Wine economics

Friday, September 19, 2008

Aldi and the miracle of the loaves and fish

Some readers of this blog will remember from their early days in bible school the miracle of the loaves and the fish: Jesus was preaching in the desert to five thousand people - not counting the women and children. Came lunchtime, there were only five loaves of bread and two fish - not enough to feed the crowd. Through some undisclosed and irreproducible technology (~ miracle) the loaves and the fish were multiplied, all feasted on fish and chips, and after lunch twelve baskets full of leftovers were collected.

The Gospels are mute about what the people had been given to drink to wash down their fish and chips. If Aldi Sued, the southern sibling of Germany's twin discounter chains, and its suppliers had been around at the time, it might easily have been a 2004 Rosso Piceno Superiore DOC "Naumachos", a wine that received two glasses - "due bicchieri" - from "Gambero Rosso", an Italian equivalent to Robert Parker, of sorts. At one time, when the wine cost 9.80 € the bottle retail, the wine maker claimed to have only 4,000 bottles left. But suddenly Aldi Sued had 50,000 bottles on offer at 6,99 € a bottle. What a miracle – physical as well as economic!

The miracle has been demystified by the German Frankfurter Allgemeine online service "FAZ.Net" on Sept. 16th, 2008. Giovanni Carminucci of Grottamare, Italy, the winemaker of the "Naumachos", was approached early in 2008 by Rino Frattesi of Essen, Germany. Frattesi is the owner of "La Grappa", an Italian restaurant which boasts a 1,000-items wine list ranging from a 1961 Chateaux Petrus for 8,000 € the bottle down to a 18 € Pignocco Verdicchio. The restaurant proudly advertises it having been recognized by Vinitaly in 2005 as the restaurant with the best wine list in the world.

Whatever such awards may be worth, Fratessi apparently knows something about wine. But running the restaurant and maintaining its exquisite wine list does not exhaust Fratessi. He also supplies large retail chains with "Aktionsware", i.e. goods for special sales, and it was in this incarnation that he approached Carminucci asking him for 50,000 bottles "Naumachos". Carminucci agreed, bottled whatever wine he had on hand, labeled it the same way as the original "Naumachos", including the "due bichieri", and shipped. Fratteri passed the consignment on to Aldi Sued at € 3.50 the bottle. Aldi Sued had the wine tested by "caveCo", an accredited wine sensoric analysis laboratory at Essen, headed by Markus Del Monego. The 1998 sommelier world champion was not fooled, rated the wine as "recommended" with 13.75 of 20 points (I don't know the lower end of the Del Markus scale.) The points are, according to FAZ, less than a "un bicchiere" from Gambero Rosso. That did not deter Aldi Sued from offering the wine as a "due bicheri" bargain. Miraculously, the Aldi-website announcing the sale of the "Naumachos" was no longer accessible when I checked on Sept. 18th, 2008, two days after FAZ.Net broke the story; the website was back on Sept 19th, 2008 .

Many wine lovers' likely reaction to this story is a jaded "What else is new?" In honesty ratings the wine trade has always competed with the horse trade for pride of place. In a way the jaded wine lovers are right. In spite of all the hype about trusted supply chains, the rabbit-like multiplication of accredited quality experts, mushrooming private ranking schemes, and strict labeling regulations imposed by government, the actors in the wine chains are just normal merchants, people "... engaged in a commercial pursuit. A commercial pursuit is one in which the thing pursued is a dollar." (Bierce, A. 1958. The devil's dictionary. Dover Publications). The miraculous multiplication of the "Naumachos" has helped to remind us of this simple fact. If it also contributes towards immunizing us against the quality assurance and trust hype, the affair has served some good purpose after all.



Post a Comment

<< Home