The relative merits of buying everyday wines from the supermarket or from an independent wine merchant in the UK are worth rehearsing. As I see it, they are:
|Huge buying power||Little or no knowledgeable service at point of sale|
|Can offer good good value||but obsessed by 2-for-1 offers, many of which only offer average value for money: cheap wine at a low price. This has distorted more positive notions of value for money in the whole UK market – but that’s a subject in its own right.|
|Continuity of lines – if you like it you can go back for more||For the the shelf-space, increasingly narrow offer|
|Quality and value-for-money to be found in their premium own brand ranges, eg Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference||Most of the wines are sound but dull|
|Good to excellent selection of wines reflecting buyer’s knowledge and interests||Can be seen as (or indeed can be) intimidating. Despite all the improvements over the years, wine merchants are still seen as places where your ignorance may be exposed!|
|Can buy wines in small quantities from small growers and niche markets||The presence of expensive wines can give the impression that they don’t have everyday ones at reasonable prices|
|Knowledgeable service||Doesn’t stock everything else you need for the week’s shopping!|
|Must be consumer oriented in order to survive/succeed|
|Can get to know individual customers and their preferences|
Andover Wine Friends’ summer party put this comparison to the test with a blind tasting of pairs of similar wines from Asda’s ‘Extra Special’ range and Andover’s very own Grape Expectations. Billed as Philippa v. Tim (ie Philippa Carr MW, Asda’s chief wine buyer, v. Tim Pearce of Grape Expectations) the tasting showed interesting issues about price and that most people can spot the difference between supermarket and independent’s wines. Of the six pairs a majority called it right on four out of six times, with one dead heat (for a very good reason!) The underlying assumption was voiced by one member: ‘I assumed that the better wine was from the independent and voted accordingly’.
Cava: Codorníu Teresa non-vintage, £9, v. Mas Miralda 2009 Asda Extra Special £10 – people voted correctly for the more aged, yeasty style of the Codorníu over the refined fruit palate of the latter.
Viognier: Aristocrate 2009, £6.50 v. J C Mas 2010 Asda Extra Special £7 – people overwhelmingly preferred the subtle palate of the former, though they like both wines, and the independent’s wines was cheaper too!
Riesling: Foxes Island, 2008, Marlborough, New Zealand, £12.50 v. Clare Valley 2008, Asda Extra Special £8.70. People got this right by a two to one majority – but they also noted the substantial extra cost of the independent’s wine.
Rosé: Trasquanello Rosato Toscano 2010 £10 v. Portuguese Rose Wine, Bebidas Portugal, non vintage, £3.28. A bit of a curve ball! Asda doesn’t appear to have a rosé in their Extra Special range so I chose the latter of these two as it had won a silver medal in a big competition, while the unusual Sangiovese rosé is trading on its name, ie its relation to Chianti. A large majority guessed right – the inexpensive rosé had a slight fizz and came in a traditional squat bottle. But the quality difference was not that great – and one was three times the price of the other!
Barbera d’Asti: ‘Ceppi Storici’ (‘historic stems [of vines']’), Araldica 2007, Piemonte, £7.45 v. Asda Extra Special, 2009, £5. The second curve ball of the evening. Both these wines are made by the very good Araldica cooperative and admirably there was a tie in the vote for independent v. supermarket. The vintage difference was not that marked. So they both showed attractive brambly fruit, some mild smoky oak notes, decent acidity, good colour, easily drinkable because of the low tannins, but one was £2 less than the other.
Pinot Noir: Chilensis Reserva 2009, Maule, Chile £6.95 v. Marlborough, New Zealand, Asda Extra Special 2008, £10.18. A big majority got this right, guessing that the second wine was from the supermarket. But everyone was amazed at the price difference and the excellent quality of the £7 Chilean Pinot from Chilensis. Wine in an independent wine merchant can be a great bargain!
This was a very instructive tasting … and lots of fun. It shows, I think, that the quality/price ratio is a not one way street between supermarkets and independents, especially if you keep away from the big, overly promoted, supermarket wines and look out for the ones they have put some personal investment into. Conversely, independent wine shops are not necessarily expensive – though in fairness Grape Expectations really specializes in quality at a reasonable price. And it was a great evening, as the pictures show – including the very fine new wood floor in the extension which we were also celebrating.