From a small but highly competitive shortlist comprising Sainsbury's, Marks & Spencer and Waitrose, the winner of this year's Decanter Supermarket of the Year was Waitrose. No surprises there. Waitrose won the gong last year and it's actually shifted into overdrive since then with a stronger selection from Australia and New Zealand. Forgive me, then, if I sound like an ad, but from today until this Wednesday, Waitrose will be offering 25 per cent off when you buy six bottles of any wine, mixed or unmixed, including fortified and sparkling wines, and delivery is free. Don't live near a Waitrose? Visit online at waitrose.com/wine for a 12-bottle case with free delivery.
There will be many good offers from wine retailers in the run-up to Christmas, but Waitrose's will be hard to trump. The fact that its market share is 4.2 per cent but 6.5 per cent on wine (and 10 per cent on champagne) speaks volumes about the breadth and quality of the wine range. There are wines from over 24 countries, including Kosovo, Montenegro, Georgia, Lebanon and Cyprus, and many are made from locally indigenous grapes such as maratheftiko, kotsifali, moschofilero, traminac, plavac mali, vranac and vilana. This isn't a guarantee of quality in itself, but it shows that the Waitrose wine team is unafraid to stick its nose where others fear to tread.
It may be stating the obvious to say that a quarter of the price off a range of 1,200 wines in its 234 stores (700 in a typical one) across England, Scotland and Wales is precisely the sort of boost we're all looking for at this time of year. The cheaper the wine on the list, the less margin Waitrose makes from it, so you may need to search the website carefully for some of the wines that, at 25 per cent off, verge on theft-by-consumer. Take the 2010 Whale Caller Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon, £3.99, a Cape blend whose bright damsony freshness makes it an affordable glugger for the festive season, or the refreshingly appley, mini-Vouvray-like 2009 Ackerman Chenin Blanc, Vin de France, £4.99.
Waitrose likes to trumpet its expanded "entry-level" range labelled Virtue, but to my mind the best value in Waitrose's offer lies in its finer wines. At its recent autumn tasting, I found the 2009 Domaine Naudet Sancerre, £12.49, exceptional for its nettley-aromatic quality and intense gooseberry juiciness.
White burgundy included the mouthwateringly crisp, steely-dry 2009 Valmaison Chablis, £11.99, while the most delicious new white was the exceptional 2008 Domaine Saint Amant, La Tabardonne, Côtes du Rhône Villages Blanc, £12.49, a viognier/roussanne blend whose peachy opulence underscored by toasty oak makes this a sexy beast.
Seductive reds start with a ripe, black cherry-like gamay with a berry-like snap from the 2009 Château de Chénas 2009 Moulin à Vent, £10.99, with a red Burgundy counterpart from the Côte Chalonnaise in the mulberry-perfumed, delicately spiced 2008 Givry, Domaine Besson, Le Haut Colombier, £14.99. Bridging the old and the New World, the idiosyncratic 2003 Chateau Musar from Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, £17.99, is a cherryish, Rhône-style blend with complex balsamic characters. There can be little that's better gift-wrapped in time for Christmas than the 2006 Schubert Syrah, Wairarapa, £29.99, a Kiwi syrah with northern Rhône-like pepper and spice and a pristine blackberryish fruit quality.
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