Christine Austin detects high notes of value as Asda puts in a vintage performance at its latest wine tasting.
At the Asda tasting last week, one word just kept popping into my head as I worked my way through all 135 wines – VALUE. Glass after glass shone with bright, exact flavours, good balanced acidity and there was plenty of character in so many of the wines.
It was the best Asda tasting for ages and clearly wine buyer Philippa Carr has been busy. The wines on show were new additions to the range and new vintages of lines that have been in place for a while.
Starting with the reds, there was a £4 wine that wasn’t at all bad. La Maison Elyse Cabernet Shiraz 2013 is a Vin de France, which means it can be a blended wine from just about anywhere in France. It has soft gluggable fruit and will be perfectly adequate for a Monday to Wednesday supper. Bear in mind that the liquid in this bottle is probably worth just a few pence, so don’t expect anything exciting but if the budget is tight then this is drinkable. However, a switch to Asda’s own label Extra Special Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 from the Languedoc brings good blackcurrant flavours and a structure that can stand up to a grilled steak. At £7.25 it is good value even at its full price, although it often goes down to around a fiver on offer.
The Extra Special range at Asda has become a source of well-made wines and ES Côtes du Rhône Villages (£6.75, currently on offer at £5) has the smooth cherry and plum fruit and dusting of pepper that typifies the region. Pay twice as much for Extra Special Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2012 (£13.50) and you will certainly appreciate its concentration of spice and deeper, darker fruit, but for my money, I would prefer two bottles of the Côtes du Rhône.
Moving to the Italian range, there is a bargain Wine Selection Chianti 2012 (£4.88), which hits the spot for its light, appealing fruit and savoury background, but there is better flavour for money if you head further south. From Puglia, Extra Special Primitivo 2011 (£7.50) brings dark plums, figs and an edge of spice while Musita Syrah 2012 (£7.47, Wine Shop online) from Sicily, which is one of Philippa’s favourites, is packed with chunky, damson and chocolate flavours, ending with a silky, long finish. Both wines are up to Saturday night drinking with red meat, well-flavoured pasta dishes or a chunk of cheese.
The £4 price tag features again in the Spanish range with Casa Luis Tinto 2012 pulling together some fruit and savoury herbal notes but for sheer flavour I would trade this in for Extra Special Old Vine Garnacha 2012 for its brighter, raspberry and black cherry fruit. The regular price of this wine is £8.25 a bottle which is rather high but it regularly goes on offer at £2 less.
Other reds worth checking out include the ripe, cassis flavours in Wine Selection Langhorne Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 at £4.98 but a step up to Extra Special Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 at £7.98 brings lush, minty Ribena-like flavours and soft, supple tannins. It is also worthwhile checking out Extra Special Pinot Noir 2011 which comes from the Wither Hills winery. This version balances good, lifted Pinot fruit without the thud of oak, which in other wines can intrude across these delicate Kiwi flavours. Even at its full price of £8.48 this is one to try.
The whites in the Asda range also start at £4 and work up from there. As a partner wine to the £4 red, La Maison Elyse Sauvignon Blanc Colombard 2013 is fresh, crisp and clean and will sharpen up the taste buds on a weekday night or accompany a fish and chip supper. Also good with anything fishy is Ch. Salmonière Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie 2013 (£6.50) which has a yeasty, sea-salt style with a lively, zesty finish.
New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is available at several quality levels. The great value option comes from the citrus and floral style of Wine Selection Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013 at just £6 but a trade up to Extra Special Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (£7.48) brings tropical fruit and lively herbaceous notes.
It is also worth looking out for a pair of Italian whites that manage to pack a lot more flavour than usual. Extra Special Gavi 2013 (£8) gathers ripe pear and minerally notes and could accompany grilled fish or a summer salad. Verdicchio dei Castello di Jesi Classico 2013 (£8) has light lime and pineapple fruit with a streak of bitter grapefruit skins on the finish giving it an edge when paired alongside foods such as an endive and watercress salad.
There are some interesting sparklers in the Asda range including the raspberry and red berry flavours of Marqués de Monistrol Vintage Rose Cava 2011 (£9.25). Although this is classed as a dry wine, it could accompany a bowl of summer fruits rather well. Look out also for Asda’s own label Extra Special Mas Miralda Vintage Cava 2011 (£7.98) for its floral and clean citrus flavours.
So that is the good news from Asda. The bad news is that I can never really rely on their prices, so actually quoting a price and therefore its value for money is fraught with difficulty. Short of setting up my desk in a store and checking each price as I write, it is almost impossible to get the right information out of this organisation. Even then, it is quite likely that prices will change between writing and publishing. Prices seem to go up and down at Asda like those on a market stall at the end of the day. This gives an air of uncertainty to the shelves and while it might encourage short-term buying of offers it doesn’t really build a loyal band of consumers. Maybe the expansion of Asda’s online Wine Shop (www.direct.asda.com) will help. Many of the regular lines are available online plus extras that don’t appear on the shelves. Delivery is free so this option does save you having to carry bottles home.