Wading through some of the 60 wines at a Lidl tasting, at times it seemed as if the recent increase in duty had never happened
I know I am in for a lively few days whenever I feature a cheap but drinkable wine from a supermarket. Acquaintances stop me in the street to give me their opinion, friends ask me if I would really recommend it, independent retailers take me to task for promoting cheap supermarket wines. At the moment it seems we cannot get enough cheap wine.
A few weeks back, I went to a Lidl tasting where I waded my way through most of the 60 wines on offer. The chattering classes still love to discuss the two German discounters and which items compare best with far more expensive rivals elsewhere.
Lidl and Aldi both offer a relatively small range of own-label wines. Most fall into the category I wrote about a few weeks back; easy, soft, drinkable wines that won’t get anyone too excited, but won’t have you pouring it down the sink either. They are not always the cheapest available, as the other multiples often offer wines at equally cheap prices.
Most of the time, supermarkets seem to be pre-occupied with buying well-known names at the cheapest possible price (Marks & Spencer is an exception, and Superquinn makes efforts too). For example they will offer a ¤10 Chablis instead of the more standard ¤15-20. Does that make it better value? Rarely. A decent producer in a well-known region such as Chablis will usually be able to sell his wine at a premium without too much difficulty. So why would he sell it off at a rock-bottom price? It is only the industrial-sized producers making average wine that will be forced to drop their prices if they are to clear their stock.
In many cases an alternative name from a different region is a better option. For example, the Lidl Chablis, (a very cheap ¤8.99) was fine, a well-made fresh, crisp, dry white. But Superquinn have James Kinglake’s excellent Domaine de Begude Chardonnay for ¤9 (down from ¤12.79). Coming from the less fashionable Languedoc, Kinglake cannot get the premium his wine deserves, but it is a ringer for a really good Chablis.
At the Lidl tasting, at times it seemed as if the recent increase in duty had never happened. There were a huge number of wines at incredibly cheap prices. Almost half the wines I tasted sell for under ¤6, and this included eight wines that sell for less than ¤5.
Lidl use the services of English Master of Wine Richard Bampfield. He doesn’t have any role in selecting the wines, but does taste them and score them out of 100. These are prominently displayed around the stores. Most fall into the “good” category which seems reasonably accurate to me.
The one well-known area where Lidl always seem to be able to find very decent cheap wines is Bordeaux. I tried four wines, all less than ¤8.50, including the very decent Bordeaux red (¤4.49) which featured here a few weeks back.
Overall, I found half a dozen wines that I thought were good value. The rest, as outlined above, were mostly drinkable, but unlikely to have you racing back to buy a case.
I am not the biggest fan of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, but the Cimarosa below is certainly the equal of many others that sell for considerably more than ¤10. At the tasting I got very excited, as it was incorrectly listed at ¤6.89. At ¤9.99 it is still good value. From the label, I see it was sourced from one very large single estate, Yealands.
The Pinot Gris below will suit those who like off-dry wines, and would probably go well with roast duck, available from Lidl for ¤9.99.
I tried the two Spanish reds against several alternative wines with the same name, but sourced from the independent trade. Neither was as good as their rivals, but then the two Lidl wines were ¤5 cheaper.
I have concentrated on the very cheapest wines twice in the last few weeks. They are important and make up a large proportion of wines sold in Ireland, although most of the money goes straight to the government (a minimum of ¤3.42 on every bottle).
However, I will never tire of arguing that wine production works on the same economic principals as any other business. For those who can afford it, spending a few euros more in your local independent wine shop should bring you far greater pleasure and also help keep the local economy going.