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Bargain brands

05 September 2014


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. to excess."

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.

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