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Wine and Elitism


#1

This is a topic I’ve been pondering for quite some time. The opportunities afforded to many of us here with the financial ability and freedom to purchase nice wine and develop a love for it. How has this happened? Have we been brought up in middle classes where we have been introduced by parents or peers to the joys of wine? or taken an interest out of pure curiosity?
I believe the common denominator is we all have a financial benefit of being able to afford this hobby as such.
Look at wine education, the costs are enormous, how does a lower income person personally afford to fund it. There are no grants available, it doesn’t fall under “necessary” education which it should for people working within the wine trade.
Whilst I appreciate some WSET courses are paid for by employers, the employee is often required to either part fund or fully fund these courses as the prices rise in accordance with difficulty levels. Sometimes even though times are changing, it is clear that the whole industry has been built on elitism.
I discussed this recently with Mr.Leah and asked him “how do people afford decent wines when they don’t have the money but want to further develop an interest”. He just put it plainly, " they don’t". They stay drinking more affordable wine under the £6 mark. It makes me feel quite sad about that and the fact that there is so much to learn and enjoy about well made wine. We are living in this reality where the lower incomes are being squeezed out of the market.
This leads me onto the further point where the average price of a bottle of wine is set to increase to £6. This will potentially push 10 million wine drinkers out of the market. We should all be able to afford a glass or bottle of wine, this seems to be just another way to separate the lower incomes from the higher ones and creating a bigger divide between us. I guess the whole thing just makes me sad :unamused:


#2

Yes is my main response to this.

I also think of the number of public school educated white men who have sold me wine. I do not get the same proportion of these folks selling me cabbages or bread or indeed any other of my groceries. I never understand why wine has attracted this elitism at the selling as well as the buying end.


#3

They’ve got to do something with that god-awful education…


#4

Tastings can be afforded to try a range of different options. Looking back at my 2019 tastings some were as low as £10 each (70 wines!) But certainly i take your point as to the general cost on a week to week basis.

I’m very thankful that i can afford nice wine but I’d also imagine it’s a relative scale too, so if a person on a higher salary than i could only afford the more modest £10-£15 bottles and they expected the term 1er cru before most wine names they may feel that those wines are also boring, plain and simple.

The alternative is also to buy less but higher quality?


#5

It also doesn’t help that there is still a widely held view that the only wine worth drinking is old world wine, and in some extreme cases that means only wine from Bordeaux and Burgundy. They are hardly the best areas to get good quality wines at a bargain price.

So if you want to hunt down some good cheaper alternatives you may well be sneered at for buying, what they view as plonk.

I have enjoyed some amazing, great value wines recently from Austria, Germany, Argentina and Greece but I know some people who would laugh at me (in a jovial way) if I were to bring them a bottle as a gift.

Those deeply held prejudices are hard wired into some people and it just makes it harder to penetrate the wine world on a budget.

It’s also worth saying that it’s really difficult to get a decent bottle of wine at that £6 price point. The tax on a bottle is now just over £3 I think. Add to that the cost of packaging and shipping plus any marketing and other ancillary costs and you really aren’t getting much wine for your £6.


#6

There are two separate topics here. I would suggest that up to WSET Diploma level the costs aren’t huge. Anyone doing MW would have to have a pretty high level of intellectual rigour too, not to mention dedication and some cash.

Regarding the cost of wine itself, the problem is that many just want to max out on alcohol on a cost efficient basis and don’t care too much about the nuances. You can get a lot of decent wines in the £6 to £10 range, and even if you drink half a bottle, that’s a fiver or less. Problem is that many won’t stop at half a bottle (I plead guilty on many an occasion!). It’s less than they will spend on a cocktail or two or three pints, so I don’t really buy that many can’t afford it. They just don’t want to. I’ve done wine tastings for many who think £10 is ‘expensive’ but only in the context of what they have become conditioned to thinking by cheap supermarket offers. They think nothing of spending a lot more than me on some other things. It’s about priorities.

Even if duty and VAT were halved, many, probably most, would still drink the cheap stuff.

I got into wine in late teens, and was able to afford some half decent stuff on occasion then. I was even able to afford some really good stuff in mid 20s whilst earning a decent but not stratospheric salary. I can’t bring myself to pay the prices these wines command now - and no, it’s not money illusion, many are twice or more in real terms what they were then. That’s what saddens me…


#7

I just don’t buy this. At bottom it is an argument that poor people are just feckless and idiots, which by extension, is why they are poor. As a line of argument it is comforting to the privileged (which is why we hear so much about it) and not much to do with the reality.

I sometimes come across as a bit punchy when I argue this stuff so apologies in advance for any offence.


#8

You are forgetting that almost everyone now travels, mostly to places where the wine prices are much more reasonable. It is easy to develop a taste for, and some appreciation of the differences in quality of, wine in Spain, Portugal, Italy, even France… Then, you either bring back what you liked or look for it here. This probably explains much of the market for middle price wines. Most people, of course, don’t go on to the most expensive versions of any type of consumption. Yes, parents who take wine drinking for granted help, but there are many other ways to get addicted.

I always take a wine I think will be unfamiliar as a gift: I can’t imagine just taking something conventional (or having friends who would sneer at something interesting).


#9

That’s not punchy, but I don’t know whether @MarkC was making that point (that poor people are just feckless idiots) - sorry to put words in your mouth Mark, if that was your point! I think that the wine consumers we are discussing don’t see the value in spending more than £6 on a bottle. They are so used to getting a gluggable 0.75 litres of fermented grape juice in red, white or rose that they know they’ll enjoy, why bother going to £ or £10.

It’s my opinion that increasing the price (by taxation or market or whatever) won’t stop people who want to buy from buying (just look at cigarettes), but it will either drive them to the absolute bottom of the market, or like @Nowt_in_my_glass suggests, you just drink a bit less.


#10

And I strongly disagree with this. I am not talking about ‘poor’ people here, but if those who can afford it aren’t really willing to pay for it, at least not often - and these are the people I’m talking about - then it’s unlikely that those poorer than them will either. It’s a mentality.

Even those who go abroad a lot often don’t drink decent wine there, or indeed wine at all in many cases. Beer, cocktails, even cider (in Mallorca!!).


#11

sadly - and the reality of the world - is that not everyone can afford everything

Most of us on this forum will have been fortunate through birth or career to have been introduced to wine to a level (both enjoyment and £) that we wish to contribute to helping others understand and love the elixir we all enjoy. For others wine is simply another alcoholic beverage and as @MarkC has written - they view it on a cost efficiency basis - on the way to drinking away their worries and into enjoyment.

I put similar to my next comment on social media over the weekend - for (a far to large) proportion of families in the UK, £6 is not something they will spend on only half the family (mother/father + 2 kids)…they would rather spend the money on their kids. I also agree with @MarkC that many have become conditioned to thinking over £10 is expensive due to the large amount of cheap supermarket offers.

My wife works at a secondary school in a very deprived area - the view of poor, feckless people simple drinking and smoking is so far removed from reality - when you get to a certain level of poverty its not about a £6 bottle of wine or 4 pints in the pub…its how you are going to use £5 to feed your family for a couple of days !

@SPmember - not almost everyone travels…circ 25% of the UK population don’t hold a passport - 71 million overseas trips (of all purposes) in 2018 with estimates of 10 to 20 million individuals travelling (when I was travelling for work I, individually, would make 40 of these) it may be in your social circle that everyone goes abroad but thats a rose tinted view.


#12

Isn’t this just the nature of the society we live in? The wealthy have more choice of better quality stuff, and the not so wealthy cut their cloth?

Wine, ultimately, is a luxury product. I deplore how much some wines have risen in price in recent years, but that’s just how it is when demand exceeds supply.

I suspect most people who can’t afford a decent bottle aren’t too concerned about wine prices, and are more worried about rent, utility bills, petrol, train fares etc.


#13

If 25% don’t have a passport, then 75% do, which rather supports my position.


#14

The wonderful basis of statistics!

IPS/ONS estimate 10 to 20 million individuals travelling annually - I will go with their data set thanks rather than your 100-25=75 QED

Many reasons why people have a passport - a lot of first time users are school children going on a school trip…they may then never use their passport again.

so…to play at statistics to give an answer…
66 million in the uk
75% have a passport
= circa 50million passport holders

You only have a passport to travel (why else would you spend the money on it)
passport is valid for 10 years
so - you travel abroad a minimum of once every 10 years
that means minimum of 5 million UK passport holders travel overseas every year

so the actual figure is between 5 million and 50 million UK passport holders travel overseas every year… the deviation on those results is huge and statistically not valid - even with a large sample size !


#15

On one other point in response to Leah’s original post there certainly used to be other gateways to wine knowledge other than the admittedly expensive formal courses. When I first started to become interested in the nature rather than the abv of the wine I was drinking I joined a local authority wine appreciation course which certainly wasn’t particularly socially elevated.

I’m not sure whether such courses still exist but for me they constituted my gateway drug to subsequently very expensive hobby…


#16

For me there is a broader question here, perhaps; why is it that wine appreciation/enthusiam, the sort that often leads to WSET courses and the like, is often viewed or experienced as an elitist hobby. No one would think that about fishing, for example.

Wine appreciation is equated as a snobbish past time in many people’s eyes - though I am not sure whether this is a specific class-centred British way of seeing things. Having said that, wine appreciation demands more than appreciation of alcohol per se. It requires an interest and knowledge of georgraphy, history, agriculture, politics even. And these are perhaps the sort of subjects that require some education - hence the connection @Leah mentioned to the middle classes, perhaps.

I wonder if in Britain, regular wine consumption was seen as a luxury, and so those who could afford it regularly were the middle or upper classes. They, in turn, shared this passion with their offspring and so on. This has obviously changed, but maybe the mentality hasn’t. Or maybe there are still more people who feel that wine is there for enjoyment and getting tipsy, not for a PhD-type analysis.

Wine tasting notes are also still seen by many as a farty, laughable, posh sort of langague, which is often mocked and satirised. So perhaps there is still a class-related suspicion about developing a passion for it as a hobby rather than as a mere alcoholic drink.


#17

Even after the revolutions in the consumer’s view of wine that have happened since 1980 or so - Bulgarian wine, wine boxes, Oddbins, Majestic, cheap European travel, the explosion in new food & wine thinking, supermarkets selling wine, the internet etc - wine is still seen by many people as a ‘posh’ thing or at the least, a mysterious world, made more so if they encounter a public school educated white man…

Cost is undoubtedly a factor for many who have more pressing needs and difficult choices to make than red or white, never mind the subtleties we discuss on these pages.

Fear of the unknown is also a major factor with many people who are unaccustomed to trying new things, be they experiences, food or wine.

Of all wine drinkers, many people drink one type of wine, even one grape variety. They are also happy to pay over the odds for it at a bar or pub.

Of the now much smaller cohort of interested wine drinkers, I think that family history will play a large part in their interest, but that’s not true of my obsession. I think that having some disposable income is important and shouldn’t be overlooked when considering if wine drinking is elitist - it’s not always cheap and is not really a necessity (difficult to type, that bit!).
I suspect that exposure to new experiences, through travel, work or higher education helps widen one’s interest and then finally, it can be just one wine drinking experience that seals your fate. This last can be encouraged by friends or may be a happy accident, but I think that a ‘lightbulb’ moment is the one thing that triggers the real interest (obsession).


#18

I find it odd that @inbar seems to think that wine appreciation or enthusiasm ‘often’ leads to WSET courses and the like. It certainly hasn’t for me, and I would be very surprised if it ‘often’ does. It is possible to take an interest in what one is drinking, try new things, go regularly to tastings, etc., without formal courses, which are certainly a minority interest, just as it is possible to attend concerts or operas or go to museums without taking music or art courses. I would not accept that wine appreciation needs special knowledge of ‘geography, history, agriculture, politics’, although some knowledge of some of these for some wines is certainly interesting. And for many of us ‘wine is there for enjoyment’, yes, but that does not inevitably mean for ‘getting tipsy’. This discussion is setting up rather ridiculous contrasts in what is a broad range of types of knowledge and appreciation.

Clearly TWS thinks that some members don’t have much knowledge or interest beyond wanting something decent to drink, or it would not have offers like the one which came in while I was writing this for 20 wines chosen by them to make it ‘easy to explore’. That isn’t my approach, but it is certainly one likely to be found more often than taking WSET courses.

But if it is acceptable to add an ‘elitist’ comment to this post: I find it inexplicable that the latest WS list still fails to identify German wine regions even after all the promotion of the new German wines.


#19

I take your point! ‘Often’ was the wrong description. I suppose I was trying to differentiate those who enjoy wine as one more alcoholic drink, without wishing to appreciate it ‘aesthetically’, shall we say, from others - such as us on this forum- who develop a deeper appreciation of it. And yes, sometimes it leads some to pursue a qualification or two as well.

Of course, there are many and varied ways to indulge the passion and learn. My first three years of developing this hobby were reading everything I could, and taking notes for virtually every wine I opened.

I didn’t say anything about a ‘special’ knowledge of these subjects, but this sort of knowledge is inseparable from wine appreciation in my opinion. It’s not a question of ‘need’ but it’s impossible to fully appreciate it without its context- historical, geographical and so on.


#20

I sometimes think about how I got into wine. I don’t come from an affluent background and none of my family had any interest in it really, so it’s definitely not something that was familiar to me growing up or that I could learn about as a part of my regular life. My aunt and uncle enjoy wine, and so I’d have a glass or two of something reasonable with them at family get-togethers, but beyond that wine wasn’t really on my radar. In my early twenties I often had dinner at a friend’s house with his parents and wine was always on the table. They weren’t spending silly amounts, far from it, but clearly chose their wine with a bit of care - I remember drinking Irsai Oliver there (probably about a fiver from Somerfield) there which I’ve barely seen since. I can pretty much pinpoint those dinners as the starting point of my interest in wine.

In some ways I think we’re extremely lucky in this country in that we have access to wines from all over the world at a huge range of pricepoints. And most, with the exception of the wines @Herbster’s mother buys, is drinkable and shows a modicum of varietal character. As a result, I think it’s absolutely possible to cultivate an interest and the beginnings of some wine knowledge without necessarily funding an expensive hobby. If you’re interested, you might be able to find £6 a week (or if you shop judiciously at Aldi or Lidl, £4ish) to buy a bottle to go with a meal at the weekend (I’m conscious that this doesn’t apply to all, obviously), and explore different regions and styles within that budget. Ultimately that’s how I got started, and managed to have a fair idea of what I was buying and what I liked. Ultimately that just made it more of a thrill and a sensory experience when I occasionally splashed out or was lucky enough to be offered a glass of something a class above.

I consider myself very lucky that I can now stretch the budget a bit. I’m my father’s son, so I still try to keep the higher priced bottles to a minimum and predominantly shop in the sub-£15 range. It used to be sub-£10, but the curse of wine is that the more you enjoy it the more you’ll end up spending on bottles that bring you joy. And that’s probably where the elitism divide comes in - you can enjoy wine at lower price points, but unless you’ve got the means then so much of what wine can be will be denied to you.