Asda are proud of their innovative approach. After asking customers how they choose wines, the company took the calculated risk of displaying by taste and style instead of by country. "Bins and barrels add a bit of soul," says Illy Jaffar of the wine team, who says the new look has given customers the confidence to experiment. Now each Asda store is to hold at least one informal wine tasting during the year (tickets pounds 3 - contact your local store for details).
Their new spring range starts with a suitably bright clutch of new sauvignons: an aromatic, refreshing 1995 Domaine St Francois Sauvignon Blanc, pounds 3.49; from Chile a grassy-scented, ample, gooseberry-fruity 1995 Rowan Brook Sauvignon Blanc Reserve, pounds 3.99; and - rather better than the insipid St Clair New Zealand Sauvignon - the textbook 1995 Sancerre "la Vigne des Rocs", pounds 7.49, which is rich in nettly fruitiness, with ample body and weight, and has the complex, mineral character of the local terrain.
New-release chardonnays include a tropical-fruity, toasted oak 1995 Rowan Brook Chardonnay, pounds 4.99, which stands out from the range, alongside Hardy's smoky, nut-fudge sundae, the 1994 Chateau Reynella Chardonnay, pounds 6.99, and the refined 1995 St Veran des Deux Roches, pounds 6.49. In a welcome venture beyond chardonnay to Rhone varieties, the 1995 Cuckoo Hill Viognier, pounds 4.99, is sumptuously laden with the apricot character of the variety. And Australia's 1994 Cranswick Oak Aged Marsanne, pounds 4.99 (also at Waitrose), is an intriguing gem of a wine reminiscent of greengage, with a spicing of honeysuckle and vanilla flavours.
From Peter Bright, the 1994 Bright Brothers Old Vine Estremadura, pounds 3.79, despite its garish red label, is laced with smoky oak, laden with pepper and spicy, Rhone-like black fruits. His 1994 Fiuza Oak Aged Cabernet Sauvignon, pounds 4.49, is more elegant, with a juicy, cool-climate, green-pepper finesse and a touch of sweet oak. The Chilean Bordeaux blend, the 1995 Rowan Brook Cabernet- Malbec, pounds 3.49, is a deftly oaked, gleefully blackcurranty red; and, from the Languedoc, the Englishman James Herrick, well known for his pays d'Oc chardonnay, has made a success of his first pays d'Oc red, the fruitfully chunky, syrah-dominated, 1994 Vin de Pays d'Oc, Cuvee Simone, pounds 4.99, (also available at Oddbins).
A handful of New World red blockbusters adds macho stuffing to Asda's range, notably the 1995 Stellenzicht Block Senes Zinfandel, pounds 4.99 - kneecapping stuff, packed with sweetly ripe, blackberry fruit; and the 1995 Bouwland Bush Vine Pinotage, pounds 4.49, which has the jammy, strapping quality of the pinotage grape at its most uncompromisingly muscular. The classiest red in the line-up is the 1993 Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz, pounds 9.99; this is an aromatic, typically Australian blend with wonderfully pure, rich fruit suffused with vanilla spiciness.
Safeway, for their part, have devised a twice-yearly wine fair as a strategy to lure middle-of-the-road shoppers, mainly young families, from the clutches of its rivals. Oddly, the Foire aux Vins, on which the fair is based, seems to have run its course, according to a recent report on the Bordeaux market. Perhaps the British are less blase, as the wine fair here is still full of running. Safeway is now into its fourth May fair, which runs until Saturday, 25 May, with 45 wines, including some at discounted prices and one-off buys brought in to add to the fun.
Exclusive to the fair are the fine, smokily aromatic and typically flinty, mouthwateringly dry 1995 Pouilly Fume Les Bonnes Bouches, pounds 6.99, from Henri Bourgeois, and the rich, golden 1993 Ebenezer Barossa Valley Chardonnay, pounds 6.99, an old-style Hardy chardy which will satisfy neophyte cravings for traditional Aussie chardonnay with its honey and toast flavours. Reduced from pounds 4.59 to pounds 3.49 for the duration, the 1994 charry, vanilla-pod-scented Berberana Tempranillo Rioja is teasingly priced.
Prices for Safeway's new Italian range of reds start at pounds 2.99 for the 1995 Sicilian Red, a quaffer with a damsony nip of acidity, and rise to pounds 4.49 for the intensely flavoured, modern, cherry-and-vanilla-centred 1994 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, pounds 4.49. Another one-off for the fair, the 1991 Velletri Rosso Riserva, pounds 4.99, from Lazio, a glorious oddball with a dimple in the kink of its quaintly old-fashioned neck, is redolent of maraschino cherry and fruitcake.
Tesco's version of the Foire aux Vins, their 1996 wine festival on the theme "Taste the Quality", runs until next Saturday, with more than 50 specially promoted wines. Steer clear of highfalutin Chablis Grand Cru and Puligny-Montrachet, and stick to the lower-priced, stylishly packaged Picajuan Peak range from Argentina, especially the attractively soft, peachy, tropical- fruity Picajuan Peak Chardonnay, pounds 3.49, and the ripe-strawberry-ish, surprisingly well balanced Bonarda, pounds 2.99. From Chile comes the attractively crisp, grapefruity 1995 Santa Ines Sauvignon Blanc, pounds 3.99; and, from Spain, Santa Catalina white and red, both pounds 3.49, two well made, juicy, modern examples of their typeReuse content