Wine wonders – The Supermarket vs Local Wine Merchants

Ed Liddell is a good friend from university who’s had a thirst for good wine for as long as I’ve known him.  Back in those days we used to mock his wine knowledge, free champagne was to us, free champagne, to Ed it was obviously sparkling wine.  Fast forward to our mid to (and dare I say it) late twenties, this knowledge becomes very handy when facing a wine conundrum.  I always fall into the common pitfalls of choosing a decent wine, as I think I’m not alone I thought it would be a great idea for Ed to share his experience in the wine trade and answer our ‘Wine Wonders’.

Welcome to the first edition of my contribution to this fine blog in what I hope will become a regular item, provided you guys like it of course!

So where to begin? It would probably make sense to begin at the beginning, at the source you could say. The first thing we do when we drink a bottle of wine is buy it, but where are we buying our wine from? Overwhelmingly the answer is in one of the big supermarkets but are these the best places to be buying our wine? My answer would almost certainly be no. I may seem bias ( I will admit that a good number of my customers are independent wine merchants) however I really do think that supermarkets treat their customers pretty shoddily and assume they are stupid which of course you aren’t. One of the worst practices in the wine trade are the “£10 down to £5” style ‘deals’ (known as a high-low promotion in the trade) and they are certainly not all they seem. The wines are made to be sold at the lower price and as such aren’t representative of the quality of a wine at the higher price. So when you buy a high-low wine you aren’t getting the steal it seems after all

Image from: From Flickr Creative Commons – Andreea


In dealing with supermarkets those in the wine trade are constantly told by the buyers that the public doesn’t care about what they are drinking and isn’t interested in learning more. I would beg to differ, one of the most notables changes in how we buy our food over the last two decades has been the rise of farmers markets, organic farming, local produce etc. If people are increasingly concerned by the source of what they eat then logically people are concerned by what they drink.  This is where your local wine merchants really deliver. Traditionally the wine trade was viewed as being pretty pompous and admittedly this may have been true in the past but we’re really a friendly bunch. Your local independents offer great service, enthusiasm and above all knowledge. The key here is to just ask if you’re not sure about something and they’re always happy to give a recommendation based on what you want. So when you’re next in your local supermarket just think if you’re really getting what you want or getting what the supermarket wants you to buy.

 The Sampler, Islington 


Finally I’d just like to highlight what is involved in the cost of a bottle of wine. Firstly the duty is pretty much £2, then you have 20% VAT, bottling costs, transportation, marketing, margins of the producer, importer and retailer before we finally come to the actual liquid in the bottle. Chances are that a £4 bottle of consists of only a few pence of actual wine. The vast majority of the costs are uniform across all wines so spending an extra £1 gives you so much more wine for your money. Worth thinking about surely? It’s very difficult to produce a decent bottle of wine to retail at less than £6 these days and as general guide the best value for money can be found in the £8 to £20 bracket, though this is a long way from a hard and fast rule.

These are just a few of the local wine merchants who offer great customer experience, enthusiasm and knowledge of wine:

The Sampler – Islington/ South Ken
The Good Wine Shop – Chiswick, Kew
Lea and Sandeman – Fulham
Robersons – Kensington
Hanfords– Notting Hill

If you would like to know of any other wine merchants or if you live in another area please get in touch with me @ed_liddell

Thanks Ed, looks like I’m going to have to make a trip down to a local wine merchant the next time I want a bottle to impress.  If you have any other questions about this post or have some wine wonders Ed could answer in future posts, comment below as Ed will be checking in and responding to your queries.




  1. March 30, 2012 / 12:34 am

    Hmmmm, absolutely agree that supermarkets don’t offer the customer service that you would get from an independent and the cut price bargains are not what they seem but you can’t deny that some of the £10 – £20 bottles offer exceptionally good value for money (which you would pay £20+ at an independent).

  2. Ed Liddell
    April 2, 2012 / 10:03 am

    I would agree that yes there are some good wines in the supermarkets but how do you distinguish the good from the bad? Without first hand knowledgeof the wines how do you make the decision to buy one over the other? The shelf stackers probably aren’t going to be a in a position to advise you but any staff in an indepdendent will have at least a good amount of knowledge and in a lot of a cases will be hugely knowledgeable. Plus I would dispute that you see such a massive disparity in pricing in the more expensive wines. Sure supermarkets are great at pumping out low quality branded wines at, frankly, ridiculously prices but they don’t quite have the same buying power when it comes to the better quality wines as they simply don’t sell as much (one of the reasons supermarkets are able to price some wines so cheaply is that they guarantee huge volumes and the importers will give them the huge promotional, advertising and listing support supermarkets demand). I think if you went into a supermarket and an independent and spent £15 on a non-promoted wines from both, you would be much happier with the quality from the independent.