Wine: Supermarket wine buyers

A shopper inspects wine in a supermarket. Picture: TSPL
A shopper inspects wine in a supermarket. Picture: TSPL
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MOST people believe that supermarket wine buyers are serial hagglers who treat wine like any other product, screw producers down to impossibly low prices, but quickly walk away if something better surfaces.

If that is your preconception too, then meet Tesco’s Lucy Clements. She is young, imaginative and committed to long-term collaborations with growers, whose ranks she only recently left. Indeed, she has made ten vintages herself in her native Barossa and beyond.

Her deals mostly stem from detailed dialogues with producers before, during and after the harvest. Her practical guidance would include a steer such as “That blend really needs 10 per cent more cabernet franc.”

Rather than a hard-nosed “who blinks first” approach, it is these long-term relationships that Clements believes will keep wine prices around their current level. She is also well placed to assess non-financial trends. Deeper, oaky, terroir-centred French reds are one style she expects to prosper. Fruity, dry riesling is another.

Interesting as the theory is, the 
proof is found in the glass. So let’s take a look at some of the wines she has sourced.

Her long-term relationships appear to be paying dividends in Burgundy, where Georges Brichon at Blason de Bourgogne produced the 2013 Mâcon Blanc Villages (£6.49). To me, this is the best inexpensive white Burgundy around. It is chardonnay at its freshest, softest and smoothest, with slowly ascending, zesty lemon-based acidity steadied by a nice peach undercurrent.

In the south-west of France, Lucy has also been working with Tomy Barbe of GCF to make the 2013 Lucien Marcel Vin de Pays du Gers (£5.99). Barbe has married 50 per cent colombard with 30 per cent gros manseng and 20 per cent ugni blanc to create a white with zingy acidity and a sweetish edge. The dominant flavour is grapefruit with an apple backdrop – not the pear influences normally associated with colombard. The wine also has a pleasing texture and complexity – courtesy, in particular, of the unusual mid-palate savoury touches.

Riesling is an under-appreciated grape these days, and Clements is playing her part in its rehabilitation by bringing Hal Landvoigt’s 2011 Washington Hills Riesling (£8.99) from the United States – with the 2012 vintage arriving any day now. There’s just a hint here of riesling’s trademark kerosene notes, but crisp lime acidity and touches of greengage are the principal components. This is smooth and polished wine, with its freshness neatly filled out by some well-judged sweetness. The 17.5g per litre of residual sugar here should not be a problem for the UK market since it is skilfully balanced with acidity and fruit.

Clements has not neglected red wines. Choosing Benjamin Sichel at Château Angludet to produce the 2008 Tesco Finest Margaux (£24.99) was a masterstroke. His balance of 50 per cent cabernet sauvignon with 45 per cent merlot and a touch of petit verdot has created a classic but pleasingly approachable claret. The tannins are in perfect proportion to underscore both the mellow blackcurrant opening and the mint and herb components that develop as the wine meanders towards its finish.

Lucy Clements may have only joined Tesco last year, but it’s clear that she’s already making her mark and should be saluted for her long-term outlook.

2013 Trapiche Pure Malbec

Uco Valley, Argentina, 14 per cent

Last Thursday was World Malbec Day and, to celebrate it, pick up this rich and intense version with firm tannin and substantial texture to underpin its plum, cinnamon and chocolate flavours. For a lighter and softer example, try South Africa’s Zalze Reserve Malbec (same price, same place).

£8.99 at the Co-op

2012 De Grendel Sauvignon Blanc

Durbanville, South Africa, 13.5 per cent

Behind the light colour and quite gentle grapefruit nose, there is real depth and substance here. The zippy acidity quickly develops into minty, tropical fruit flavours with an orange edge that provides a perception of sweetness. Great, grown-up sauvignon.

£8.99 – instead of £11.99 until 29 April – at Waitrose