Food & Drink: Your money where your mouth is: Anthony Rose studies the bestseller lists and finds that German wines still dominate the supermarket Top Ten, though sales are slipping

STRATEGICALLY positioned just inside the huge revolving doors that whisk Sunderland's shoppers into their local Sainsbury's, I was beginning to feel like the host at a drinks party for near teetotallers. I got these reactions: 'no thanks, I'm driving' or 'no thanks, I don't drink'. And a 'no thanks, I'd rather have a Scotch'.

As I waited for candidates in the regional heat of Sainsbury's blind wine-tasting challenge to retrieve their noses from their glasses, I was offering customers a free thimbleful of the company's Australian chardonnay from Cranswick Estate. It is tropically fruity with a touch of oak and enough residual sweetness to make it less than bone dry. 'Nice and dry,' nevertheless, was a typical reaction; and I was surprised by the number of those who winced, thinking it too dry. For every 'too dry', though, two or three said: 'I like this wine; I like fruity German wines' or 'it's different, I normally drink sweet wine'.

This was a useful reminder that, although New World wines have made a considerable impression on palates and pockets in this country, there are still many for whom wine means the fruity-sweetish German variety. It was also, however, proof that for those falling out of love with liebfraumilch, Oz and other soft, on-their-way-to-off-dry chardonnays are the answer. In America, you do not ask for wine any more; you ask for a chardonnay.

Tim Sutton, deputy manager of the Sunderland store, confirmed that I had witnessed a general trend. 'The change from hock and liebfraumilch to drier French styles and New World wines is apparent. People are definitely moving away from German wines.'

This feeling is echoed at the more up-market, traditional wine merchant sector by John Thorogood, deputy managing director of Lay & Wheeler of Colchester, Essex. 'With six dry French and two Australian wines in our 10 best sellers, and only one German, it would indicate that tastes are becoming drier,' he said. 'In 1989, the list would have included three or four German wines and none from Australia.'

While hock and mosel remain a staple of customers' diets, French country wines and those from Australia, New Zealand and Spain have made the most progress in the past two years. 'We sell a vast quantity of wine between pounds 3.50 and pounds 6.50 from the south of France, and a fairly large amount from the Antipodes at a respectably higher price bracket, pounds 6- pounds 10,' said Rob Chase of Adnams.

In Sainsbury's coffee shop, the serious sniffing was drawing to a close. It had taken an hour for the 20 or so competitors to complete the blind tasting. The six questions were hard. Candidates had been asked to identify 13 wines, describe some of them, guess their prices, and write an appropriate back label or indicate which were ready for drinking and which would improve. Most did a good job, and the top seven showed an impressive level of knowledge.

Apart from two wines under pounds 3, the rest, from around the world, ranged from pounds 3.35 to pounds 14.95, with not a liebfraumilch in sight. Ironically, a glance at Sainsbury's 10 best-selling wines (see table) shows that its customers have been slow to change their drinking habits. Three French wines and one Italian apart, the list contains no fewer than six medium dry German wines. Hardly surprising, then, that in the wider marketplace, five in every 20 bottles sold are German. Liebfraumilch is still the best seller at Safeway, Tesco and Victoria Wine, too, although it is pipped into second place at Thresher by lambrusco.

The move to better-value-for-money wines is more obvious at Safeway, where the bottom has dropped out of muscadet and lutomer laski rizling, while Cinzano Bianco and Martini Extra Dry are no longer in the top 10.

Michelsberg, muscadet and laski rizling have disappeared from Victoria Wine's top 10, too, as have Anjou rose and piesporter, to be replaced by Bulgarian and Hungarian country wines, an Australian semillon and a red corbieres. The company brings three new Spanish wines into the fold: Leziria white and red and Castillo de Liria, and a new French vin de pays des coteaux du libron.

Where three years ago it had none, the Thresher top 10 now contains three Australian wines and two Bulgarian reds.

Tesco's top 20 has four New World wines: three Australian and a Chilean cabernet sauvignon.

No high street chain, though, has rung the changes more thoroughly than Oddbins. Muscadet, soave, liebfraumilch and the basic French fizz, Cavalier Brut, have been replaced by no fewer than six New World wines, with California's Mumm Cuvee Napa Brut almost the most expensive best seller of all time at pounds 8.69. Two Spanish wines and two French, including a pounds 16.99 champagne, Perrier-Jouet, make up the top 10, whose average price, thanks to three sparkling wines, is pounds 6.10. Compare that to Sainsbury's (pounds 3.59, including a three-litre wine box at pounds 10.95), Thresher (pounds 3.10), Tesco (pounds 3), Victoria Wine (pounds 2.78) and Safeway (pounds 2.57).

Recent figures show that wine sales began to stagnate in the past year. Of the extra 140 million bottles sold annually since 1986, the New World and Eastern Europe have increased their share from 18 million to 113 million. French vins de pays and Spanish wines are the other two expanding areas. As Mr Chase puts it: 'The perception of value for money is greater now than ever before. The buying public is vastly more educated than it was five years ago.' And the good news is that, where there is value for money, there is growth.

(Tables omitted)

Suggested Topics
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

    £27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power