The message is clear when standing in a Systembolaget shop; drink the wines we’ve chosen and shut the f-ck up.
Sweden 2014. If you have any spontaneous diverging vinous ambitions in a city with 40,000 inhabitants, then think again. But before telling my story you need some sad background information.
In Swedish wine retail two things reign; Amarone and bag-in-box wines. Or perhaps I should be more honest and say everything associated with Amarone which includes Ripasso and Appassimento. Recioto is not included though. Come on; that’s a sweet wine and who wants that? Besides, it’s too expensive. The wet Swedish dream is of course an Amarone related wine which comes in a bag-in-box.
You buy your wine in a state controlled retail shop called Systembolaget. As a foreigner you’re really not sure, when visiting one of these shops, if you’re welcome or not. They’re as far away from aesthetically appealing as is possible, do everything to let you feel that, and if you visit on a Monday you’re a drunk and in serious need of help. Of course there are some great people working at these retail stores, doing their best to offer good service and share their knowledge. Sadly there’s more of them doing the opposite.
According to the state of Sweden, Swedes can handle everything themselves in life. Except alcohol. That is why we are in desperate need of a state controlled retail monopoly. Otherwise we’d drink ourselves to death. There is absolutely no other reason for the retail monopoly’s existence. Don’t you dare thinking so. Besides, people like and want to keep the monopoly. That is, if you check the surveys ordered by Systembolaget.
So, when visiting my parents in the south parts of Sweden, I have to bring wine myself if I want to treat them with something that doesn’t come from a logistically friendly (that is big) producer. No small family run producers, no artisanal wines, no surprises at all. When I check the website of the monopoly store for the 20 most expensive red wines in a 75 cl bottle, available at the local store at my parents, 11 of them are Amarone wines. In other words, the strategic planning at the state monopoly is clear. Thou shalt have no other wines than Veneto.
I’m not going to mention the amount of Ripasso and Appassimento wines because that will drag me in to a serious depression where the Swedish general taste is heading, but the facts are crystal clear; don’t act difficult, snobby and pretend you want anything else. We know this is what you want. If it doesn’t fit your palate then do as everyone else, buy a bag-in-box. More than half of all wine sold in Sweden last year came in a plastic bag because Swedes are very practical and strongly believes these 3 liters boxes makes life so much easier. At the same time Swedes go crazy when told that there are chemicals in their wines. Funny, the old bumper sticker ‘One million flies can’t be wrong. Eat shit.’ keeps popping up in my mind…
I visit the local Systembolaget store. It is such a depressing sight for someone who supports the smaller producers, lesser known wine regions, honestly produced wines without mascara, rarely seen varieties or wine styles. Diversity is foul language here. And honestly, it’s a bit understandable if you’re a state run retail monopoly. Logistics can’t handle it as smoothly when the assortment is to be the same in most stores in the country.
Sure, one can order wines from the so called beställningssortimentet (The Ordering Assortment) but then you’ll have to wait a week. Of course Systembolaget dislikes the ordering assortment badly as it screws up the logistics. Naturally, if it weren’t for the EU court it wouldn’t have existed. Here, any importer can put their wines which Systembolaget refuses, that is, wines which didn’t win a tender. Sadly it comes with extra expenses for the importer and hence it is not used particularly much. By the way yes, you read it correctly. Somebody is deciding on a centralized level which wines are to be purchased, deciding in blind tastings which is the wine to win a tender. In the end, that’s actually the most horrible part of it all as wine always will have a subjective side to it.
This is wine Sweden in 2014. Hence I spontaneously grab my vanilla and chocolate infused Amarone, bring it home to my parents and drinks it with the BBQ. Of course I pick one of the cheapest because I’m Swede and have seen through the hoax of expensive wines.
PS. The irony in it here, is the fact that from my parents you see Denmark, a country which is the total contrast when compared to Sweden. Here you’re welcomed to pick something truly unique, or a box. The thing is, you, the consumer, decides yourself. And the importer is not restricted to something which in the end is nothing but an subjective decision of the state monopoly; what is allowed to be sold.
PS.2. Yes, I’ve been mad before. Click here to find out nothing’s basically changed.