How many times have you heard people braying with irritating smugness about all the wonderful cheap wine they have picked up in French supermarkets? Endlessly, I’ll wager. Well next time you hear some smug arse prattling out this tosh I strongly suggest you make it abundantly clear you could think of few experiences as dreary as sampling the filth they threw their money away on and so you don’t want any of it popped when you are in danger of having to drink some. This is because French supermarkets are almost certainly the most atrociously abysmal places in the world to get decent wine.
This is a consequence of both France’s amazing diversity as a wine producing country and the shamefully cretinous ineptitude of the supermarket wine buyers. These reprehensible dunderheads have at their fingertips all a lover of fine things could desire, but ignore this in favour of the most insipid, wearisome flotsam and jetsam their great country produces.
The problem is the buyers think that, given the stunning number of different wines made in France, they need to have as many of them as possible on their shelves. Given the huge demand for wine by supermarkets and the limited availability of properly decent kit there is little ability to buy anything of real quality.
Furthermore, most people who buy wines in supermarkets, as is true the world over, are generally choosing their bevvies by price rather than looking for specific wines of renowned quality.
The result of these two factors is that, whilst French supermarkets have what looks like a stunning array of wines, they have been chosen simply because, in the first place, they are available for purchase and, secondly, they have been made by someone whose epic yields and slapdash winemaking allow the price of the final product to be right at the bottom of their viticultural region’s spectrum.
So you may well be able to pick up three different Pommard Premier Crus in a reasonably sized shop, but they will have been made by a producer of dumbfounding obscurity whose neglectful, lackadaisical attitude to oenology and viticulture merits only having his vineyards confiscated. I use Pommard Premier Cru as an example as that was the last supermarket wine that someone poured for me. It was so loathsomely repugent that I think I am being far too charitable to the person who subjected me to it in that I never speak to them anymore.
It is true that some stores have fine wine sections, but it is surprising how vanishingly rare these are and as most of the wines they offer have been purchased on the secondary market I have seldom seen a good bottle at a keen price.
I cannot describe my passionate love of France, French wine and the French people (even though occasionally, as Eddie Izzard says, “they can be a bit… well… French”), but I cannot make it clear enough that if you are injudicious enough to by wine whilst in one of those massive comestible-packed warehouses over the channel you probably deserve an even worse fate than having to drink it.
I may as well touch on wine in English supermarkets. Of course, wine sold here is usually chosen by price point as well. The difference is the UK is not a winemaking country and we are fortunate to have a commendably active and professional wine trade. This means we are not obsessed with getting wine from the homeland and that the buyers know the world wine scene well enough to score wine that may come from a novelty location, but it will be made well enough to be inoffensive (although usually stupefyingly anodyne) and can be sold at the price most buyers seek.
Some supermarkets really do make a bit more of an effort. Wine seems to be at least slightly modish in the UK at the moment and if you visit a large supermarket you may well see two or three bottles of genuine interest which are usually priced perfectly reasonably. If I may suggest the supermarket with the best list I think it would have to be Waitrose – La Gitana is a real bargain there.
Just as an aside, you may have read that Tesco’s wine buyer called Decanter’s editor an elitist snob for saying that you cannot get decent wine for less than £4.99. The Tesco’s fellow is clearly a rude clodpole (and there is nothing bad about being an elitist) and Decanter’s editor is just wrong – decent wine starts at a tenner. Mind you, I say that and I’ve just purchased some rather spiffing Sherry for £7.95…