Thursday 10 May 2018

Let's discover the world of wine! (Or not…)

The cheap wooden wine cabinet in my local supermarket has a new heading. Regular readers (bless you all) may remember that it once housed their so-called ‘Fine Wine’, before becoming some kind of dumping ground. Now, it bears a simple imperative: ‘Discover’.

Discover – what does that mean, exactly? I’m old enough to feel that there’s an abuse of the verb going on, old enough to have grown up with images of proper explorers, in pith helmets, leading a train of luggage-bearing servants through a jungle somewhere. And here is a supermarket, trying to make you feel similarly daring and exploratory, with little more challenge than trying a grape like vermentino.

This notion of ‘discovery’ is peculiar to wine. I don’t see many retailers offering an invitation to discover the world of trousers. Actually, I’ll confess that I’m pretty complacent when it comes to trousers, and perhaps I should be looking to see if there are varieties with unequal leg lengths, or magnetic flies. (“Warning: Unsuitable for customers with certain piercings”)

But I really don’t feel any need to head out and 'discover' uncharted territories of trousers. Or, indeed, wine. Which must disappoint the marketing whiz who clearly thought it would sound an exciting proposition Whereas in fact, a suggestion to ‘discover’ is one of those foreboding phrases, like “I thought we could try something unusual…”, which can make your heart sink whether it’s in connection with wine, seafood or sexual intercourse.

So what is this, a carefully curated selection of unusual grapes and challenging flavours? Or perhaps a journey around the world’s wines, featuring lesser-known regions? (Which, I tend to find, generally have a very good reason for remaining lesser-known…)

Let us tip-toe with trepidation, out of our comfort zone, across its top shelf, to discover the unfamiliar wines of, er… France. Of that rarely encountered region, Bordeaux. There’s an example of the possibly less well known Chinon, but then back to a Bordeaux, cleverly labelled as claret in case that makes it seem like a different wine.

Then there are three Kosher wines, whose presence might be explained less by an initiative to discover Middle Eastern wine, and more by a desire to shift leftovers from last month’s Passover.

Below that you can discover their own-label champagne, which is cheap, and their own-label cava, which is cheaper. Oh, and a sauvignon blanc. From Bordeaux.

Go on, you say, discover! Try something different! What have you got to lose? Well, about £13 by the looks of things, for a bottle of Chablis (ever heard of it?), where the only discovery will be of how much more than usual I can spend on a supermarket wine.

Tucked away near the bottom are some genuinely unusual wines, a Sierra de Andia from Navarra, and a Paso Robles Zinfandel blend, both in Sainsbury's own-label Taste the Difference range.  But does anyone still consider Argentinian Malbec much of a discovery? I mean, even CJ discovered that, ages ago. He, of course, would explore anywhere in the world that could possibly offer drinkable wine for less than a fiver. But Lord Sainsbury’s expedition doesn’t seem to have gone that far.

So what have we discovered? Little, beyond the low estimation in which supermarket winedrinkers  are held. Discovery, it seems, is small, confined and unsurprising. A bit like discovering your downstairs loo.


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