Thursday 11 June 2015

Free wine!

A free bottle of wine. Just for you. That’s what it says. So…where’s the catch?

I can’t be the only person who is immediately wary of something free. I say this with caution, however, because most times when I declare that “I can’t be the only person who…”, it turns out that I am.

Nevertheless. I live my life as an instinctive cynic, the kind of person who believes that the light at the end of the tunnel is a train coming the other way.

And generally, when someone offers you a free bottle of wine, there is a catch. You have to buy another bottle, or even a case, in order to get it. You have to sign up for something, or attend something, like a time-share presentation. Or you have to consume a meal, at a time of day or on a day of the week, at a place or at a price, that you wouldn’t otherwise have chosen.

But I have no idea why Messrs Sainsbury decided to send me a voucher for a free bottle of wine – or what the catch might be. Perhaps it’s a bribe, to lure me into Sainsbury’s wine aisle, where I might spend voraciously? Or as a reward, for having in the past been lured into Sainsbury’s wine aisle where indeed I have spent voraciously.

Or perhaps (watch out for that train…) the wines are so vile that the only way in which they can finally shift their overstock is to give them away.

So my initial thinking was, which is the least bad choice of the two bottles on offer?

In this, I am probably echoing the “play safe” approach of most people when it comes to wine. Perhaps the greatest imperatives when choosing a bottle in the face of ignorance are (a) will it taste alright? (b) am I being ripped off? And coming up a close third, for me at any rate, (c), am I going to make myself look a plonker?

Well, as far as (c) is concerned, obviously, I mean obviously,  I’m not going to be serving a free bottle of wine to anyone else. CJ is away. But, there’s the girl on the checkout to think of. Is she going to be sneering inwardly? “You mug! Wait until you taste that!”

I think (b) is pretty safe going – there doesn’t appear to be any requirement to sign, attend, provide or commit to anything in return.

So it’s down to (a). Is this going to be drinkable? Even a free bottle is worthless if the wine goes down the sink, and my removal of the bottle from the store merely helps Sainsbury out of some stock crisis; or goes towards some absurd statistical claim about the number of bottles they have shifted this year.

The least worse choice, then. A bad Montepulciano d’Abruzzo can be an awful thing. Heavy, pungent, like a simultaneous punch in the throat and kick in the nose. A bad Pinot Grigio, on the other hand, is probably tasteless. OK, it could veer in the opposite direction, and be paint stripper acidic, but I’ll take my chances. This is after all Pinot Grigio, the bland leading the bland.

I was just a little concerned to see that the shelf price of these wines is £5. And last week, if you bought 6 bottles, there was 25% off. Allowing for tax, duty and so on, that means that the actual wine content is already practically free.

But I was reassured by the fact that this is the Winemakers’ Selection. We are not told the criteria for that selection – they could have been selecting the grapes that looked most like testicles, or the blend that is closest to Covonia. But at least it’s been selected.

And so I returned home with a bottle of Pinot Grigio gratis and for free,having survived the sullen suspicion of the checkout girl, past whom it would be easier to get a dodgy £50 note than an invalid coupon.

And here’s the thing. Against all expectations, chilled down in the fridge and drunk on a warm evening, it was perfectly drinkable. A little bit of fragrance, a slight peachiness in the mouth. For £5 it would have been reasonable. For £3.75, a bargain. For nothing, it was an absolute treat.

So far, no catch has emerged. I presume I am now on some database, as a drinker of wine, or a person susceptible to offers, or as someone who will drink any old rubbish as long as it’s free – but they only had to ask.

And I did notice in their Fine Wines selection a rather nice Fontanafredda Barolo. If there’s any of that going begging…


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