I had to pinch myself when Lidl was last month crowned the best supermarket for wine. The budget chain, which has 600 stores in Britain alone, has made a big public-relations splash with its Premium French Wine Collection, selling 800,000 bottles this autumn alone. As you'd expect, prices for the range of 48 Bordeaux and other French classics were a bit higher than those in its core 60-strong wine range.
My expectations were low as I set off to test the latest batch, a 36-strong Christmas Collection. It was reassuring to find that the clarets were not a job-lot from recent mediocre harvests but from the good 2008, and excellent 2009 and 2010, vintages. At £12.99, the 2008 Saint Emilion Grand Cru, Château Roylland was rich, blackcurranty and delicious. So was the perfumed and savoury 2009 Château des Carabins, Margaux, £14.99, and the scented, approachable 2010 Les Allées de Cantemerle from classified Haut-Médoc Château Cantemerle. At an apparently eyewatering £39.99, the superb 2009 Château Lagrange is still pitched below the going market rate.
I was pleasantly surprised by a juicy, raspberry-rich Côte de Beaune Villages Vieilles Vignes, £10.99, and its Chilean counterpart, the strawberryish 2013 Cimarosa Leyda Valley Pinot Noir, £6.99. Chile scored again with an opulent, dark-berry-fruit oaked 2012 Gran Corte Colchagua Valley, £11.99. The good-value story continued with a vibrantly spicy Côte du Rhône Villages, £5.99, and a super-peppery 2013 Vacqueyras, £8.99. Italy was well represented by a powerfully plum-laden 2012 Masseria Metrano Primitivo, Salento, £7.99, and also a fine, cherry fruit-rich, yet nippy 2011 Cascina Polsino Barbera d'Asti, £9.99, and an approachable, gamey 2009 Brunello di Montalcino, £14.99.
In white wine country, a citrus-zest-filled 2013 JP Muller Riesling d'Alsace, £5.99, impressed along with a crisp, dry, Sancerre-like 2013 Domaine du Chêne Vert Reuilly, £8.49, and a quince-laden 2011 Pacherenc du Vic Bilh Tradition, £7.99. I thought the biscuity character and creamy mousse of the Comte de Senneval Grand Cru Brut Champagne, £17.99, worth more than the extra pound over its near rival, the Bissinger.
Coincidentally, the news that day was dominated by the woes of the big four supermarkets – Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda and Morrisons – and the fact that their total sales for the previous quarter had fallen. Lidl's were up 16.8 per cent and Aldi's 25.5 per cent – no surprise. In their different ways, Lidl and Aldi are losing their cheapskate image. By communicating with shoppers and giving them what they want, they're making wine buying simple, accessible and good value.
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