|Jenny Mackenzie: putting Aldi's BWS range to the test|
|Monday, 17 September 2012 20:55|
The beers, wines and spirits range is headed up by the engaging Mike James whose Twitter bio (www.twitter.com/drmikerjames) declares a PhD and a love of cricket. He maintains his formidable energy by running and cycling. James has been with Aldi for eight years and in charge of wine for two years.
A global business, Aldi has 461 UK stores: none in central London but it does have branches in Greater London areas such as Hounslow, Catford and North Finchley. The "Aldi effect" of middle class shoppers trading down has been a noticeable part of the customer base for a while. Aldi's average basket is "between £10 and £20 including wine". When wine is bought, the food spend in that basket is higher than average.
With just 70 or so core range lines in every store, the wines are mainly exclusive blends from both large and small producers with whom James looks to forge long term relationships. Without a discounting model to drive individual lines, he uses market data to influence buying decisions and ensure every wine performs well when it hits the shelves. James said if the customer doesn't like the wine, they won't buy it again.
The recent London press tasting was to showcase the new Exquisite Collection, the Super Premium Christmas and Premium Christmas ranges as well as remind the press of - or introduce to - part of Aldi's Core range.
Aldi's Exquisite Collection - a "premium tier" launching in November - comprised seven consumer-friendly names with stylish, white labels and clear varietal signposting, priced between £4.99 and £6.99. Gavi; Touraine Sauvignon; Limestone Coast Chardonnay; Fleurie; Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon; Malbec and a South Eastern Australia Shiraz-dominated blend covered the Old and New World classic regions with three whites and four reds.
The standout was the Touraine Sauvignon from Les Grands Chais de France, punching well above its weight and incredible quality for £4.99. It drew many favourable comments and "star of the tasting" tweets. The Fleurie from Boisset was an attractive, broad appeal example for £6.99. The Uco Valley Malbec from Salentein was notable as a good quality Argentine red at £5.99. The wine press might have thought that some prices were comparatively low for the quality of the wines (I did), but James said that £5 for a bottle of wine is "expensive for Aldi".
With 30% of Port sales occurring in December, the twenty Premium Christmas lines included a very likeable 10 Year Old Tawny from Barao de Vilar Vinhos at £9.99 and a 2008 LBV from the same producer. Other stars were two Chablis from Francois Martenot. The Chablis Premier Cru 2011 was rounded and elegant with a long, mouth-filling finish: a bargain at £8.99. The Chablis 2011 at £6.99 was as well made, with the typical fresh, racy, apple fruit character.
The 15 lines on show from the Core range had some extremely good quality wines. James enthused about the NV Champagne from independent house, Philizot. The thirds Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay blend was a leaner, steely style with 9g/l r/s. The star fizz for me however, was a Cremant du Jura at £6.99: 100% Chardonnay from the underrated, mountainous French region, made by Les Grands Chais, in a stylish bottle that wouldn't look out of place at a smart dinner party. James confirmed that low overheads allow Aldi to deliver such good quality, inexpensive wines. One of the flagship lines in the Core range is the Toro Loco label: medal-winning red Tempranillo from Utiel-Requena producer Corvinas - along with a Bobal rosé - at merely £3.59.
James acknowledged that wine competitions were important, with the medals being part of "getting the message [of quality] out to the media". Aldi received 22 awards from the 2012 International Wine Challenge (IWC) and 37 from the 2012 International Wine & Spirit Competition (IWSC). Aldi currently holds the Which? Supermarket of the Year 2012.
* Aldi BWS tasting, Wedesday 12th September 2012, Dartmouth House, Charles Street, W1.