Thursday, 1 October 2009

The Guardian wine critic Victoria Moore and the fear of the Systembolaget

I recently happened to read an article in The Gurdian about the binge drinking problem in UK. In January, Guardian wine critic Victoria Moore wrote about the Home Office scrutinizing cut-price drinking deals, such as happy hours and all-you-can-drink offers. UK is, as is Ireland, a hard-drinking culture.

What sets the Nordic coutries apart, is the regulation. Victoria hopes that the Labour will not set its regulation-lovin' eyes to Sweden, where alcohol sales are done solely via Systembolaget, which is a state monopoly. Systembolaget works on the principle that if profit motive is removed, there is no reason to try and persuade individuals more than they were planning, sell alcohol to underage buyers etc.

"Apparently systembolaget has transformed Swedes from being one of the hardest-drinking nationalities in Europe (in the 1800s) to one of the lowest (now). This is all very fine but for those of us who love wine (as opposed to just alcohol), there's a problem: it means the government is deciding what wine you drink. Systembolaget carries 3,000 lines of beers, wine and spirits which sounds a lot until you consider that Oddbins, until recently, had 2,000. You can order a further 4,000, which again sounds generous, but from you can order more than 42,000 wines, and goodness knows how many more spirits and beers it's possible to buy in the UK." - Victoria Moore

What she fails to mention, is that Systembolaget is one of the biggest wine buyers in the world. Because of its bulk deals, its able to negotiate very good prices for the end users on top-of-the range articles, such as champagne. Also, you really can get wine from other sources. Jesus, go to Oddbin's pages for starters..

Vic, there's still room for wine critics even if you only have Systembolaget :)

Link to article


  1. Dear misguided soul,

    Systembolaget may be one of the biggest buyers, but there are several that are bigger. Sainsbury's in the UK for example.

    You may believe that they are good at negotiating good prices (that's one of many myths the Systembolaget wants you to believe). The other side of that coin is that you will never get quality at rock bottom prices. If you squeeze the price you will get less quality.

    In fact, Systembolaget has a very poor selection of wine. They do occasionally sell very expensive wines below market prices. E.g. you might be able to buy a Romanee Conti for less than in London or Paris, if you have some 1500 euros to spare (per bottle). And if you happen to be one of the lucky few to get your hands on one of the 12 bottles imported to the country. "Normal" wines are generally more expensive in Sweden. Obviously - with the level of taxation there is.

    Do you really think there should be a monopoly so that luxury wines that hardly anyone can afford to buy should be (comparatively) cheap?

  2. Ahem, if you read that post, its points out that systembolaget is not the only place to get your wine from in Sweden. I recommed Oddbin's to you too. Another point, I have some personal experience in the wine selection with Tesco etc. Its usually quite horrible :)

  3. Hello Per and Britt, let me first and foremost thank you for your input.

    As misguided as I may be, I have very little love or patience with the wine business done by the big retailers in Europe. The quality is generally not very good and one tends to make bad buys, especially if you are trying to find something decent to go with food. Usually specialist wine merchants with knowledgeable personnel are the best bet outside Scandinavia.

    Additionally, I have nothing against monopolies, as long as they produce the result I want - and cost is an important consideration.

    I am, however, aware that many many people share your opinion on this matter, including Vic Moore from the Guardian, who I suspect, is still blissfully unaware of the fact that one has many options in addition to Systembolaget in Sweden.

  4. Yes, there is a florishing illegal trade in (very little wine but lots of) spirits in Sweden.

    A great number of Swedes do not think that illegal spirits are wrong.

    That is one of the great achievements of the monopoly.

    Apart from that, there are really not much choice apart from the Systembolaget. There are a handful of companies selling wine to Swedes from outfits in Denmark or Germany but their main strength is offereing an alternative - it's not the selection of wines that they carry.

  5. Always a contentious topic, the Systembolaget is just another way to regulate consumers and direct profits to government.

    Brandon Marc