Teletext’s Guide to Shopping for Quality Wine at the Supermarket
Ho-hum. Another day of lockdown. There’s really only one place you can go, and that’s your local supermarket.
This is a place you’ve been visiting for years, of course, but in the past it’s been second choice to going out to a restaurant or the pub. And in the past, perhaps you tended to get the same things each time, the three P’s of home-based cuisine – pasta, pesto and plonk.
Now that our normal activities are on hold for a while, why not take this opportunity to become an oenophile (a fancy word for wine lover)? Becoming a wine expert capable of choosing the best supermarket wine can put a little thrill of excitement into your next visit to the shop. (Hey, we take our excitement where we can find it these days.)
The Teletext Guide to Becoming a Supermarket Wine Expert
Do a little research before you go. There’s a very handy source, arranged by supermarket chain, that lists the available wines and a little something about them. There are also several helpful wine apps out there. Try Vivino, Delectable and Cellartracker for starters.
Choosing the best supermarket wine
Clutch your iPhone tightly like the lifeline it is, because once you get to the supermarket, you are going to be confronted by row upon row of wines, all shouting, Buy me! Buy me! Red wine, white wine, rosé wine, sparkling wine, sweet wine, dry wine, full-bodied wine, domestic wine, international wine... and there you are, dancing around the other vino shoppers to maintain proper social distancing whilst trying desperately to make a choice.
Read the back label. Most wine labels read like romantic novels: ‘This voluptuous pinot noir entices with intimate hints of chocolatey velvet underlaid with seductive notes of vanilla, basil and pine cones, enchanting your senses with its bewitching overtones of captivating balsam, musk and lavender. Like a refreshing spring rain, it pairs well with beef wellington, caviar and Indian takeaway’.
Reading these labels can keep you entertained for hours without ever opening a single bottle – but since you are actually considering consuming some wine, prepare by absorbing some basic wine vocabulary. Somewhere within that flowery description you’ll probably find some useful information, like whether the vino is sweet or dry.
Ignore the front label. Don’t be seduced by appearances. That’s probably good advice in general, but in wine-related matters it means that a wine called ‘Adorable Cat’, whose label features a picture of an adorable cat, is not necessarily what you want to serve with dinner, even to people who really like adorable cats.
You should also be aware that advertising is not necessarily an indication of a good product. What?! Seriously?! Yeah, we all know this already – but we often fall for it anyway. A lot of fancy claims winemakers trumpet on their bottles, words like ‘Grand Reserve’, ‘Gold Medal Standard’, ‘Grand Vin’ and the like, actually have no recognised meaning in the trade. They just sound good.
Consider the economics. The more you’re willing to pay, the better the wine is likely to be. That’s not always the case, of course, and you can take that equation only so far – without unlimited funds at your disposal, there’s little sense in spending £80 for a bottle of primo vino when you could buy eight bottles of very decent wine for £10 each. But there’s this little issue of VAT: there is a standard VAT imposed on all wine, regardless of its base price, so when you subtract that fixed amount from the price of a very cheap variety, it doesn’t leave a lot left over for actually producing a good vino.
Do wine aisle gymnastics. Grocers are known for placing the items they particularly want to sell you in the most Look at me! kinds of displays, so stand on tiptoe and crouch down to check out everything that’s on offer.
How to pick a wine for dinner
Traditionally, the rules were pretty clear: white wine with seafood, red wine with red meat. (We don’t know what wine went with vegetarian dishes because in the old days there were no vegetarians, or at least not any who were out of the closet.) These days vino experts (that’s you now) have loosened up, going with the obvious flow that what tastes good, tastes good, full stop. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we should throw out all considerations of wine pairing, of course: what goes with your Sunday roast might not work so well with tapas.
How to pick a dinner for wine
With all this wine experimentation, you are going to want some really good meals to go along with it. And since we can’t go on holiday just yet, here are some delicious international recipes you can create, properly socially distant, in your own kitchen. You could invite your friends and family to a virtual dinner party: everybody making the same recipe and drinking the same wine.
Drink Your Way to Mental Health
Psychologists say (well, probably) that cultivating an interest is good for your mental health. Yes, endlessly rewatching comfort TV episodes counts as an interest, but you could also take on a long-term wine project. You could become an expert, someone who knows their regions and their grapes and their vintages. This could turn out to be a fun hobby even when we’re free to live out in the world again.
If you’re really gung-ho, consider going old school and reconnecting with paper: remove the wine labels from bottles, paste them into a notebook and write up accompanying descriptions of the variety of the wine, the circumstances under which you drank it and how much you enjoyed it. (Example: I drank this impish yet sophisticated Beaujolais alone whilst listening to sad music, crying and wishing I could leave my flat. It was good, but next time I’ll buy two bottles.)
We are going to get past these troubling times, and you can come out the other side with a wine education and a reputation for choosing the perfect vino. When you can go to the pub again (oh, how we miss the old Goat and Whippet!), you’ll no longer be saying, ‘White wine, please’ – it’ll be ‘A glass of your finest New Zealand chardonnay, my good man, with just a touch of spicy fruit flavour and a soupçon of wood smoke’.
Wine can’t protect you from the coronavirus, of course, but it can protect you from the effects of boredom resulting from the lockdown… and we all need as much of that as we can get right now! Our other interesting blog posts are specially designed by experts to help keep you from running screaming into the night. Stay strong. Soon we’ll be in some delicious foreign destination, signalling the waiter to bring our favourite wine to our table.