In Praise of Spanish Supermarkets!


Bet you didn’t see that coming!

Neither did I! If you look back at my articles (you can see many archived here click Articles, that’s if you haven’t got them posted on your bedroom walls, of course?) you’ll see that I’ve always put wine shops before supermarkets when talking about sourcing wine. If you can’t buy directly from the bodegas themselves, the next best thing will always be wine shops.

I still believe this. Wine shop owners (there don’t seem to be many chains here in Spain, I’ve actually never come across one) have a passion for wine – they care. Consequently they look after their stock; rotate the wines properly; keep a handle on their buying so as not to be left with wines that are creeping past their best; keep abreast of developments in the wine world; attend tastings, certainly nationally, and at times internationally too; read the literature & watch the videos; organise tastings; teach their staff and encourage (sometimes with financial help) assistants to attend courses, take exams, and so on.

Supermarkets, in my view, don’t do much of the above. Most are too big. Wine is just one line, amongst countless others. Yes, some of the larger concerns will have a designated ‘wine buyer’, hopefully with sufficient wine knowledge and expertise, but will they have staff to whom they can diffuse this info? Is there any training of staff in the individual supermarkets – well, I don’t think there are many or much.

To a point I understand this – do the supermarkets train their staff to have greater knowledge about other lines, e.g. which are the best detergents and why; why is one pet food so much more expensive than the one on the shelf nearby; is it best to buy olive oil as young as possible or is it better to wait a year from production. They can’t be expected to employ an expert in every field.

However, if we go to, for example, Mercadona seeking Jamón Serrano, it’s likely there’ll be at least one person there with a good knowledge of the subject. Despite an obvious bias and trying to be as objective as possible, I think this should also apply to wine – but I’ve yet to find it.

So, colours nailed to the mast there, and yet I also stand by my title – lately I’ve noticed that some supermarket wine choices are deserving of praise, and should be lauded so.

The confinement, the lockdown we’ve been undergoing in Spain has meant that we have been essentially ordered to use only the supermarket nearest to where we live, and of course, we’ve been unable to attend a wine shop at all (though some have managed to gain permission to deliver). Plus, I’m also required to recommend a Supermarket Wine of the Week for Valley FM. Therefore, I’ve been tasting a greater number of supermarket wines than is normally the case, for the last 8 weeks!

I’ve chosen carefully, mind. Age and health wise I’m in the ‘at risk’ category, so my lovely wife, Claire-Marie Soprano, far younger than myself, has generously, and bravely, been doing all our shopping when this has always previously been my role. This has meant that Claire has been asked to go to Mas y Mas and send me photos of their wine selection, for me to make the choices!

I’ve mostly got it right, and some of the wines we’ve been trying have been rather good. Here are a few of the best ones, all priced between about 5 – 8€.

My favourite has been the Bornos Verdejo 2019, closely followed by Hécula, from Bodegas Castaño, and in Bronze medal position, the Enate Cabernet Sauvignon Rosado 2019.

I’m not sure when I first tasted Bornos Verdejo. It was new to my area at the time and people very quickly developed a taste for it. My guess is that demand exceeded supply at the time and supplies ran out. There then, it seemed to me, was a short period where the same wine was of a slightly lesser quality. My guess was that, in order to satisfy that demand, vines were allowed to over crop – more grapes, equals more wine, but at a quality cost. I stopped buying it, though it’s been around ever since, remaining popular.

I really like the 2019 above and I think this may be because of two factors – the vines are now older (the average age for this vintage was 15 years), therefore naturally producing slightly fewer bunches, and the producers are now restricting that growth further. The result is a straw coloured wine with lime green hints, fresh, dry white bristling with intense aromas and flavours of citrus fruits, gooseberry and green herbs.

If, like many, you like to have a wine you term your ‘house wine’, this has to be a candidate for your white wine!

I tasted several reds: Bo, as well as Con Un Par,from Bodegas Vicente Gandía; Enate Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot; Soplo, Garnacha from Rafael Cambra, Laudum Roble from Bocopa – all good quality, and all from supermarkets! My favourite red was Hécula, from Castaño – consistent quality for years now!

And so good to see a rosé, the Enate above, coming a close third! Twitter @colinonwine Facebook Colin Harkness

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