It’s an ill wind as they say and the economic climate of recent years has blown benignly for the big German discounters Aldi and Lidl. With over 1,000 stores in the UK between them, Aldi (461) and Lidl (600) have both seized on a gap in the market for attracting new customers to their everyday low-price models. As cogs in the wheels of two bigger leviathans, they’re in a great position to pare overheads, and consequently prices, to the bone. The prize is the number of ABC1 yummy mummies sashaying into their car parks in their 4x4s.
Coincidentally, both held their autumn wine tastings in the same September week and both were showcasing their new so-called premium wine ranges. Quoting Robert Louis Stevenson’s “wine is bottled poetry”, Lidl featured its new Wine Cellar with the deathless soundbite “hand-picked by us, rated by experts, enjoyed by you”. Aldi invited us to taste its new grandiosely-named Exquisite Collection, a seven-strong range chosen in response to Tesco’s Finest, Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference, Asda’s Extra Special and Morrisons’ The Best.
Aldi’s Exquisite Collection is not on shelf until late November so I’ll return to it and the Christmas range, but I was pleasantly surprised by a handful of good wines here. From the core range, with around 70 wines in each store, the stand-out wine was the Champagne Brut NV by Philizot, £12.99, a genuinely complex, biscuity fizz with a full-flavoured toasty quality and fine marshmallow-soft mousse to it.
I found the Toro Loco Tempranillo, £3.59, all you could expect at the price in a gluggy, juicy, strawberryish mould that would blow most beaujolais out of the water. Anyone holding an autumn or even Christmas party on a penny-pinching budget might look to the 2011 Grapevine Merlot, £2.99, a respectable sweet and plummy Spanish glugger that slips down without having to exercise a brain muscle. Better, however, is the 2006 Baron Amarillo Rioja Reserva, £5.99, a traditional-style rioja with plenty of sweet vanilla oak behind pleasantly juicy, strawberry fruitiness.
I wish I could say that expectations were equally exceeded by Lidl but the “bottled poetry” was closer to pastiche. The champagne was the same price as Aldi’s but not a patch on it. Most of the wines were co-operative sourced and it showed in a rather bland and uninspiring line-up. The 2011 Chablis, £7.69, showed some life and character, the 2010 (but not 2011) Bordeaux, £4.99, a modicum of vivid blackcurrant fruit and the smoky red-berry fruit of the 2008 Rioja Reserva at £5.99 was approachable enough. A 2010 St Emilion Grand Cru, £12.99, and 2011 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, £12.49, were true to type if unexciting. It’s 4-1 to Aldi then in the battle of the German discounters.