Shelf life

'Pile 'em high, sell 'em cheap' was the motto of Tesco founder Sir Jack Cohen.

He had in mind customers whose way of life was very different to that of today's shoppers - probably thinking of the sort of stuff you would see on a market stall in Hackney in the 1930s.

How could he have possibly foreseen the huge growth in wine consumption in his and other supermarkets in following decades?

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In those days, the majority of British drinkers thought in terms of pints of bitter, a glass of stout, or a gin and tonic, down at the local.

Tesco, Sainsbury, Waitrose, Marks and Spencer and other chains account for an immense volume of wine sales.

They certainly pile the bottles high, and some of them are pretty cheap, but many people are more interested in decent quality and value for money these days than a rock-bottom price-tag.

There are cheap bargains around, some of them OK, but it's not much good buying a bottle with a low price if it tastes like watered-down red ink or stale lemonade.

These thoughts were prompted by a tasting courtesy of five leading UK retailers of wines readily available in their stores.

None was what I would call expensive, although some cost more than many of us would pay for normal everyday drinking. But the most pricey, at 14.99, was way below what you would have to fork out for a standard high street Champagne, and was of extremely good quality.

All five wines were from Bordeaux, and gave a small snapshot of the region's diversity, with prices starting at 6.49. I have to say, I wouldn't generally consider buying a Bordeaux at under about 6, when the quality can be iffy.

I drink a lot of New World wines, often in the mid 5 to 8 price range, but am a great admirer of the classic French varieties, and prepared to pay up to around a tenner, or a bit more, for them.

I was delighted to see a Margaux among the five bottles. This area's wines are noted for their distinctive bouquet, and Margaux 'La Petite Echoppe' 2006 (13 per cent, 14.99, Marks and Spencer) has an especially beguiling aroma.

This polished, full-bodied mix of 60 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 20 per cent merlot, 15 per cent cabernet franc and five per cent petit verdot is produced and bottled by Lucien Lurton for M and S.

Blackcurrants and ripe plums are enhanced by touches of vanilla provided by a year in oak barrels. Well worth a detour to the wine section if you find yourself looking for more mundane purchases such as a lunchtime sandwich or a yogurt.

Another complex Bordeaux red is Chateau Clos Renon 2007 (12.5 per cent, 12.99, Tesco, also available by the case from www.tesco.com/wine).

A soft and supple blend of 70 per cent merlot, 20 per cent cabernet sauvignon and 10 per cent cabernet franc, it has damsons and blackberries, and a notably elegant character.

Fermentation was in stainless steel tanks, followed by oak ageing. It can be drunk right now, tonight, but further ageing would see its complexity develop.

Chateau Tour Chapoux 2006 (13 per cent, 8.54, Waitrose) is easy-drinking, fresh and fruity.

The chateau is in the middle of the Entre deux Mers region, and the wine is a particularly good one for the table - spot-on for Sunday roasts and hard, mature cheeses.

It has a rich purple colour, and there are tastes of cherries and currants. Medium-bodied.

Taste the Difference St Emilion 2007 (12.5 per cent, 8.99, Sainsburys) is made exclusively for this one retailer.

Smooth, up-front plummy aromas and flavours, it is 78 per cent merlot and 22 per cent cabernet franc, aged in oak for a year.

A tasty modern wine, it should be drunk within a year of purchase, and not left gathering dust on the wine-rack.

Finally, and in complete contrast, a dry, crisp white - Mission St Vincent Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (11.5 per cent, 6.49, Co-op).

A floral bouquet, and the characteristic citrus and herbaceous tastes of sauvignon, with a slight additional fruitness contributed by the addition of 15 per cent semillon.

A good quaffing wine, just before a meal, or to go with chicken, fish or light pasta dishes.

What do you think? Send a letter to [email protected] or leave a comment below.

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