Thursday 18 February 2016

Who'd Have Thought? Aldi Encounter II

So the great Aldi experiment begins, and I wander around the house wringing my hands with anxiety about the outcome of a simple order of wine, then have to go out, then come home again, where I carry on wringing my hands before going out again the next day, coming home, wringing my hands some more, at which point the doorbell rings, and what do you know? It's the Aldi wine, a day early, delivered in an undamaged box, containing the correct number of bottles, each bottle containing the wine as ordered, and I am so thrilled and even appalled that I scarcely know what to do with it. I mean, this has never happened before: the successful completion of an uncomplicated online order of affordable booze. The case sits on the kitchen table while I inspect the contents and wonder about leaving it there permanently as a reminder of what can be achieved in this crazy, mixed-up world.

Eventually, though, I have to try one of the bottles. I go for the Kooliburra Shiraz, on account of its relative abundance and its cheerful demeanour. Not at all bad: unaffected, firm and fruity, no devastating side-effects, no great story to tell either, but at £3.99 a bottle I am so far from complaining that my mute acquiescence counts as a ringing endorsement, especially in the context of Kooliburra's rivals, and yes, I'm looking at you, Waitrose so-called Reserve Claret 2014, a wine so appalling that even I can't finish it.

That out of the way, I go onto the Crisp and Refreshing whites. Normally, Crisp and Refreshing is marketing code for Savagely Corrosive, but the first white off the blocks is a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc - a Freeman's Bay - which is so shapely, so fragrant, so deft in its acidity, that I almost pass out. How many life-affirming Sauvignon Blancs have I drunk? Nearly all of them have been somewhere on a continuum from Basically Underwhelming to Broadly Intolerable. But this Freeman's Bay is not just from another planet, it's from another solar system. And so it should be, at £5.89 a bottle.

I move on to the next white, a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, a lesser beverage, clearly (£4.89) but still quite okay, and then the project halts as I come down with my annual winter cold and nothing tastes of anything except a dank, featureless, grey, cardboardy sludge. The Chilean sits around half-finished and my wife complains heartlessly about the noise of my coughing. Still. There is much to look forward to in about a week's time, plus the prospect of repeating the process once I've got through this lot.

There is also the prospect of a raft of new Aldi stores opening up, not as an online manifestation, but eighty of the physical sort - please God let one be near me - bringing sensibly-priced impulse-buy booze that bit closer. Lidl, too, are supposed to be enlarging their empire, so it may even be that our house is gradually embraced by the two colonising powers, with their detergents, packet salami, fusewire, beige tights and instant coffee, and we yield to our bargain overlords in the way that the Tahitians were supposed to have yielded to Cook's expedition in 1769, with love and flowers and exotic dancing.

It is in fact all part of the New Branding, good enough and at a fair price becoming as covetable as something with a look-at-me label on it - leading to the gradual erasure of the costly London black cab by a Skoda from Uber; or the annihilation of Habitat by IKEA. Eventually, the fancy brands will retreat to airport terminals and suspended-reality shopping malls, my sweaters will cost next to nothing and my wine will be cheaper than two issues of the FT. Aldi's userfriendly everyday wines are a part of this process, and no, I haven't finished with you, Waitrose, your bargain wines are disgusting and even your slightly upscale stuff is generally disappointing, no, I'm not finished with you by a long chalk, although, wait a minute, this may be the fever speaking, my cold taking over, am I making any sense? Nurse!


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