Supermarket subterfuge: Roc de Lussac 2010

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Down the road from my house is a row of shops like so many others in Britain. It is lined with the obligatory small and shabby “supermarkets” and newsagents, their front doors flanked by wilting lettuce and shrivelling lemons.

It also has those take-away outlets that cook meat on a skewer, and those spartan cafés with harsh fluorescent lighting and melamine tables.

And then there’s the Sainsbury’s Local. It popped up a year or two ago, its slick signage standing out among the messy ‘supermarkets’ with the bruised fruit out front.

These days it isn’t fashionable to shop at major supermarkets like Sainsbury’s, but I confess I take more comfort buying from the retailing giant on this particular high street – mostly because I prefer to buy my food in date. And, let’s be honest, if I need an emergency bottle of wine, it probably won’t do me wrong. Right? Right.

Plus I swore off buying wine from random corner shops long ago. That was after a bottle of French white wine from a newsagent in Hoxton turned out to be the colour of iced tea and tasted mostly of mop bucket water. Never again, I said.

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So when I was wandering the aisles of my Sainsbury’s Local recently, I couldn’t help myself when I spotted this bottle of Roc de Lussac Lussac-Saint-Emilion 2010 on the shelf.

Its label, with its traditional typeface and charming coat of arms, looked the part. It looked serious, traditional, well-made. What could possibly go wrong?

Even better, the shelf tag told me it was 50 per cent off. Normally £15.99 marked down to £7.99. At that price, we’re laughing, right?

And that’s not all. It’s from the 2010 vintage, one that is widely regarded as among the best in recent memory. In which case we’re really laughing.

If you aren’t familiar with Lussac-Saint-Emilion, it is one of the satellite appellations of Saint-Emilion, lying on the right bank of the Garonne and Dordogne rivers. Lussac itself is a commune about nine  kilometres from Saint-Emilion lying among the vineyards. I’ve been there and can say it is a pleasant but tiny place with the requisite village bakery and corner shop – and little else.

The wines from Lussac and the other satellites, such as Montagne and Puisseguin, are made in the image of Saint-Emilion but overall they are considered to be of lesser quality and, therefore, are mostly cheaper to buy. Perhaps it is the terroir. Perhaps it is something else.

Nevertheless, knowing the satellites are a great place to find value Bordeaux I thought I couldn’t possibly go wrong with Roc de Lussac.

So, when the day came to open the wine, I had high hopes. It’s worth £15.99! I only paid £7.99! It must be great, right? Well.

Here is a tale about supermarket subterfuge. As they say, what you don’t know can’t hurt you. Or even better, as Donald Rumsfeld, former US secretary of defense, once said,

“There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” 

As has been written about so many times recently, supermarket discounts are rife. It would be fair to say no wine sold at a supermarket for 50 per cent off its full price is ever actually worth that ‘full price’.

People who know this but buy it anyway are buying a known known, but choose to ignore it because they like a good deal. People who buy it but think something might be fishy are buying a known unknown. And people who don’t know this at all are buying unknown unknowns because they genuinely think they’re getting a good deal.

For £7.99, Roc de Lussac is perfectly serviceable, if still a little more than I would want to pay. Not great, not complex, but correct to its grape variety and very obviously a right bank Bordeaux. But it did have a slightly unpleasant dusty – almost chalky – side to it, a texture common to wines that are made with oak chips.

Of course, the big giveaway this wine was never worth more than a bottom-shelf red was the final line on the back label, which read, “Ready to drink now or will last for up to 3 years from vintage date if carefully stored.”

Considering it spent most of those three years in a warehouse or standing upright in a supermarket, I am left wondering how it is physically possible for this wine to be “carefully stored” at any point in its life.

And I can’t help but think £15.99 is highway robbery when I could buy Chateau Labat or Caronne Ste Gemme – both considered genuinely great-value  – for at least £1 less.

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Pichon-Baron: When growing old isn’t so bad

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Growing old, while a bit of a bummer when your knees give out and your bowels begin to misbehave, has a few advantages.

For instance, the things that might have embarrassed us when we were young no longer matter. We’ve not only given up on vanity, but we’ve given up caring what other people think.

Once you are north of a certain age, you have decided that everyone else in the world is crazy (because we’re never the crazy ones, are we?) and any love interest you meet now has probably just settled for you. But that’s okay.

They say everything improves with age like a fine wine, but I’ve never really bought that theory.

This is because only the best wines improve with age. When it comes to people, well we don’t so much improve with age, we just learn to love live with our quirks and foibles – and those of others.

If we’re lucky, we can use this knowledge to our advantage, such as attracting women who find it endearing when, say, you fall over comically on the bus after one too many glasses of Sauternes (I still haven’t perfected this, but I’m sure it will work for me some day).

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This was all front of mind the other night when I donned my wine geek’s hat at a wine tasting held by Axa Investment Managers for members of the finance press.

You see, Axa, French insurance giant, also owns Axa Millésimes. Which owns Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron (and many more). And I’ve been dying to try it.

On this occasion we tasted Chateau Suduiraut 2006; Suduiraut’s dry white, S de Suduiraut 2011; Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron 2004; Les Tourelles de Longueville 2010, the second wine of Pichon-Baron; Chateau Pibran 2007; and Disznókö Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 2007.

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This tasting was a lesson in the virtues of growing a bit older, even if the wines themselves were relative babies. While we had the younger 2010 and 2007 vintage, it was the 2004 – not considered a spectacular growing year – that impressed.

So here’s the boring, wine bore part of this post. This was a tasting that offered so much of what I loved. The S de Suduiraut was a little oaky, loaded with citrus and grapefruit, as well as being waxy and rounded. I could see myself sipping this on a sunny patio in Bordeaux or, more likely, in front of my television watching Food & Drink or something equally banal.

From here we moved on to the red wines. First was Les Tourelles de Longueville 2010. Obviously this is the baby Pichon, but it was deep and brooding, a heavy wine full of dark fruits, oak, liquorice and caramel. It’s a good candidate for decanting.

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Next we skipped back three years to Chateau Pibran 2007, which was again very deep in colour, starting to show a bit of age at the rim but still youthful and classic cabernet through and through. Lots of toasty oak, a vegetal nose, green peppers with plenty of tannin and dark fruits.

Now, one of my favourite wines, Chateau Tertre de Belves, comes from this 2007. Granted, the Belves is cheap and cheerful, loaded full of rustic charm and comes from the do-whatever-we-like region of Castillon, but the sentiment is the same: these vintages are becoming more charming as time goes by.

Then we had what we were all waiting for, the Pichon-Baron 2004. And it was at this point in the evening my note-taking took a turn for the worst.

This is what I managed to record before my pen made pulled a disappearing act: A deep, dark wine, orange hints of maturity at the edge, nicely integrated oak, vegetal nose, tertiary aromas of leather and tobacco, plus cedar and mint. More importantly, it was showing very well and proved that even if 2004 wasn’t a blockbuster vintage, there were some great wines and they are maturing better than first predicted.

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After the Pichon-Baron, I lost it completely. Never mind the fact there were two more wines to follow the Pichon-Baron – Suduiraut 2006 and Disznókö Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos – I just gave up on my notes at that point.

None of this surprise me. Nearly every time I go to a wine tasting, it is only a matter of time before the pen makes a disappearing act. As a result, I don’t really know what the final two wines were like.

I can say, however, that I remember the Sauternes was wonderful and the Tokaji sublime. But whichever aromas they offered up, the flavours they expressed, were never recorded.

And it must have been true, because while I was headed home I fell over on the bus and didn’t feel remotely embarrassed. But it didn’t attract any women either.

As I said earlier, I’m not so much improving with age but instead learning to live with what I’ve been given.