its borders, why not address what appears to be fairly wide-scale passing off nearer to home?
As ever, we here at just-drinks would love to hear if you have answers to any of these questions. You can email us your solutions at email@example.com.
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