Not a drop worth drinking

wpid-dsc_0565.jpgIt is often said that wine drinkers these days are spoiled with choice, but surely the people who say such things have never ventured into a typical supermarket. The shelves may be heaving with wine, but how much of it do you actually want to drink?

Worse, still, if you have your mind set on buying something specific. Not esoteric, mind you. Just…specific. No problem if you are seeking pinot grigio, a generic bottle of Rioja or a a generic Kiwi sauvignon blanc. But think twice if you set off with anything particular in mind.

This was all brought into sharp focus this week as I set off on a shopping trip to buy one type of wine from as many retailers as possible. The wine in question? Muscadet.

Now, Muscadet has never really been considered a fashionable wine. Not like Chablis, which is synonymous with the 1980s. Nor pinot noir, which more or less had a starring role in a film. But with more and more wine drinkers, critics and sommeliers seeking greater value for money and food-friendliness, you’d be forgiven for thinking Muscadet would be among those in high demand.

Certainly, I am not alone in my thinking that the wine retailers would be awash with stuff. Rather than spend good money on premier cru Chablis, the masses would rather opt for a better value Muscadet sur lie, I concluded. And so it was on this basis that I set off in search of fine examples of this wine that would form the basis of a blind tasting for an upcoming blog. There would be one each from some major high street retailers, as well as from independent merchants. The premise behind the experiment? To see if what the big name Goliaths sell can come close to matching the quality of the small and nimble Davids.

The shopping trip started off with success. The nearest independent, Amathus in Leadenhall Market, came through with a bottle of Domaine du Haut-Banchereau Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie 2013 for £7.95.

This would set the price target. Can the big retailers deliver a better wine for the same price? Well. The concept was sound. The shopping trip was not.

The Tesco local to my office near the Bank of England had only the cheapest form of Muscadet available, from its lowly “Simply” range for £4.49. This would not suffice.

It was even worse at the Waitrose around the corner. Plenty of pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc and Californian rosé. But no Muscadet.

And what of Sainsbury’s? Well, Sainsbury’s was no better.

To their credit, when I tweeted about the City of London’s Muscadet drought, both Tesco and Sainsbury’s did their utmost to find out where it was hiding. Waitrose was unusually silent on the issue, but this is probably because their time is being monopolised by complaints about mouldy cherry tomatoes and conference pears from the middle classes.

So, after round one of the great Muscadet challenge but before a single bottle has been opened, the score is independent merchants 1, major retailers 0.




Vinni: ‘Wine-based refreshment’, or what not to drink on New Year’s Eve


My friends and I often joke that much of the wine lining supermarket shelves is not actually wine, but instead a wine-like drink of industrial-chemical origins, not unlike that aerosol cheese sold in America.

All joking aside, “wine-like drink” is an often useful descriptor for blasphemies like Echo Falls, Yellowtail and Blossom Hill, much as their makers might argue otherwise.

I didn’t think the Australians would go out and up the ante by actually launching a product that boasts this very fact. But then again the Aussies have never really be known for their subtlety, so perhaps they should be applauded for being brash enough to come up with something called Vinni.

With the phrase “wine based  refreshment” printed in large letters across its label, there is no doubting that this is a) not trying to fool anyone into believing it is a proper wine and b) going to taste awful.

It first appeared in shops in October 2012 and has been positioned to compete with beer and cider and, they say, attract a younger audience to wine drinks.

I’m not so sure they’ll achieve this. First, think for a moment what this ‘younger audience’ is actually like when it comes to their preferred alcoholic drinks. On any UK high street on any given Friday night and you will see Vinni’s target market in action; for the most part their preferences are based on the ease with which the drink goes down their gullet and how cheaply this can be achieved.

The people who conjured up this concoction were likely hoping to capture that young, festival-going crowd that relaxes in the park on a sunny day with a few drinks in hand, but the actual group that might find Vinni appealing are the types who drink abominations like WKD because it is sweet and laden with booze.

Except there is a problem. Vinni is not only awful (more on this later) but also fairly expensive for what it is. It costs £3.66 a bottle from Tesco.

So while Vinni might have been born out of good intentions – of drawing more people to wine and away from alcopops and cheap beer – in order for it to be successful it ought to at least taste like it might be made from wine and be good value for money.

Except it doesn’t. There I was on New Years’ Eve, getting ready to head to a house party when the idea popped into my head that I should try this drink. After several sniffs and a few sips, I couldn’t pick up any hint of wine except for a vaguely sweet and faint grape aroma, although it did give me an unsettled stomach.

This doesn’t surprise me. A few years ago it became fashionable to drink cider over ice in a pint glass – think Magners or Bulmers – because it was refreshing and easy to guzzle at times when all you wanted was something cold, wet and full of alcohol. Unlike more serious ciders, it was light and fruity. Perfect, then, for people who like the idea of drinking cider but don’t actually like the way it tastes.

Vinni achieves the same thing, it seems, by promising to be, as the label says, “fresh & fruity”.

It was because of those two words I felt a swell of embarrassment consume when I bought this drink from my local Tesco outlet. In order to avoid looking silly in the event I bumped into someone I knew, I didn’t put it in my basket until the moment before I made a dash for the cashier. I was safe from that point on, but I’m convinced the security guard gave me a knowing smirk.

And why wouldn’t ge? Here was a 30-something man buying a drink that no adult should ever drink, one that tastes sweet and only vaguely grapey, bearing almost no resemblance to wine or any other serious alcoholic beverage.

There are many things I’d rather have experienced than drink Vinni. If fact I’d rather have had  a bottle of Mateus Rosé my throat slit and my mouth concreted in, as my friend Trev recommended.

To put the price of Vinni into perspective, it’s possible to pay £2 or less for a bottle of good real ale that is bound to offer infinitely more enjoyment. But, then again, no one who drinks real ale is likely to buy something like Vinni unless they a) picked up the wrong bottle by accident or b) thought it might be worth blogging about.