Great value wines at Aldi and Dunnes

As of October 2012, I am no longer drinks columnist with the Irish Examiner Weekend. See the home page of this blog for more details. I’m leaving much of the info I posted here in case it might be helpful. Thank you.

IN the Irish Examiner (Saturday December 11, 2010) I looked at some of the best value wines in Dunnes Stores’ wine promotion which runs until January 4, 2011. As well as listing my recommendations from Dunnes, I’ve also added in the highlights of a recent tasting of Aldi’s best, below.

Dunnes Stores, St Patrick Street, Cork.

But first a bit of a fógra oifigiúil.  Today’s column included a promise  to mention some further recommended wines reduced in price in Dunnes but unfortunately it turns out I’m unable to do that.

The list Dunnes sent me enumerates a number of bottles on promotion as being “Laurent Miquel”, reduced from €8.99 to €6.99 each. But the two Laurent Miquel ranges I tried at Dunnes’  most recent tasting (Père et Fils and Nord Sud) were listed as having an “offer price” of €8 and €8.99. I don’t know if that refers to the then current price or the reduced price. So I don’t know which ones are on special offer now, whether they’re the ones I’d rate highly, nor whether I’ve tasted them at all.

Apologies for not being able to follow through with further wines as promised but clearly it’s better to omit  them entirely rather than inadvertently mislead you. I hope the suggested shopping list in today’s column provides enough inspiration for now.

Here are the Dunnes exclusives I’d particularly recommend.

Vina Maipo Gran Devocion Sauvignon Blanc 2009 DO Casablanca (14.49 €10)

Chateau Longbosq Médoc 2006 (12.49 €9.49)

Grande Reserve de Beau Rivage 2007 (€13.99 €6.99)

Chateau Bois Pertuis 2008 (€14.99 €8.99)

Clos Malverne Pinotage Reserve 2008 (€13.33 €9.99)

While I admire much of Dunnes’ exclusive portfolio, and find great value in some of their ‘sale’ items,  I’ve got to agree with this British commentator:

“One of my pet hates is seeing a wine ‘reduced’ from £7.99 to £3.99. How can consumers judge its real value?”

Some of the big supermarkets — especially Tesco and Dunnes — run a seemingly perpetual cycle of ‘sales’ that aren’t really sales, but a three-card-trick of raising prices and then dropping them (to the prices they intended to charge all along) solely to keep us consumers agitated.  They work only for the most canny and energetic shopper who has time and focus to build a shopping list of their target wines and carry out raids when the so-called sale begins. And yes by the way, these sales are lawful once they abide by certain ground rules.

So who is responsible for the quote above — A campaigning blogger or newspaper columnist? Or a consumers advocate agency?

In fact it was Aldi’s chief wine buyer, Danny Gibson. While I’m no spokesman for Aldi, and treat their wines with the same scepticism as I do every other retailer, he is correct in saying that what you see is what you get at Aldi. Generally there is no farting around with “sales”. So the numbers cited below are the stable, long-term prices for the wines in question.

Aldi has proved adept at sourcing quality wines and selling them cheaply, and there was further evidence of that at a tasting I attended in Dublin recently. Here’s my Aldi Christmas hit-list.

Aldi’s great value NZ SB

Freeman’s Bay New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (€8.49)

Contrasting wonderfully with the Sancerre below, this is New Zealand sauv blanc writ large: flamboyantly pungent, followed through on the palate with mouth-watering flavours tinged with crunchy green apple.

Cave de Monterail Châteauneuf-Du-Pape 2008 (€12.99).

Despite its grand reputation, the Châteauneuf-Du-Pape appellation often disappoints. This rich savoury red bottle, however, offers an affordable glimpse of the best side of that excellent tradition.

Râmon Lopez Murillo Rioja Reserva 2005 (€7.99).

Despite the price, this is a proper ‘grown-up’ medium-bodied dry tempranillo. An old favourite of mine at Aldi, it evolves beautifully into a glassful of red fruit cut across with spice and deliciously sweet topnotes.

Bushland Reserve Shiraz, South Eastern Australia, 2008 (€5.99)

Winemaker Michael Hope’s typically generous and creamy red is one of the best value wines on the Irish market. The welcoming scents of baked sweet red fruit follow through on the palate in a spicy, creamy texture.

Bushland Grape Selection Semillon Chardonnay, South Eastern Australia, 2008 (€6.99).

You wouldn’t normally expect to see these two grapes together, as they share a tendency to plumpness. But this is a beautifully blanced white, its full texture contrasted by fresh lemony acidity.

Selection les Terres Blanches Sancerre 2009 (€10.99)

This matches up pretty well to its often costly brethren from the Sancerre appellation. More importantly, it’s an excellent firm and savoury old world sauvignon blanc that could grace any high table at a great price.

WHILE no retailer will get it right (or wrong) all the time, Aldi has certainly trumped Dunnes with regard to one appellation. Dunnes’  Chateauneuf-du-Pape (reduced from €25 to €20 ) is blown out of the water by Aldi’s €12.99 model.

I don’t think this particular instance is anything for staff or fans of one store or another to get het up about. If anything, it underlies the challenge wine buyers face, attempting to sate our lust for famous names including the likes of Champagne and Chateauneuf-du-Pape, at a discount price. In general, I’d suggest it’s time for us consumers — and in turn retailers — to get over the hypnotic spell that posh names like those two seem to cast over us.  Even when of good quality and heavily discounted — as done by both Dunnes and Aldi — they are generally too dear.

I love good Champagne and Chateauneuf-du-Pape. But in general, barring rare exceptions such as Aldi’s CdeP above, I have no intention of buying anything from either appellation, and find no reason to recommend any of them.  Both appellations routinely underdeliver on any sane price-quality quotient. To put it another way, both attract esteem far in excess of what they deliver.

I believe both appellations have been, in part, sustained by the purple economy.  This is the the market where people funded by lavish (and sometimes unvouched) expense accounts choose to enjoy hospitality they would never countenance if paying out of their own household budgets.

In the past I have occasionally recommended Champagnes only because I got feedback along the lines of ‘yes, we get that value-for-money thing but this is a special occasion so what do you think is the best value Champagne?’ I also recently tipped Dunnes’ CdeP in my column, but with the important caveat that I thought it was too dear. I did this in the mistaken hope / belief that it was due to be reduced from its lofty €20 price tag, which in fact turned out to be the destination price.

Yes, buying quality Champagne and CdeP makes perfect sense for people who belong to the shrinking minority of people who can afford the likes of it. Bless them, and may they enjoy it in good company. I raise my glass with a hearty ‘sláinte beo’ to anyone enjoying their wine, whether it costs an €8 or €80.

However I am not going to be gulled into contributing in any way to the myth promoted by the wine business and wine fans alike that there is something inherently better or special about over inflated appellations.

This isn’t the ranting of a recessionista. I’ve been broadly consistent in this view right through the co-called boom. We should by know have a rough idea of what happens when we spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need. As with houses so with wines, still or sparkling: think “property bubble”. 

One Response

  1. I forget which luminary told me but the fruit for the Bushland shiraz is sourced from some premium area, possibly the Hunter Valley, and it is simply declassified for some unimportant reason. Translation: it’s much better stuff than retailer and price might suggest.

    I haven’t tried it myself. And apologies the details are so sketchy.

    p.s. I’m not in Tesco very often (geography) but was in Tesco Mahon Point last Sunday. I said I’d have a look for these great (genuine) reductions that they occasionally have on icon wines. Anyway, I didn’t find any but the first “discounted” wine I saw was a €16 South East Aust red reduced to €8. What a con; if it isn’t illegal it should be.

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