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Is it time for Superplonk?

Published:  18 January, 2007

It was, I think, Napoleon who said don't give me skillful generals give me lucky generals. The same might be said, mutatis mutandis, of publishers and their writers.

When I wrote the first Superplonk column, devoted to supermarket wine, and then, later, the annual wine guide, I had little idea that the slump of 1989-1993 was soon to impact and that an influential swathe of middle-class families - financially-pressed though prepared to sacrifice the second car and the second yearly holiday, and in extreme cases to yank Theodoric and Samantha out of private school - would fight to the death to retain their daily tipple.

Which is where muggins came in. I can pretend no foresight; it was sheer coincidence that just as drinkers cut down on visits to fancy wine merchants along came a wine writer, in the UK's most trusted newspaper, confidently rating 3 wines higher than bottles at ten times this price.

But is now history repeating itself? I ask because several well-meaning folk have suggested to me that the deepening financial crisis in this country means I should dust off the Superplonk model and get it purring again.

However, leaving aside my utter disinclination to spend my life as once I did the remedies at hand in the 1990s are no longer so widely available. Safeway, headed by the spry Liz Robertson, no longer exists; Littlewoods and Kwik Save likewise. There is no longer a creative Somerfield - or Gateway as it was then - with sorceress Angela Mount at the helm.

Allan Cheesman runs other things than Sainsbury's and all those gutsy gals at Tesco have been replaced by dull men in even duller suits. Morrisons has lost Stuart Purdie - it's mostly brands there now - and the quirkiness which once typified Nick Dymoke-Marr's Asda seems as distant as the rule of Tutankhamen.

The Co-op still has Paul Bastard, it is true, and Waitrose and M & S are as spritely as ever, and Cheesmanless Sainsbury's still cuts it.

But any profound comparison with 1989 and 2008 is not lining up like alongside like. The supermarket wine department as we once knew it is dead and I, as a Superplonker, am cheerfully ensconced in a neighbouring grave.

Malcolm is the wine critic of The Oldie magazine