Towards the east of Tuscany you will find a DOCG called Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. DOCG, or Demoninazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, is as high a designation of quality as Italian wine law permits, and has been granted to only eleven areas in Tuscany. The deep and complex red wine which the region produces from the Sangiovese grape, aged in oak barrels for two years or more, is well-known and much sought after, and can command a high price. In the 1600’s the poet Franceso Redi described it as “the king of all wines.”
In the south of Liverpool, on the other hand, you will find a supermarket called, well, that would be telling. Its name is as high a designation of profitability as English planning law permits, and only sixteen premises in South Liverpool have been granted it. In the store, you will find an Italian red wine called Monte Nobile Riserva. The wine has been aged, somewhere or another, for two years, and at the time of writing, it commands a price of 4.99, half the “usual” price of 9.99. In 2012, a Liverpudlian blogger described it as “the knave of all wines.”
But what’s the problem? Well, the name, for a start, which suggests a kinship to the Tuscan monarch described above. In actual fact Monte Nobile sounds like an Australian cricketer, and seems to translate as nothing more grandly evocative than “Mount Noble.” It has a rather ornate label, which obscures its origins in a DOC called Squinzano, in Puglia, an area known for producing enormous quantities of fairly robust if not wholly riveting Negroamaro-based wines. It has apparently been aged for two years, with six months in oak, but we are not told how or where it was aged for the rest of that time (ten team points to whoever said “in the store room, waiting for a spurious offer.”)
Needless to say, there are other wines in the same outlet – and in many other outlets, to be fair – that operate similar deceits. I’ll not tell you where it came from, but I have in front of me a bottle of Antano Rioja 2009, “better than half price” at 4.99 (originally 10.49). When looking at Rioja, especially at 10.49, we might be looking for some indication of its age and quality: Tinto Joven, Gran Reserva, etc. Antano offers no such assistance, and instead the label bears the unhelpful legend “Gran Seleccion 2009,” or “Large Selection 2009.” What we are drinking a large selection of remains unclear, and there is no information about grape variety or ageing. Anybody whose distant recollection of an exquisite Spanish occasion has faded to “it was Grand something, and it wasn’t cheap” might be thinking this is in the same area. It almost certainly is not. Like the Squinzano Rosso above, and like most products on offers of this sort, it’s a serviceable if undistinguished wine whose lower price tag reflects its true value.
If you’re reading this, you probably don’t need me to tell you about the economic dubiety of deals like this. What really vexes, however, is the delusion presented to anybody trying to make an informed choice. Smaller wine merchants share their knowledge quite naturally, and by doing so they engage fabulously with their customers. Conversely, the people who concoct these deals offer cheap creations with a suggested connection to the immortal wines available from specialist shops, not only showing aggression towards smaller businesses, but worse, deriding customers by exploiting gaps in their knowledge rather than seeking to fill them. Is mockery really so cheap at half the price..?