Somerfield’s erstwhile head of wine buying, Angela Mount, made headlines in2003 when the company insured her taste buds for £10 million.
She recently left the company after 15 years during which she won much praise for developing a very good – and distinctly good-value – range of wines. Despite all her expertise and experience, the supermarket chain has – at the time of going to press – decided not to replace her but to broaden the role of the beer buyer to include wine. This decision has provoked the fulminations of Malcolm Gluck – the Superplonk man (glad I avoided saying Superplonker) – who says the move heralds a new dark age for supermarket wine. Only time will
tell, but meanwhiles, it might be an idea to climb Stamford Hill for a taste of what remains – Angela's ashes, to murder a metaphor.
The chain, which started life as Gateway and then moved on to solids by gobbling up Kwik-Save and then some of the surplus Safeway stores for afters, has always had a bit if an image problem. A posh friend has just about rehabilitated herself after some years in sackcloth since her six-year-old daughter told a classmate’s mum that they didn’t shop at Somerfield because ‘mummy says that’s where the common people go’.
I was quite taken with Vina Caña Crianza 2004 (£5.25), even though it's a ‘new-style’ Rioja (i.e. it’s not very much like Rioja) – it has generous, slightly stewed-plum fruit and it's decent value, whatever it is. (It's bigger sister, the Reserva 2001, is on spesh at £6.99 next month and I've a hunch it might be a little more sure of itself.)
No identity crisis chez the excellent Yves Grassa – rather the opposite, in fact. His grinning Gascon mug is pictured on the back-label of his 'Tariquet' Vin de Pays des Cotes de Gascogne 2004. No wonder he's pleased with himself, though – his exuberantly grapefruit-juicy mix of Colombard, Ugni Blanc, Chenin Blanc and something else is lip-smackingly refreshing stuff, and a bargain with a quid off at £3.99 until 17 July.
I've been doing quite a bit of ‘work’ on fair trade wines of late. The unexceptionable Fairhills Pinotage-Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 is at £3.99 (dahn a pahn) until the end of July. ‘It's good for me... tonight’, said Mrs G. thirstily, leaving me with the impression that she might well have said the same of a carafe of late Soviet-period tank anti-freeze. It's certainly one of the better fair trade examples, with bright cherry fruit and it can hold its own against anything else at the discounted price. It seems there's a requirement to have some ‘limpid’ prose on fair trade labels, and in this case we learn that something or other has been ‘embraced by the winds, kissed by the sun and guided by the stars’, which is nice.
Of bigger brands (but not too big), the ever-reliable Montana Sauvignon Blanc 2006 is down two quid to £5.49 until 3 July. NZ’s biggest producer still cares about quality and this has loads of grassy-green gooseberryness. Some food and wine matches are made in heaven, and Sauvignon Blanc and soft goat’s cheese is one of them. There’s some scientific reason but don’t think about it, just pop out for some and give it a go.
A couple more excellent stand-bys merit a mention. Cono Sur Pinot Noir 2005 (£5.55) from Chile gives the lie to all those (myself included) who say there's no such thing as good, cheap pinot noir. This gushes bright strawberry and raspberry fruit which is held upright by a touch of tannin and a wisp of smoke round the edges.
In a world awash with Cabernet Sauvignon, albeit the tide has finally started to ebb. Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (£4,99 until 17 July) has always kept its head above the waters of mediocrity. We're lucky these days to have such modestly-priced, consistent wines to rely on – black fruits, a little liquorice and a whiff of Chilean heat.
It will be interesting to go back to Somerfield in a year or so, though, because it will be the discovery and nurturing of promising smaller producers that will be the measure of any successor to Ms Mount. Provided, that is, that Somerfield don’t opt instead for a computer programme that can calculate the optimum profit-margin they can make by simply shuffling the pack of the mega-brands.