THERE are some names that just make me shudder, and, in the
world of drink, one of them is "bargain booze". My dictionary
describes "booze", as a verb, as "to drink alcoholic liquor, esp.
Now Bargain Booze is an important chain of off-licences,
spreading south from its homeland in the north. I think that I
would wear dark glasses and pull my hat down, in the hope of not
being recognised, before walking into one of its branches.
All this is most unfair, because it is exactly what it says on
the label. If you want a limited range of well-known brands of wine
at challenging prices, this is the place to go.
The concentration on the image of brands is confirmed by the
website. It offers Campo Viejo Tempranillo (£6.99), Reserva
(£8.99), and Gran Reserva (£11.99), but nowhere does it mention
that they are Riojas, or their vintages - not even that they come
from Spain. Similarly, they have Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc
(on offer, as I write, at £7.49) without saying that it is a
leading wine from New Zealand. Presumably, recognition of the
brand-name rather than of the wine is what the company is seeking
from the customer.
Some of the wines that I would recommend include Vina Maipo
Reserva Syrah (£3.99), and Otra Vida Chardonnay, from Argentina, at
the same price. The Côtes du Rhône Villages, at £5.99, also appears
to be a bargain.
The 419 branches of Bargain Booze are primarily a franchise
operation, but the chain's owner, Conviviality Retail, which was
recently listed on the Stock Exchange, has also bought the rump of
Wine Rack, which, in the not-too-distant past, formed part of the
Threshers chain. At present, it has only 22 branches, largely in
the Home Counties, under this name, and these are operating with
more of a quality image than Bargain Booze. Susan McCreath, who
used to be a wine-buyer for Waitrose, has been brought in to source
some more interesting wines.
Wine Rack bills itself as "Champagne Specialists", but it also
includes some interesting sparkling wines from elsewhere, including
the local representatives Nyetimber Classic (£29.99), and Chapel
Down Brut (£20.99); and, from New Zealand, Cloudy Bay Pelorus Brut,
now reduced to £15.99 from £19.99.
Among the still wines I would like to taste are the Mosel Max
Richter Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Kabinett (£19.99), and, from
Greece, the red Alpha Estate Xinomavro Hedgehog Vineyard (£13.99).
Sadly, yet again, Wine Rack gives no mention of vintages on its
website, and, if you want to buy the Côtes du Rhône Villages, it is
distinctly cheaper at Bargain Booze.
Another format in the empire has just been created: a BB Wine
Warehouse, in Wakefield, modelled on the Majestic formula, but with
bigger discounts the more you buy. Thus, although the price for a
single bottle of Casillero del Diablo is £7, if you buy six it
works out at £5.50 each. It seems that conviviality has a variety
of faces - but all of them have features of interest.