Thursday 24 August 2017

Co-Op Off-chance: Bonarda Shiraz

So I need a couple of bottles of cheap grog and the only place open at this time of day in distant Hampshire on a Sunday evening is the neighbourhood Co-Op. We also, as it turns out, need butter, milk, two pounds of steak, cake, three days' worth of salad, olive oil, cashew nuts, washing-up liquid, our own weight in potatoes, paper napkins, just about everything, in fact. My wife starts talking emotionally about asparagus, but I think we'll be pressed to find much more than a factory pasty out here in the sticks.

Turns out I'm wrong, yet again, and the Co-Op - which is no bigger than the cab of a Transit van and full of other customers, too - has, amazingly, most of what we need and several things we don't. I aim myself like a javelin at the wine end of the shop and come back brightly clutching a South African Chardonnay-Viognier mix and a bottle of Argentinian Bonarda Shiraz; both in the right indigent price range and with screw tops and cheerful packaging.

Much later, I get to drink them. The Bonarda Shiraz is like any regular gluey, halitotic, buttonholing Argentinian red but with just a hint of self-control: something to do with this Bonarda stuff, about which I know nothing? Likewise the Chardonnay-Viognier (why the hyphen? The red has to get by without one) is not only fine in its way, it's a tiny bit more assertively refreshing than I usually expect from a crumbum discount supermarket Chardonnay. That extra Viognier goodness, presumably.

By now, of course, I am completely in thrall to the Co-Op, who have not only got me out of a wineless jam, but have produced a nice white and introduced me to Bonarda, which is apparently taking Latin America by storm, enough even to outdo the loathsome Malbec in the easy-drinking reds section. I then wonder why I don't normally come across these very slightly intriguing two-grape mashups in my regular wine drinking. Apart from the odd Syrah/Grenache or Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, most of the time I seem to be slumped in a drab monoculture of Tempranillo or Sangiovese or Shiraz or Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir, or whatever. Can it only be the Co-Op hosting such products?

Given that, for reasons beyond my control, Waitrose is my default wine supermarket, I decide to check their listings to see if there's any evidence to back up my suspicions. Well: at my end of the price spectrum, yes, there are an awful lot of one-stop Merlots and Shirazes and Malbecs and the odd Cabernet Sauvignon; once, a Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz mix, but not much else. A bit more variety among the whites, with a Chardonnay/Viognier on special offer and a Chenin Blanc/Pinot Grigio which might or might not be a good thing, but elsewhere it's still kind of unidirectional - Soave, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, only starting to show a bit of initiative up in the near-£8 range, with a Picpoul de Pinet (actually quite nice when it's on offer) and a Muscadet (ditto), but nothing genuinely experimental. So, to an extent, my doubts are confirmed.

Sainsbury's (my other default winemart) is worryingly similar, only a cheap Merlot/Grenache and a less cheap Sauvignon Blanc/Semillion doing much to ring the changes. I can't face trawling through Tesco and all the rest to see what intriguing novelty blends they might have - which leaves me where I started, wondering only if I've made some fundamental good/bad category error and the Co-Op stuff which I thought was refreshingly different was merely a) different b) so incredibly and unexpectedly welcome on a Sunday in the provinces that I would have loved it if it had tasted like the inside of a foot spa. Also worrying that I've been duped by the guile of marketing shills into believing that I was getting something brightly toothsome to drink when in fact I was being fobbed off with assortments of under-the-radar wine that no-one could find a use for, tipped into more conventional and therefore marketable grape varieties merely in order get rid of the oddball stuff while at the same time bulking the acceptable stuff out.

Before my head starts throbbing with the involuted deviousness of it all, I decide to stop and take a stand: yes, this drink was affordable, timely and tasty; trying to second-guess the motives of the Co-Op is not only mean-spirited, but futile; let's just be grateful for small mercies, while at the same time, making a mental note to look out for wines that dare, in their own ways, to be cost-effectively slightly different. And now, on to more important matters.


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