Drink: A taste of the new world wine order: Sainsbury's has 94 new wines on its books. Anthony Rose charts the company's return to form

IT IS NOT so long ago that Sainsbury's own-label claret and champagne graced the tables of every other Sunday lunch party across the country. The company's wine department had the hearts and minds of the great wine-buying masses firmly in its grip - a cachet that had taken Allan Cheesman, Sainsbury's first charismatic departmental director, years of painstaking effort to cultivate.

To meet aggressive competition and satisy demand for lower-priced wines, however, the range began to lurch downmarket, taking quality with it. The grocers-turned-wine-merchants who had clung on to the coat-tails of Sainsbury's in the Eighties were beginning to overtake the company. Faced with criticism, however, Sainsbury's stock response was that it remained a percentage point ahead of Tesco, its nearest rival.

Last month's tasting of about 200 wines, 94 of them new, was a clear demonstration that Sainsbury's has taken the criticism to heart and responded with verve and gusto.

Improving its own-label range was a start. Own-label is crucial not just for image, but because the range - broadly, up to pounds 3.50 in price - also comprises the lion's share of sales.

'We researched consumer perceptions to understand our strengths and weaknesses,' says Simon Blower, senior manager of the wine department. 'Take our Cotes du Rhone and our Vin de Pays d'Oc. Looking at the competition, ours were OK but not the best. We talked to our suppliers, worked on improving the blends, tasted and compared them again. Now we think ours are pretty good.'

At under pounds 3, the basic Cotes du Rhone is peppery, soft and juicy, and the Vin de Pays d'Oc as pleasantly fresh and fruity a blended white as you will find at the price. Even the muscadet is palatable.

One feature of the range is a change in attitude towards suppliers. The wine-buying team has been out on the winemaking trail. Unlike Tesco and Marks & Spencer, which made a big thing of their roving winemaker ranges, Sainsbury's prefers to let the wine do the talking.

'We are trying to use skills and technology to make wines better in areas where they don't normally make particularly good wine, but without marketing them as winemaker wines,' says Mr Blower. 'Research suggests that people are just not that interested.' After reading the back labels of one supermarket range, which reads like a Hello] profile, I tend to agree.

Nevertheless, the influence of modern winemaking is apparent. Sainsbury's has a New Zealander, Kym Milne, producing good value, basic white wines at the Balaton Boglar co-operative on the shores of Lake Balaton in Hungary. The team persuaded Peter Bright, the Australian who has transformed Portugal's table wines, to supply it exclusively with huge quantities of a good red and white, at under pounds 3, as well as a fragrant Argentintian dry white from Torrontes. And the varietal vin de pays specialist Robert Skalli, along with Hugh Ryman and Hardy's Australian outpost in the Languedoc have been called on to flesh out the southern French range.

Even Jacques Lurton has been pressed into Sainsbury's foreign legion, this time in Italy. So has the wine consultant Angela Muir, who has teamed up with Gruppo Italiano Vini to blend three new wines to a more readily accessible recipe - and price - than British customers ever dreamt possible from Italy. Try the Pinot Grigio, Bianco di Custoza and the astonishing Chardonnay delle Tre Venezie.

Long conspicuous by its absence, Sainsbury's New World range has a bright look. 'We've been too weak for too long in Australia and New Zealand,' Simon Blower admits. A grand tour of those countries in February has resulted in an increased and improved range.

Some of the names - Penfolds, Hardy's, Orlando's Jacob's Creek, Rosemount - are familiar. Others - Moondah Brook's outstanding 1992 Chenin Blanc, Krondorf's opulent 1991 Show Reserve Chardonnay from Australia and Montana's elegant 1992 Church Road Chardonnay - break new ground.

This is just a beginning, says Mr Blower, who expects another consignment of antipodean wines to arrive in the early autumn. And a small but well-chosen selection from South Africa and South America should fill the void likely to be left by New Zealand's disastrously short crop this year.

'Iberia's a bit of a star,' says Mr Blower, who has managed to coax some interesting styles from Spain, particularly the new Navarra blends. Spain and Eastern Europe are Sainsbury's biggest growth areas, reflecting price consciousness and the realisation of potential. Even rose is making a comeback. Indeed, Sainsbury's new range offers a glimpse of a new world wine order. Safeway and Tesco built on Sainsbury's progress in the Eighties. Now Sainsbury's is returning the compliment - with interest.

(Photograph omitted)

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little