I’ve got used, begrudgingly, to buying wine from supermarkets – but a Parisian supermarket is something else.
We are not talking here about the giant hypermarchés beloved of booze cruisers, nor the Lidl to which CJ unaccountably turns when in Ventoux – no, this was a trim little two-storey Monoprix on the Rue du Bac, doing for Parisians what a Tesco Metro or a Sainsbury’s Local would do in a UK city. Only, when it comes to wine, it was doing something very different.
There I was, buying the usual stuff one smuggles guiltily past hotel reception in order to snack in your room and avoid using the mini-bar. You know the score. It was a neat little supermarket, where the residents of St Germain get their post-work purchases and ready meals for one. But it was also a place where I patiently followed what I thought was a clearly disabled chap down the stairs, only to find that he was in fact a drunk, having difficulty manhandling several cans of beer clutched to his stomach. So plus ça change – there was probably a spillage in aisle four…
The wine was conveniently shelved opposite the cold meats. Following universal supermarket principles, the lower the price, the lower the shelf, and at the bottom was a perfectly tolerable Bordeaux for €2.90 – that’s about £2.55, a price which would please even CJ, and is perhaps to be expected. But on the top shelf… on the top shelf….
There is Chateau Figeac 1998, €186 a bottle. Leoville Las Cases 1994, €219 – that’s £193 a bottle, on the shelf of a supermarket. Even Chateau d’Yquem 1995, €270 – that’s £237 a bottle. Opposite the cold meats.
Surely this is taking egalité too far. In wine, as in all things, there are those who spend a little (CJ) and those who spend a lot. But in appealing equally to all purchasers of, say, sardines, a supermarket can offer both the basic and the very best, within perhaps double or treble the basic price. There is, I suggest, no other comestible in which the price difference between the cheapest and the most expensive on the shelf is a multiple of 100.
Call me whatever (I’ll have heard it before…), but I simply don’t expect to trolley a wine costing £200. If, if I am ever spending that kind of money on a bottle, I will go to Flunkey & Sons, where one of the Flunkeys will emerge from a cellar, cradling my purchase like a newborn. I want someone to talk me through the chateau and the vintage (confirming what I already know, of course…). I want a look of admiration (“Well-chosen, if I might say so, sir…”) and even a degree of envy that I am going to have the wondrous experience which this wine will offer (and which he, as a humble Flunkey, cannot afford).
I certainly do not want moppable flooring, tannoy announcements and surly check-out staff who ask you in French if you have their loyalty card – with my appalling French, can I possibly sound like a regular customer? – then slam security-sealed bottles upside down into the devices which unlock them, hardly the way to treat a good bottle of wine. So, no, I did not buy a £200 bottle from Monoprix.
What I actually bought was a bottle of Chateau Coufran, a sound Cru Bourgeois from the Haut-Medoc for €14.90 which, at the prevailing exchange rate, works out at just over £13. That’s a modest saving; UK prices range from £14 to £22 a bottle. But what was particularly impressive to me was that this was a 2001 vintage.
Now, if it was Christmas in England, you might just find a ten-year-old claret being offered in a supermarket, as a wine for Christmas lunch or as a gift. But you would be very unlikely to find it there on an average Spring day, a bottle of properly mature yet affordable Bordeaux which you could stick in your basket along with some cheese and salami for an impromptu supper. Which I did.
(If you’re interested, it was fruity and rich, surprisingly still a little stern around the edges, but a warm, deep and spicy claret.)
Back home, there are two kinds of shopping I do at a supermarket. There’s the planned, regular everyday consumption – and a bottle of drinkable plonk for £2.55 would certainly fall into that category. Then, there’s the impulse purchase of something interesting, and along with the first English asparagus, the Jersey Royals and that reduced fillet steak, a delicious bottle of ten-year-old Bordeaux for £13 would certainly find its way into my basket. A £200 bottle of wine, however, falls into neither of those categories, and still strikes me as a bizarre presence on a supermarket shelf.
Or perhaps I am simply not Parisian?