by Rose Murray Brown MW
Published in The Scotsman 17 May 2014
The launch of a new own-label wine range in one of our discount retailers at just £4.99 a piece has proved that it is still possible to buy a quaffable bottle of wine for under a fiver. German-owned discounter Aldi with its 40+ stores in the UK are clearly trying to tap into the sweet spots of their rival supermarkets, Tesco and Asda – and it looks like they might well be starting to succeed.
I have long been a fan of Aldi’s ridiculously named Exquisite Collection. I particularly like their Muscadet Sevre et Maine and Clare Valley Riesling at £5.99 and £6.99 respectively – and their superb sparkling Cremant du Jura Chardonnay at £6.99 is the best supermarket fizz bargain in the UK. Below this level, Aldi’s offerings have in the past been light and dilute, so I was interested to see if they could crack the sub-fiver zone this time.
Aldi’s new ‘Venturer’ range includes five wines designed for summer drinkers looking for something a little bit different, without breaking the bank. The idea was to look for lesser known grapes or regions to encourage their shoppers to be a bit more ‘adventurous’. Whites include Rueda Verdejo from Spain, Vermentino from Sicily, Vinho Verde from Portugal – with Syrah/Grenache/Mourvedre Costieres de Nimes blend from southern France and Nero d’Avola from Sicily for the reds. Personally, I think they could have been more ‘adventurous’ in their choices, but most of them are fairly decent in terms of taste and moderate in alcohol (from 11%).
It might come as a surprise to learn that the man who created this new ‘Venturer range’, Aldi’s wine buyer Dr Mike James, is a road biking, cricket loving (MCC & Gloucs), wildlife fanatic with a PhD in the world’s smallest butterfly. Check out his cycling, cricket and wine tweets @drmikerjames on Twitter.
James works on his own sourcing the wines (he tells me he sits next to Aldi’s chocolate buyer on his right and Aldi’s red meat buyer on this left). This makes an interesting contrast to the Tesco wine team who have a whole department of 15 people. James might not have a string of wine qualifications to his name or a raft of wine-savvy assistants, but he clearly has a decent palate and a knack of homing in on a bargain as in the last International Wine Challenge 2013, Aldi won no less than 33 medals.
I now shop in discounters Aldi or Lidl as much as I do in the larger supermarkets. Whilst the experience is a bit bleaker in the understaffed neutral-looking discounters, their smaller ranges mean there is less to tempt you so it is less time-consuming – and cheaper. I am, however, always baffled and amused by the blatant look-alike branding in their food products and how they get away with it.
In terms of wine, there are no big brand look-alikes – yet. Unlike Tesco, Waitrose or Sainsbury’s, Aldi’s entire wine range are own-label, in the same way that you find in Marks and Spencer. Little information is given about winemakers or origins on the labels – with few helpful shelf talkers in store and certainly no staff to assist – but it is all down to price, price, price – hence its bargain basement image.
In terms of image, Aldi does still have a long way to go – but savvy drinkers looking for quaffing bargains should take note of the wines that our tasters enjoyed in Aldi’s range (in our taste test below).
There were of course some that failed the test: namely Aldi’s core range neutral Pinot Grigio £4.39, dismal Claret £3.99, dull Bordeaux Superieur £4.99, baked Budavar Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon £3.49, rustic Argentinian Uco Valley Malbec £5.99, thin Venturer Costieres de Nimes £4.99 and not-so Exquisite Collection Fleurie £6.49 which all scored poor marks with our tasters.
SPARKLING WINE: Cremant du Jura Chardonnay 2011 Philippe Michel
Brilliant stuff for £6.99 – creamy citric with balanced mousse. Made by the same method and with the same grape as Champagne – in eastern France’s little known Jura region. Always a winner at tastings. STAR BUY
CHAMPAGNE: Champagne Veuve Monsigny NV Philizot
Popular with tasters for its enticing biscuity aromas and creamy freshness; it might lack a long elegant finish, but for this price and the name Champagne on the label it is alarmingly good.
ALDI’S VENTURER RANGE
WHITE: Vinho Verde 2013
My least favourite of the three new Venturer whites; floral notes, light and refreshing. Note the very moderate alcohol.
WHITE: Rueda Verdejo ‘Vinas Vengo’ 2013
Think lemons, pineapples and melons with a creamy mouthfeel – good quaffing stuff for under a five – my favourite white Venturer. Verdejo is the name of the main white grape in Spain’s Rueda region north of Madrid. STAR BUY
WHITE: Vermentino 2013
Vermentino is popular in Provence and Languedoc in France where it is called Rolle. In Sardinia, Liguria and Sicily in Italy it tends to make richer styles, but still with the lemony flavours. A close second to the Rueda above in our Aldi taste test.
ALDI’S EXQUISITE COLLECTION
WHITE: Australian Clare Valley Riesling 2013
Limey citric, mouthwatering acidity, juicy and fresh. So many Clare Rieslings are over £10 today, it is great to find this bargain.
WHITE: Muscadet Sevre et Maine sur Lie 2013
Moderate in alcohol, high in acid: fresh, verging on tart, but ideal for a lazy summer afternoon in the hammock.
RED: Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
Cedar, mocha and mint undertones make this bright fruity Australian very appetizing for the price.
RED: New Zealand Wairarapa Pinot Noir 2012
For those who like very light, sweet and juicy reds. It lacks the depth and flavour of other Kiwi Pinots, but might appeal to those who normally drink inexpensive Chilean Pinot Noir.