When Allan Cheesman was transferred from Sainsbury's wine department five years ago, competitors danced on his grave. Their rejoicing was premature, however. Last month's news that he was returning set alarm bells ringing in rival supermarket offices up and down the country. The Big Cheese of supermarket wine buying was back.

When Cheesman joined Sainsbury's as a trainee in 1972, the days of fortified Australian wine and Moroccan red were numbered. He was to become the man credited with putting supermarket wines, and Sainsbury's in particular, on the map. By the boom period of the Eighties, Cheesman estimates that consumption was up by a million new drinkers a year.

The most fundamental change in Cheesman's absence has been the continued growth of the New World, from nothing to more than ten per cent of the market. "When I left, we were buying wine from 14 countries. Now it's 27." With prices of Aussie and Kiwi wines rising (just ten of the 52 listed are now under pounds 4), South America and South Africa are rapidly spearheading the New World's value thrust. Only ten of the 33 wines from these countries cost more than pounds 4. Eastern Europe, too, has grown to more than ten per cent. Elsewhere, the use of an elite corps of largely Australian flying winemakers has grown immensely.

Is there anything left for Cheesman to do? "I'm disappointed with Bordeaux and Burgundy," he says. "I'm not satisfied that they compete in value for money terms against their New World counterparts. We need to look at it." And while he acknowledges the superior range of many independent wine merchants, he believes the service they offer is an area ripe for development at a supermarket near you.

Six of Sainsbury's best


1993 Muscadet de Sevre et Maine, La Goelette, pounds 3.29 Zesty, bone dry and reduced from pounds 4.29 in June.

1994 Frascati Superiore, Geoff Merrill, pounds 3.85 An ultra-fresh, zippy, almost buttery, full-flavoured expression of frascati.

1994 Santa Rita Estate Reserve Chardonnay, Maipo, pounds 5.25 Zesty, grapefruity, intensely-flavoured chardonnay whose fruity tang is expertly balanced by burgundian stylishness.


1994 Sainsbury's Sangiovese di Toscana, pounds 2.99 Robust, modern, cherryish chianti-style rosso.

1993 Chais Baumiere Cabernet Sauvignon, Vin de Pays d'Oc, pounds 4.45 A juicy, Australian-influenced, blackcurranty cabernet from the south of France.

1990 Chateau Haut Faugeres, Grand Cru, St Emilion, pounds 8.95 Good price for a voluptuous, succulent, merlot-based claret from a great vintage.

Some wines available in selected stores only.