Last time I had a serious look at Asda’s wines I was impressed. Its new range called Wine Atlas brought distinctive, different flavours to the shelves, at very reasonable prices. With wines such as Frappato from Sicily, Fetasca Neagra from Romania, and Cserszegi Fuszeres from Hungary, the challenge was more on pronunciation, not the flavours. They were consistently good, with bright, clear fruit and simple, easy styles. I also liked the labels, with their 1930s travel poster colours and design.
But last week it was time for another look at Asda’s range so with taste buds tuned for another onslaught I put all my previous thoughts aside and went through 140 of their wines. Most of them were new vintages rather than new discoveries, but there was enough interest in the line-up to realise that Asda’s wine-buying team, headed up by Master of Wine Philippa Carr, has been busy during the year.
Sometimes a second look at a range can seem less exciting. But the Bobal 2014 from Utiel Requena in Spain (£4.97) still has all the juicy, cherry and plum fruit I remembered while The Wine Atlas Côtes du Roussillon 2014 (£5.97) is packed with dark, bramble fruit with a twist of spice. There are wines from St Chinian and Corbières, both £5.97, sourced from within a 60-mile stretch of the Languedoc, from pretty much the same blend of Grenache, Carignan and Syrah yet each one reflects the terrain and style of its region.
Among the whites try the zesty, citrus-charged Wine Atlas Touraine Sauvignon 2014 (£5.97) and the savoury, peach-edged Wine Atlas Marsanne 2014 (£5.47).
But it took more than the colourful, flavourful Wine Atlas range for Asda to be named as Decanter Magazine’s Supermarket of the Year 2015. Their “fierce commitment to value” was highlighted in the award and there are several wines in the range that demonstrate this. Extra Special (ES) is the Asda range that offers good quality own-label wines and the Australian section is definitely worth a try. ES Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2013 (£7.98) comes from family-run De Bortoli wines where husband and wife team Steve Webber and Leanne de Bortoli make wines with a light touch and attention to detail. This cool-climate Pinot manages soft aromatic, cherry and strawberry fruit with a rounded, gentle structure. Move across to ES Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (£6.98) and you get smooth, silky, cassis flavours – powerful but balanced.
On the Italy shelves I enjoyed the robust plums and figgy flavours in ES Primitivo 2011 (£7) and the deeper damson and spice-edged flavours in ES Nero d’Avola Syrah 2013 (£7.50). The Italian whites are also worth a look, especial ES Fiano 2014 (£7.50) from upmarket Sicilian co-operative Settisoli which blends crisp, lemony fruit with peachy tones and a rounded, food-friendly texture.
While you are browsing don’t miss the lively, exuberant juicy, red fruits in ES Old Vines Garnacha 2014 (£5.48) and the zesty citrus and pineapple flavours of ES Chilean Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (£5.75).
With 525 stores spread across the country, you are never very far from an Asda, but you will probably be a lot closer to a Spar. This chain of 2,500 local, independently owned shops is the mainstay of local shopping parades and 7-11 corner shops. With heavy reliance on big brands, these are the kind of places that you might dash into when all else fails, but actually, nestling alongside some of those well-known, heavily promoted brands there are some serious, good value wines.
Hand Selected is Spar’s equivalent to everyone else’s own-brands, but the Spar name is printed in small letters on the label so if this purchase is the result of a last-minute foray to the corner shop then no-one will know. Starting with Gavi 2014, (£7.29), from Piedmont in Italy’s north-west corner, you get ripe pear and citrus fruit with a hint of herbs in the background. Move on to a well-made, juicy Côtes du Rhône (£6), or step up to a French Malbec 2014, Pays d’Oc (£7.50) which delivers smooth bramble fruit and soft tannins at just 13% alcohol. All of these wines will be perfect alongside a Friday night supper and since this is the era of discovering bargain wines from almost any source, you might just start a trend amongst your guests.
Spar does more than just good value wines. There is a lean, crisp, minerally-fresh Chablis 2014 (currently £12.50 but destined to be on offer in a couple of weeks time) and a rounded, dark fruit, oak-edged Ursa Maior Rioja Reserva 2009 (normally £10.49 but down to £7.50 until October 21). For serious dinner parties head for the terrific savoury-sweet black fruits of Les Trois Couronnes Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2013. At £16.89 it might just challenge the budget but this wine is also destined to be on offer soon.
Champagne is now the battleground for Christmas and Spar’s offering of Marquis Belrive at £16 is soft and creamy with all the right brioche notes. And while the frothy, fruity, floral flavours of Perlezza Prosecco (£9) are perfect for parties, there is no better way to cope with the gathering gloom of autumn than with the occasional Friday night glass of fizz. This works perfectly.