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Wine: Off to an off-licence

27 September 2019

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ON RUMMAGING through some papers in the attic recently, I came across a marketing proposal that I had made to a Californian winery in 1990. Among the potential targets for their wine, I gave a list of the top ten specialist wine chains. Of these, nine are no longer in existence, and the tenth, Oddbins, has been reduced to a handful of branches that are struggling to survive.

The top-selling wines were Lambrusco, Asti Spumante, Blue Nun, Piat d’Or Lutomer Riesling, Mateus Rosé, and Black Tower, Mouton Cadet, and Hirondelle. How the wine scene has changed in the past 30 years! While one or two of the brands have survived, mainly with a change of image, the little corner specialist wine shop has all but disappeared. The wine warehouse, in the form of Majestic, was then just setting out; recently, the shops have been sold to a Japanese bank, their owner deciding that the future lies in mail order.

Fortunately, there are still plenty of places where you can buy wine. Naked Wines may have chosen to abandon Majestic, in favour of their mail-order business, and the capital released should enable them to increase the depth of their offering, but they are in a competitive field, against such long-established giants as the Wine Society, and Laithwaites. Then there are traditional wine merchants such as Tanners of Shrewsbury, Christopher Piper in Devon, and Berry Bros. & Rudd and Lea & Sandeman in London.

Finally, there are the supermarkets. It was announced recently that the four biggest of these have all lost market share — and whom have they lost it to? The German upstarts Aldi and Lidl. If you want to lay down supplies of wine at reasonable prices before Brexit, it is to them that I suggest you go.

It is interesting that their ranges, in some ways, are very similar, but each have different strengths. For example, both offer a great Clare Valley Riesling from Australia at £6.99. Aldi also has a South Australian Pinot Noir 2018 for £6.49, and Iron Horse Barossa Valley Shiraz 2017 for £6.99. In the same field, Lidl’s Barossa Shiraz 2017 is £5.99; and they have, from McLaren Vale, the Second Fleet Shiraz 2017 for £7.99.

Other wines from Aldi which caught my eye were a range of Italian organic sparkling wines, a Prosecco, and a Rosato for £7.99; also a Grillo, for £6.99, a Spanish white Rías Baixas Albariño, for £5.99; and, for red wines, a Fleurie 2018 for just £6.99.

From Lidl, I would select four red wines: a Chilean Pinot Noir 2018 at just £4.25; from Portugal, the Azinhaga Reserva Douro 2017 (£5.95); from the Rhône Valley, Domaine de la Combe Dieu Rasteau 2017 (£8.99), and, finally, a stately claret, Saint-Émilion Grand Cru 2016 (£10.99). For dessert, why not try their Tokaji Late Harvest 2016 (50cl.) at £5.99.

With these wines on your shelves, you can forget Brexit — at least, for a short time.

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