Just as one supermarket wine range goes into reverse, another shifts into overdrive.
Just as one supermarket wine range goes into reverse, another shifts into overdrive. Morrisons has slashed Safeway's selection beyond recognition, but at least Asda, with 266 stores around the country, has its finger on the pulse and its foot on the accelerator. Building a coherent own-label range of "good, better and best" (Wednesday, Friday, Payday to you and me), the wine team has launched 166 new wines since August to bring the range to 690. Compare that with Tesco's 750-800 wines, Sainsbury's 750-odd, and the 650 on offer at Waitrose.
Not that Asda's wine range has always had what it takes. Last year's dreary range didn't inspire customers to trade up, and lacked a sense of Asdaness. This may be a concept cheesier than an overripe gorgonzola, but tap me on the back pocket twice and I'll show you Asda wine sense.
What didn't make sense - at least to Asda's customers - was when 10 years ago it tried selling wines by style. Then it was too far ahead of its time. Now its time appears to have come, as it identifies Chile and South Africa as two increasingly popular areas.
Sara Brook and Tara Neil, the dynamic wine selector duo, have doubled the ranges from these two countries. In particular they've added more sauvignon blancs for customers looking for drier alternatives to chardonnay. Typically, the new 2004 Trio Sauvignon Blanc, £5.36, is a tropical mix of capsicum and gooseberry fruit, while from South Africa, the 2004 Graham Beck Sauvignon, £6.98, is a belter of a dry aromatic white with loads of intensely grassy fruit and tropical juiciness on the palate. Another in the dry white style, the Asda Extra Special Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc, £5.97, from the award-winning Cape winery, Spier, is a cracking example of the richness and character obtainable from Cape old vine chenin.
Quality suppliers are key to the success of the range. Many of the new wines from South Africa come from Spier and Graham Beck. Concha y Toro and Alvaro Espinoza supply Asda with some of Chile's best wines. The Barossa's Grant Burge is a major Australian source. Behind some of the best new French wines are the pioneering Domaines Paul Mas, Meffre and new-wave Burgundy brand Blason de Bourgogne.
From Paul Mas, there's a lipsmackingly rich, burgundian chardonnay, 2002 dA Chardonnay, £6.96, from Burgundy an affordable, cherryish 2002 Blason de Bourgogne Pinot Noir, £5.92. Chile's much-fêted 2001 Coyam, £8.94, is joined by Espinoza's amazing value 2002 Novas, £5.94, a classy carmenère cabernet sauvignon blend of deliciously elegant blackcurrant flavours. Spier supply the basic South African 2003 Pinotage, a vividly juicy glugger at £3.22, as well as the more intense, old vine 2003 Extra Special Pinotage, £6.98. Note the Extra Special again.
The new look is spruced up by this own-label range called Extra Special, which is similar to Tesco's Finest label, and available in similar proportions. Only a small number of the new wines qualify.
"If the wine didn't 'wow' us, then it simply wasn't good enough," says Ms Brook. "Five years ago price drove everything. Today, the company is more willing to improve choice. At the end of the day, the liquid has to be the dog's bollocks and that's what we're working on."
It's a work-in-progress showing good work and encouraging progress.Reuse content