I should have known better. There I was on Tuesday evening last week, standing in what could have been the world’s most depressing wine aisle, searching for a bottle of red wine match a pizza and a Bradley Cooper film.
What had originally been (loosely) planned as a small celebration of achieving my permanent residence in the UK fell to the wayside when we went to the pub directly after work and then straight to a house in a neighbourhood where the best wine merchant has “Tesco” written above its door.
Having been despatched to find us a ‘good bottle of red’ I walked into the Tesco Express [Note: I previously incorrectly identified it as a Tesco Metro – for shame!] full of ambition and determination. “This is Tesco,” I told myself. “They have an enormous wine range. Not all of it is that 2-for-1 swill they so often peddle to the masses. What could possibly go wrong?”
Everything. This was a Tesco Express like no other. When I rounded the corner of the drinks aisle, I walked past the red wine shelf without even noticing it. I walked two laps around the shop before realising I had walked past it the first time. Turning back to the drinks aisle for the second time, I spotted the display – about three feet wide at most and tucked in at the end – then asked the shop assistant, who was stocking its shelves, if this was all they had.
“That’s it,” he said nodding in its direction. His demeanour suggested few people ever ask about the wine section in this shop. The sheer volume of beer and alcopops in the chiller suggested wine is an afterthought in these parts.
With my instincts in the right place, I scanned the top shelf for the finest wines. Jacob’s Creek Shiraz Cabernet. £9.99.
My heart sank. That was as good as it was going to get.
The selection was a motley crew of the usual suspects in the old 2-for-1 swindle. There was Jacob’s Creek, masquerading at twice its actual price for all £9.99 of my British pounds. Then I spotted the Chilean Isla Negra Merlot Reserva. £9.99 again. But wait, on the shelf below was another Isla Negra, this time the Isla Negra Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon. For £4.99.
Stepping back a few feet, I took in the entire display and discovered that every bottle before me was part of the 2-for-1 marketing scheme, a perpetual pawn in the 50-per-cent-off game, a ploy to get you to buy not just one bottle of wine you didn’t want, but two.
Pile it high, sell it cheap.
I looked back at the shop assistant, who was unloading clinking wine bottles from their cardboard boxes with the care and attention of a longshoreman, and asked, pointing at the Isla Negra cabernet sauvignon, “So are these always on some sort of 50 per cent off deal?”
Unsurprised, he nonchalantly replied, “Always. Last week it was the merlot. This week it’s the cabernet sauvignon. It will probably be the merlot again next week.”
Knowing I couldn’t win here, I grabbed a bottle of the Castillo San Lorenzo Rioja, itself at 50 per cent off at £5.99 and, full of rational thought at that point, decided I should also buy a bottle of Tesco Cava for a fiver.
Because if I’m going to get ripped off, I might as well make it feel like a celebration.