Subscriber login Close [x]
remember me
You are not logged in.


Published:  23 July, 2008

By Jack Hibberd & Christian Davis

Tesco was raising a glass of bubbly and toasting Which? last week, after the latest issue of the consumer magazine recommended Tesco's own-label Premier Cru' Brut NV Champagne as its best buy' for Christmas. The approval prompted a 1,400% increase in sales of the product overnight. The tasting received unprecedented broadsheet coverage the day after the publication of the guide (Wednesday 5 December), after it emerged that famous grandes marques', with prices up to 27.99, had been beaten by a 12.99 fizz. Helen McGinn, product development manager at Tesco, said 10,000 bottles of the Champagne were sold in six hours on Thursday and it had sold out by the weekend. Even thirsty Harpers staff were unable to find a bottle. When the story broke, the Champagne was on promotion at 10.99 and, according to McGinn, it will stay at this price until Christmas Day. Jane MacQuitty's The Times devoted most of page three to the story, although MacQuitty herself was contemptuous of Which?'s decision, saying: This result sounds too good to be true and, of course, it is. The panel, to put it bluntly, have been misled by the nose.' MacQuitty retasted the Tesco Champagne in response to the piece and said it had been beefed up since she had first tasted it, but the trouble is that it has the same thin, tinny and acidic palate and a disagreeable, beery backnote'. Susy Atkins, editor of the Which? Wine Guide, defended the decision of the tasters, and although she refused to name those on the panel, she said it consisted of wine writers, buyers and merchants, including two Masters of Wine. Second place in the tasting went to 1996 H Blin Brut (18.99 Oddbins), while Veuve Clicquot and Bollinger limped in a disappointing 11th and 12th respectively. For Champagne experts it has come as no real surprise that the Tesco own-label performed particularly well - it is sourced from the highly regarded Union Champagne co-operative. With a combined membership of 1,200 growers, owning 1,000 hectares, the Union produces around one million cases per year, the vast majority of which (up to 900,000 cases) is produced directly for large houses, such as Mot and Mercier. McGinn said that the Tesco Premier Cru Brut NV is kept on lees for 30 months - 12 months longer than the legal requirement.

Harpers says In order to test the results of the Which? revelation, Harpers' own super-tasters, Tim Atkin MW and Neil Beckett, tasted the first-placed Tesco Premier Cru Brut NV alongside the 12th-placed Champagne Bollinger Special Cuve NV. Although both immediately picked out the Bollinger (they're as different as chalk and chaource', said Atkin), both were impressed with the Tesco bottle. Extremely good value,' said Atkin, while Beckett described Tesco's own as a light style, which is appetising, but still with good density of elegant fruit, without the tell-tale gassiness and grassiness that so often afflicts cheaper Champagnes'. However, neither said they would consider it better quality than its heavier, more famous rival.