The Vagaries of Irish Wine Pricing

​Apologies to all who have followed this blog since its inception around a half year ago (which is all two dozen of you), but I’ve been very lax with my postings of late. I’m afraid to say that this one won’t exactly set the world alight either, but you have to start somewhere as they say. Normal service resumes as of now.

I didn’t mean it to be this way but this will actually be my first negative review. I don’t intend to have one of those obnoxious, intentionally offensive blogs penned by haters and trolls, mainly because I’m neither of those types and tend to avoid them like the plague, which is exactly what they are. What I do want to do, however, is be truthful first and foremost, to shine a light on the good and bad, to tell it as it is but in a balanced and considered way.

I’m not going to set out seeking the worst wines and thrash them online with glee, but instead if I feel that if a wine is getting undue coverage and popularity and better is to be had elsewhere, especially in the same price bracket, then I will feel the need to speak up about it.

So, recently I had the Volpetto Chianti Riserva which can be got currently in O’Brien’s for €17.99, its ‘normal’ price. I put ‘normal’ in inverted commas since this is one of those wines that O’Brien’s import themselves, and as such they are free to play around with its pricing and promotions since they have full control over the margins they make on them.

That’s less easy with wines imported by a third party distributor since they themselves have their own margins to worry about, and so they space price promotions on their own wines more evenly (and sparsely) throughout the year since it costs them money every time they do.

So O’Brien’s can effectively have their own-import wines on almost permanent promotion throughout the year, returning the price to its ‘normal’ RSP for a few months in order to stay legal. Another example is their lovely Monte Real Rioja Reserva, which is currently €13.99 ‘down from’ €19.99. Have you ever seen it at full price in-store? Me neither.

The thing with the Monte Real Reserva Rioja is that it’s actually quite good, and at €13.99 it’s something of a steal and easily one of the best-value wines out there. At €19.99 it’s pushing it, with a much much better example to be found in the Muga Rioja Reserva for example, but at least it’s playing in the same league, if not at the top exactly

The Volpetto at €17.99, though, is really poor value, and at its usual reduced price of €10.99 is only barely excusable. The problem I have is that consumers are sucked in by the proposition of getting a Riserva wine from a historically prestigious region – Chianti – for a ‘bargain’ price of €10.99. What they end up with though is a bland, weak, atypical red wine that shows barely if any of the characteristics that have made – and continue to make – the better wines of the Chianti region really great.

The low price is achieved by only barely adhering to the minimum requirements set out to secure Chianti Riserva status, with quality coming second to securing that all-important promotional price-point; which for the Volpetto was, before the duty increase in the Budget last December, only €9.99 – below the crucially important threshold of €10 under which the vast majority of consumers make their choice, as it happens.

So regular punters, in the belief that they are getting a top-level wine from a famous region, in fact end up with the barely-legal dregs. Chianti Riserva dregs, yes, but dregs nonetheless.

Unfortunately this is the case with many famous wine regions where consumers, ever confused by the vast array of wines available, return time and again to those regions that have for the right regions earned a reputation in the past, but now are often sullied by chancers prodcing pale imitations of what can really be achieved in those areas. Chablis is the classic example – you really shouldn’t be able to get one for €8.99, but you can.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a dig at O’Brien’s, who have done much to raise the bar for wine in Ireland and offer genuinely great deals and some fantastic wines, not to mention being lovely people to work with both from a consumer and trade perspective. But with the Volpetto I feel they’ve hit a bum note, and more worryingly they risk adversely affecting consumers’ perception of Chianti as a result.

So how do you get around this? How can you tell which wines are genuine direct-import finds and which are duds? The answer, unfortunately for most, is through research – I say unfortunately because how many consumers have the time to sit down and read through wine articles and blogs? How many of you have made it this far down this post, for example? (I’ll soon be quizzing those who claim to be regular readers…!)

Consumers want recognised names at impossible prices, so importers will always find ways of giving the consumer what they want, even if it is to the detriment of the perception of a wine region. And they all do it: Tesco, Dunnes, Superquinn, SuperValu, etc etc. Such is the wine market in Ireland I’m afraid.

So rant over. Caveat emptor as they say. The best way to get around this is to go to your friendly local independent off-licence and add for a really representative wine, one full of terroir and regionality. You’ll get so, so much more bang for your buck, get some excellent service and most likely always come out happy – and if not go back again, give then some feedback, learn a little more and come away with something even better.

Either that, or for a few quid more skip the Volpetto and pick up a bottle of Marchesi Antinori Chianti Classic Riserva instead.

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