No such thing as everyday wine

ArticlesJust Williams

It’s a term we should probably avoid using, argues David Williams. Partly because few of us can afford such a daily indulgence, and partly because – as one retailer was forcibly reminded – it probably isn’t a great idea to be consuming alcohol seven days a week


The “everyday” is a curious concept when it comes to wine trading. Generally speaking, it’s a phrase that is used euphemistically, a way of saying “cheap” without making your customers feel bad about their purchase.

The problem, of course, is that one person’s “everyday” is another’s “never in a million years”. It takes a certain kind of (no-doubt blissful) ignorance of mainstream society to blithely refer to anything under £25 as an everyday wine – something that the traditional St James’s Street merchants have a tendency of doing. A moment’s pause for reflection would tell you that the literal consequence of buying a £25 bottle every day is an annual wine bill of £9,125 (and that’s before you even get started on your special-occasion stash).

That “everyday” is such a loaded term is at least part of the reason why we’ve avoided it when describing the wines that made it onto our inaugural list of” 50 under £15” in this year’s Wine Merchant Top 100 competition (you can see the full list along with all the other winners in the supplement accompanying this issue). Even at £5,475, that seems like a bit much to ask most people to splash out on a simple daily pleasure (although who are we – or for that matter, our chums in St James’s Street – to tell anyone how they want to spend their money?).

But it’s not just a matter of negotiating the treacherous terrain where price, class and snobbery meet. The idea of an everyday wine is increasingly controversial in other ways, too.

Until very recently, the consensus in medical science had for some years been that, if you were to get any health benefits from wine, principally in terms of heart disease, it was best to consume it little and often: a small glass a day, along with plenty of fish, olive oil and exercise like the miraculous Greek 100-year-old shepherds and Sardinian fishermen that adorned all those thousands of articles on the Mediterranean exception published by glossy lifestyle magazines down the years.

These days, we’re increasingly being told by an emboldened anti-alcohol lobby that all alcohol, at any level, is harmful. But even the more sober and unsensational advice suggests that, while alcohol can be enjoyed moderately, and can have a role to play in a fulfilling life, nobody should be under the illusion that it’s boosting our life expectancy in any way, and certainly not if we’re drinking it every day.

As such, none of the big mainstream multiples is likely to repeat the mistake made by Spar five years ago. The retailer was slapped on the wrists by the Portman Group after Alcohol Concern Wales complained about its use of “everyday wine” in its marketing – a use which, the lobby group claimed, went against the Chief Medical Officer’s advice that regular drinkers should incorporate alcohol-free days into their weekly schedule.

For all of the complications associated with it, however, everyday remains very much a part of the vocabulary of wine-merchanting and wine-loving more generally. Indeed, when divorced from its connotations with price and health, it’s never been more relevant.

How so? Well, we’re living in an age in which some wines have lost all touch with everyday reality.

Too many wines are regarded as totems, status symbols, a kind of magical liquid to be worshipped rather than merely drunk. The idea of the everyday wine is the perfect antidote to this.

As the US wine merchant and writer Terry Theise put it to me recently, it’s a matter of how we connect, approach or, in his words, “link” to wine – that we can get much more out of “what might be called ‘ordinary’ tasting, as opposed to a diary of exalted bottles”.

By ordinary, Theise doesn’t mean dull or unexceptional: it’s more a matter of fitting wine into its context, into our day-to-day “ordinary” lives. In Theise’s view, writing or talking about a wine, only really makes sense when you have some idea of how it was drunk: where, with whom, with which food, in what mood. Ripped from context, it loses some essential part of what makes it special.

It’s a seductive idea: to celebrate the everydayness of wine, even if we can’t always afford to – and probably, on doctor’s orders, shouldn’t – do it every day.

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