The sale season for wines
SEPTEMBER MARKS the start of the silly season for supermarkets and wine. The next four months are the busiest of the wine-buying year, culminating in the frantic Christmas period.
Most of the big retailers will mount major wine events. In between, there will be a bewildering number of promotions running; sometimes it can be hard to find a week when there isn’t a special offer of some kind or other. The exceptions are the two German discounters, Lidl and Aldi, and Marks Spencer, which run fewer special offers and promotions, arguing their prices offer value throughout the year.
Superquinn was, I think, the first multiple to run a wine sale. Its autumn French wine sale was groundbreaking at the time, and hugely successful too. Nobody in the company can remember quite when it first began, although it may have been as long ago as the late 1970s. Nowadays Superquinn supplements this with a Spring French Wine Sale, as well as a New World Wine sale, and a few others in between.
A few weeks ago I received an invitation to the press-tasting of the Superquinn French Wine Fair (which runs from October 3rd-23rd) followed closely by a similar invitation from Dunnes Stores, which will nip in with its own French Wine Fair on September 5th-25th. I contacted the other major multiples to see what plans they had for the coming two months. Sadly, most were unwilling to reveal any details.
Regular readers will know that I rarely cover wine promotions in this column. This is partly because details are only released at the very last minute, usually too late for publication, but also because I am cynical about some of the prices. You will certainly find some bargains in the sales, but the savings are not always quite as big as suggested. As argued here before, any wine offered at half-price was obviously unnaturally expensive in the first place. The multiples may sell wine at below cost on occasion, content that we will buy other products at the same time, but generally they look to make a profit on their wine sales. As an example, the trade price for standard Chardonnay in the Languedoc currently starts at around €1.65 a bottle. Allowing €2.20 for shipping and excise duty, a retailer buying direct could sell that wine at €7, making a very healthy 32 per cent margin. Obviously better Chardonnay will command a far higher price, but a basic vin de pays halved in price from €14 to €7 may not be quite the bargain you imagined. In the same way, wines offered at a 30 per cent discount may have been artificially marked up to allow for a later price cut. In some cases, the discount is genuine, usually funded by the supplier, but if a wine is offered at a discount three or four times a year, why would anyone pay full price? A taste of the wine is one way to tell if a discount is real. Poor wine is always poor wine, no matter what the price. Having done several blind tastings of inexpensive wines recently, I can tell you that you really do notice a difference between wines at under €8, those under €10, and those over €10.
The Dunnes French Wine Sale has just started. This is one of its strongest offerings in recent years, with the whole of France covered, although most of the wines come from either Languedoc-Roussillon or Bordeaux, two areas where Dunnes is traditionally strong. I was particularly impressed by the red wines on offer from the Languedoc; there were plenty of keenly-priced wines, including the Carignan Vieilles Vignes (€7 a bottle, reduced from €12), the Bonfils Reserve Merlot (€10, from €14), and the Domaine de Sainte Marthe Syrah (€8, from €14). From Bordeaux, the Ch. de Clotte 2010 (€13, from €20), stood out as good value.
Superquinn makes a big effort with its sale, with bunting and flags adorning the aisles. The range of wines is usually pretty good too, and has taken on a pleasantly quirky edge since the arrival of wine buyer Richard Moriarty. Last year it was sparkling red Gamay and Old Vine Carignan (which also appears in the Dunnes Stores list this year); this year it offers offer a red and white Gaillac, alongside two Corsican wines, a Malbec (or Cot) from the Loire Valley, and a Petit Verdot from the Languedoc. My star buys here would include the Rare Vineyards Malbec (€6, from €10.99), the Domaine Cristia Ventoux (€7, from €14.99) and the Domaine des Grandes Esperances Touraine Gamay Malbec (€8, from €10.99) as well as the two wines listed below. Note these prices will not apply until October 3rd.
BOTTLES OF THE WEEK
Domaine de la Bastide 2011, Coteaux d’Enserune, 12.5%, €7 Smooth, medium-bodied red wine with lovely silky dark fruits, rounded with good intensity and very good length at this price. Stockist: Dunnes Stores
Saint Mont 2010, 13%, €10.99 Marks Spencer, which generally has a very good range of wines, tends to avoid silly price games. Like Superquinn, it is not afraid to experiment, and frequently offers some very tasty offbeat wines alongside a solid selection of classics. This is the kind of wine MS does very well; a lesser-known wine made from a blend of local grape varieties, in this case Gros Manseng, Petit Courbu and Arrufiac. It is not offered at a discount, but does offer very good value for money at €10.99. It has delicious mouthwatering pear and peach fruits, good firm acidity and a dry finish. Drink with white fish or chicken. Stockist: Marks Spencer
Domaine Bersan Sauvignon de St Bris 2010, 12%, €10 from October 3rd Unusually for part of Burgundy, Saint Bris, a small village close to Chablis, produces wines made from Sauvignon. This example is very good, lean and mineral, but with plenty of taut green fruits and a crisp, bone-dry finish. Stockist: Superquinn
Domaine la Condamine Mourvèdre 2011, IGP Cotes de Thongues, 12.5%, €7 from October 3rd This is a delicious, fresh, young wine brimming with ripe, dark fruits, finishing on a sweet/sour note. Great value for money, and a real contender for an everyday red to accompany most meat dishes. Stockist: Superquinn
Torres wine quiz answers
1. Gamay and Pinot Noir
2. Chamomile. It is said to have the same flavour or aroma as Chamomile tea
3. A 600 litre barrel
4. Villány is one of the best wine-producing regions of Hungary. The other two are Hungarian grape varieties
5. Ch Leoville-Lascases, Ch. Leoville-Poyferre, Ch. Leoville-Barton Gruaud-Larose, Ducru-Beaucaillou, Langoa-Barton, Ch. Lagrange, Ch. Talbot, Ch. Branaire-Ducru; Ch. St. Pierre Ch. Beychevelle
6. The Clare valley, famous for dry Riesling, is in South Australia
7. France – the Rosacker vineyard is in Hunawihr in Alsace.
8. Oakville, Napa Valley, California
9. A red wine aged for a minimum of two years following harvest, of which at least six months (12 in Rioja and Ribera del Duero) must be in oak barrels. For white and rosé wines, the period is 12 months, of which six must be in oak
10. Insurance company Suravenir, a subsidiary of Credit Mutuel Arkea
11. Brettanomyces is a genus of yeast that can affect the taste and aroma of a wine, often giving it a distinctive bouquet of horse, barnyards or animal sheds.
12. The US
13. Plonk is an Australian term, believed to be a corruption of the word Blanc for white wine, given to Australian soldiers during the first World War
14. Ch. Beychevelle
15. Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti) in 2004 film Sideways
16. Paarl and Stellenbosch are both wine-producing regions; Vergelegen is a producer
17. D – Saumur comes in all three styles.
19. Louis Pasteur
20. New Zealand
The winner of the weekend in Barcelona, courtesy of Torres, is Dan Harty, from Dublin 3