Thursday, November 4, 2010

Book Review: The Best Wines in the Supermarkets 2011

As most readers probably know I try to concentrate on wines that are easily accessible to the general public, and by that I mean supermarkets or high-street chains. There are enough blogs and websites dedicated to 'fine wine' and I feel there is a gap for information about wine that the average wine-drinker person buys.

I'm sure some people don't care - they treat their wine like they would lager - they just want consistency and they like the taste, but I'm sure these same people also feel a sense of confusion and bewilderment when stood in front of the massive selection of wine on offer at most supermarkets - hence the habit of finding a brand they like, and sticking to it.

One of the things I was hoping to achieve with this blog (and I'm sure every wine writer/blogger is as well) is to get people to try new things. The supermarkets sell a lot of plonk for sure, but they have some clever buyers working for them and there is good, proper wine to be bought. Maybe these wines don't give the supermarket the highest margins, but they exist.

In his annual book, Ned Halley has managed to do what I am trying to do - provide the shopper with an objective insight into the best wines in the supermarkets, with a heavy emphasis on value for money.

The supermarkets covered are Asda, Booths, Co-op, Majestic, Marks & Spencer, Morrsions, Sainsbury's, Tesco and Waitrose. The book also includes a few very informative introductory chapters describing the pricing of wine, grape varieties and his rating system. At the back of the book there is an extensive wine glossary and some notes on food and wine matching.

Only his choices of the 'best' wines are listed. The wines are listed by supermarket with a score out of 10. However, the score is more of a 'value for money' score than a 'quality' score. For example, Ned gives the Sainsbury's House Côtes Du Rhône a perfect 10/10, but if you read the preface you'll understand that he thinks you couldn't get a better Côtes Du Rhône for the price, not that it's the best Côtes Du Rhône he's ever tasted.

This is an admirable approach, as it provides the shopper with clear direction. They can choose to buy the best value wines, and in doing so decide if they like the style. If they do, and are interested in expanding their horizons, they can perhaps upgrade next time (or stick with it). If not, perhaps that particular style is not for them. At least they won't feel like they've been ripped off.

So, what do I think of Ned's choices? Some of them I agree wholeheartedly with, some I don't, but that's mostly just individual opinion. For example, he seems to be a big fan of the Sainsbury's 'House' range. After trying several of them I'm a bit underwhelmed, but at the same time what do you expect for under £4? The stuff is drinkable, but I'm not sure if it's any better than the usual selections at that price point.

I think we are in total agreement about one particular wine - Loosen Bros. Dr. L Riesling. Ned gives it a 10/10 and says "Why isn't this the best selling white wine in Britain?". Hear hear Ned. I'm also glad to see that he shares my opinions about wine and cheese matching - white wine with soft cheeses, red wine with hard cheeses. Those are just examples, but there are many, many others that he rates that I have also raved about in this blog.

So the bottom line is this is a great book to keep in your hand-bag, man-bag or whatever else you carry so you have it handy when stopping by the supermarket to buy your evening provisions. I plan to do so - just tonight I was looking for a particular New Zealand Syrah at Sainbury's that was mentioned in the book, but unfortunately wasn't stocked. Oh well - at least there are a load of other options in the book...

Available from Amazon.

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