Wine In The British Pub
When I was younger I had a part time job in the pub attached to my sports club. I started off as a glass collector, before moving onto the bar. The prices were ridiculous. A pint of Carlsberg was £1.15. A pint of Guinness was £1.33. Not £1.30, not £1.35, actually £1.33. It was like on Family Guy when that weird guy pays for everything with pennies. Every now and again someone would say “take one for yourself!” That was how you got tips. We’d take 10p each time.
Now before I go on I’d like to point out that this wasn’t the 1970s, this was the year 2000. I got a nasty shock when I went down south to go to uni. Pints were nearly £3, and you only say “take one yourself” to a barman once before you realise they bloody well do! And a double at that! Cheeky buggers!
I got used to it eventually, but last weekend I was back on my high horse. After a game of cricket we decided to head off to pub to commiserate a fair old thumping. I turned up first and there were only 2 of us. So I got the first couple of pints in. I couldn’t hear what the barmaid said, but handed over a tenner. I got £1 change. £1! I called after her with a quizzical look on my face and she looked back fairly sympathetically. I think she must get that reaction a lot.
More of us turned up, and a couple of the lads started having a flirt with a couple of young ladies who joined the party. The rounds were getting bigger. So I thought, bollocks to this, what wine do they have? One of the other lads is a kiwi who loves his wine so he popped to the bar and came back with a bottle of Malbec, a red wine from the famous Mendoza region of Argentina. “How much?” I asked. It was only £15. Now that sounds a lot, but that’s 4 “large” glasses of wine and I have to say it really wasn’t bad at all.
So it got me thinking this week about the way wine is perceived in the UK. Does it have a chance of being a genuine alternative in the local boozer?
Well first and foremost it’s still seen as a funny thing to order in the pub…
I know that sounds a bit sad, but really it’s just the way it is. The comedian and pub landlord, Al Murray, sums it up nicely with his tag line of “a pint for the gent and small glass of dry white for the lady”. It’s not something guys drink in a pub, not now, not then, but not ever? I’m not sure.
As with many bars and restaurants in the UK, quality can be an issue…
There’s a rather poorly kept rumour about how some places source and advertise their wines. Boxes of non-descript “wine” turn up from the continent to be labelled later on to unsuspecting and unskilled UK drinkers. Would most UK drinkers know the difference between a Merlot and Malbec? Unlikely. Look, this might be complete rubbish, but it’s not too far fetched to think it’s not happened, and it’s a good point to talk about how most of the wine in pubs is really average stuff. I’m not saying it’s really cheap, I’m a firm believer that some cheaper wine can still be great stuff. I’m saying it’s bad, and that puts people off.
Price is another issue…
Wine’s always been seen as an expensive, almost exclusive thing to drink. It shouldn’t be at all. There’s a great opportunity to source decent wines from the bulk regions of the new world, the central valley in Chile, the coastal region of South Africa, and all them lot. This stuff is can be pretty good and pretty consistent. And pretty nicely priced. There’s no reason why you couldn’t get a few bottles that are a fiver in the supermarkets, fifteen notes in a pub. No bother.
The amount of choice is a double edged sword…
Too much and you give the untrained eye an excuse to move onto more familiar ground. Too little and it’s not got that “all things to all men” tag a pint seems to have.
The alternatives are maybe just way too familiar…
Pint please. Pretty easy request. But then think about it. Most draught lagers taste the same. Sorry, they just do. With bitter, I’ll give you it’s a bit different. With lager though it must just be familiarity. Can’t be anything else. Best part of £5 for a pint of piss that’ll give you a hangover in the morning. Hmmmm. Oh and don’t get me started on the prefab, fizzy, sweet ciders that everyone’s drinking these days. I’ve lived in the west country. That crap is not cider.
So why not wine?
Why not the drink that has most of the world getting stuck in? Well I’m going to throw it out there, I’m going to give up lager, beer, and cider. I’m going to see how hard it is to go round the UK on a wine-only diet. I’m going to get plenty of stick along the way, and most likely get plenty of shit wine, but I reckon at £15 to £20 a bottle I’m not far off breaking even against the lager drinkers.
But if anyone thinks I’m saying “and one yourself, mate”, they can do one!