Mrs K rings. She is running late, and is picking up a Meal Deal from Tesco on her way home. Sorry, that’s a Tesco Finest Meal Deal – not a Tesco Regular, Everyday, Normal or Just There On The Shelf Meal, oh no, but the Finest that Tesco can presumably offer.
For those who have not experienced a Meal Deal, it’s a sort of package offer of a complete ready meal for two for just £10. That’s a main course, an accompaniment and a dessert – plus a bottle of wine. Several supermarkets now offer these Deals. And what intrigues me is not the Meal (main, veg and dessert seems a reasonable basis for supper); nor, indeed, the Deal (the price is pretty good for a meal for two). No, the interesting thing is – why does a Meal Deal include a bottle of wine?
The first possibility is that wine is now seen as so everyday, so much a part of an evening meal at home, that it’s an essential element in anything purporting to be a complete meal for two. The supermarkets simply have to include it, or the offer would not be perceived to constitute a proper Meal, and angry customers might report their advertising to Ofpissed.
The second is that they want to introduce new customers to their range, by providing them with an enticing sample, as part of a bargain package. Thus tempted, they may return later to buy at full price, and drink Tesco wine happily into the future.
And the third is that this is an attempt to raise a ready meal to a higher status, to take it out of the lonely singles market and make it more akin to a romantic restaurant meal for two, and that’s why a bottle of wine is included. The dishes themselves are relatively complex; once they’re out of their foil dishes and plastic containers, they could be quite sophisticated (pass the square plates and the tweezers, dear). We could be sitting in a restaurant, albeit one with no other customers or serving staff, and with a sommelier who seems to be a malcontent wearing his slippers.
So, the wine. Mrs K has grabbed this bottle from those included in the Tesco offer. It is red, and it is freezing cold; because to ensure customers only choose bottles included in the Deal, those particular wines are kept alongside the Meal – in the chill cabinet. Yes, even the red.
Mrs K says she thought she might have seen the word Toro on a wine that she has liked. Well, if you’re going to remember one single word from a wine label, this is marginally more useful than remembering ‘Chateau’.
Of course, that might have been Sangre de Toro. Or it might have been Concha y Toro. But it’s unlikely to have been a wine from Toro, as this one is.
The 2012 version of this wine gets some rather nice mentions online – but unfortunately, this is the 2013. It has warmed up slightly in the house, but it is still less like a restaurant wine, more a crude and unheated garage, along with its accompanying oil, petrol fumes, antifreeze and battery acid. It puckers your cheeks and leaves a sour aftertaste. It’s terrible. It’s nasty.
(According to their own website, Tesco appear unable to find any sellers of an Oxford dictionary ; bizarrely, those who viewed the page bought a set of fireside tools instead. Does this inability to source a dictionary explain such an egregious misuse of the adjective “Finest”?)
Now, given that the entire meal for two costs just £10, how much can this terrible wine possibly cost? Well, the till receipt details a price for the Meal Deal elements should you have paid for them individually. And theoretically the wine is the most expensive single element, at £7.19.
But in a discussion on the Tesco Wine Community website, the Tesco Wine Advisers explain that this wine “has been produced as an exclusive line to accompany the Tesco Finest Meal Deal which appears in-store. As it is exclusive to this offer it is unlikely it will appear amongst the range in the wine aisle and unfortunately, will not appear on WBTC [Wine By The Case].”
Which surely makes the £7.19 price tag purely nominal? Tesco can say it would cost whatever they like – because it never will.
It also blows the bargain sample idea out of the water, because if you believed this was representative of a £7.19 wine, the Finest that Tesco have, you’d never buy another again.
Then I get it. It’s the restaurant thing, isn’t it. They’re so keen for their Meal Deal to resemble a proper restaurant meal, they’ve decided to mark up the wine in true restaurant wine list manner. Just like a restaurant, they have listed their wine at roughly twice what it's actually worth.
And yet. Mrs K and I may possibly repeat this adventure, despite the shockingly bad wine, priced at twice its value, and the curmudgeon of a wine waiter. As dining experiences go, the food is reasonable, the atmosphere convivial, and the dining room surprisingly uncrowded. Plus, we live here.