Laura Jewell likes the expression "does what it says on the tin". That's because, since she joined Spar as their wine buyer a year ago, she's been busy re-vamping the range with wines that do a job at the price. Spar, which opened for business in the UK in 1967, is possibly not the first wine port of call for Independent readers. Toilet rolls perhaps; in fact anything you might drop into the local store for on your way home. But wine?
It's a well-kept secret that Spar actually has a respectable wine range, but Laura, a Master of Wine, is doing her best to unlock the doors of perception. There are now 2,100 licensed Spar shops with a concentration of stores in the Midlands and the North. Many are small and can't take much more than Spar's 150-strong core range, but there are some big ex-Somerfield stores that can stock as many as 400 wines.
It can be a bit of a nightmare that the wines, like all Spar products, are distributed by five family-owned wholesalers, who themselves sell the wines to Spar. Yet even with one hand tied behind her back, Ms Jewell still shifts two million cases a year. In a year she has smartened up the range with wines you can put on the dinner table without a derisory snort from your guests. The new labels say "hand-selected by wine experts for Spar", which in fact means by Laura, but unlike buyers who splash their names on labels indiscriminately, she is too modest to append her own name. I hope that's the reason at least.
For the first time, Laura Jewell has introduced the idea of a national wine festival to Spar. Running until next Friday, the main focus is on South Africa and France, all of whose wines are reduced by 25 per cent for the duration. She has also gone out and bought some special parcels for the purpose.
Here are my top 10 wines in participating Spar stores at their special offer prices:
Vin de Pays d'Oc Chardonnay, £3.99 Juicy southern French chardonnay with fresh spritz and peachy flavours.
2008 Chablis, £7.99 Typical unoaked chablis with bone dry finish and subtle minerally chardonnay flavours.
2009 South Africa Chenin Blanc, £3.99 Juicy Cape chenin with off-dry peach succulence.
2009 Alexander Fontein Sauvignon Blanc, Darling, £5.99 Pungent cool-climate Cape sauvignon, with juicy gooseberry fruit flavours and a touch of New Zealand-like zing.
2010 Namaqua Pinotage Rosé, Elephant River Reserve, £4.49 A zippy cherryish rosé, ending on a refreshingly dry note.
2007 Spar Château Henry de France, Premières Côtes de Bordeaux, £5.49 Smoke and vanilla aromas, well-made modern claret with vanilla oak and fresh cherry fruit quality with grip.
2006 Roches Noires Saint Chinian, Roquebrun, £8.99 Fragrant garrigue-rosemary, spicy, mature southern French red with oodles of character; great barbecue red.
2009 South Africa Reserve Shiraz, £3.99 Blackberry opulence and power with a hint of peppery spice and the sweetness of New World shiraz succulence.
2008 Alexander Fontein Shiraz, Coastal Region, Ormond Estate, £5.99 Spicy berry fruit nose, rich dark blackberry fruit opulence, intense smoky, peppery fruit quality.
Marquis Belrive Champagne Brut, GH Martel, £14.99 Attractive baked-apple fruit and soft, easy mousse with citrusy fresh finish.Reuse content