The chain that really offers the best choice
Waitrose has, by a country mile, the widest selection of wines anywhere. The range is twice the size on offer at any other supermarket chain.
Not even Majestic, the last of the national specialist wine-merchants, competes.
In the West, Waitrose is still something of a novelty.
There were hardly any stores in the region just a decade ago. But in the time since, the network has doubled in size to nearly 250 branches, and most of us now have one within reasonable reach.
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It's worth the journey. The choice of wines is deep as well as wide. There are more than 70 different wines from Italy, over 40 from the Rhône Valley, and superb selections from Alsace and the Loire, Germany, Portugal, and New Zealand. The sherries, including the own-label Solera Jerezana range, and other fortified wines are legendary.
The prices, I promise, are fair. While a large proportion of the wines are unique to Waitrose, brands also sold by rival supermarkets are clearly priced to compete.
Waitrose is sensitive to the notion that its groceries are more expensive than elsewhere, and is currently running an uncharacteristic advertising campaign to assure shoppers that prices for thousands of items exactly match those at Tesco.
Given that Tesco has 30.7 per cent of the market, compared to Waitrose's mere 4.5 per cent, I suppose this is rather impressive.
And it doesn't prevent Waitrose from discounting prices. There are always dozens of wines on special offer, and they are mostly genuine bargains.
Not all the wines in the vast range are available in every store, but all can be bought online. You can order any mix you like, which makes Waitrose unique in this respect. Marks & Spencer and Tesco, the only other chains doing wine on the web, do case sales only.
From about 200 wines I tried at Waitrose's recent summer tasting, here is a small selection from the many I liked very much.
Cuvée Chasseur 2011 (£4.69) is an amazingly consistent Waitrose stalwart from the Languedoc region of southwest France. It's brambly and lively but also robust and developed. A top buy at under a fiver.
Umani Ronchi Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2011 (£5.99), a juicy pasta-matcher from Italy's Adriatic centre is another Waitrose perennial that in this vintage seems even bouncier and riper than usual.
Sogrape Pena de Pato 2009 (£8.29) is from the Dão, one of the regions that first brought the characterful red table wines of Portugal to popular attention a generation ago; a savoury and distinctive throwback red to bring back happy memories.
Waitrose Reserve Barossa Shiraz 2010 (£9.99) is a blood red Australian wine made by the dependable St Hallett winery. It is tanned rather than roasted, savoury, juicy, cushiony and comforting, with 14.5 per cent alcohol.
Viña Fuerte Garnacha 2010 (£7.99) from Calatayud in Spain is yet another long-term favourite now snazzily relabelled. A potent, pruny-spicy gripper with 14.5 per cent alcohol, but rather genteel in its darkly muscular way.
Georges Duboeuf Chiroubles 2011 (£9.99) is a grand wine from Beaujolais with structure and violet perfume above and beyond the ordinary; a substantial wine that will last.
Bisceglia Gudarra Aglianico del Vulture 2008 (£10.99) is from volcanic vineyards in Italy's Basilicato. You get a whiff of brimstone amid the spicy perfume and cushiony plump but spicy dark fruit. Online only.
Domaine de la Croix de Chaintres Saumur-Champigny 2010 (£10.99) is a forcefully fruity cabernet franc from Filliatreau, a top Loire Valley estate. This has the crunchy-leafy fresh berry style that typifies, and idealises, red Saumur.
Catena Malbec 2010 £12.49 Hate the new labels on the iconic Catena wines (definitely Argentine premier league), but still love this defining, dark, sinewy but malleable juicy gripper; 14 per cent alcohol.
Blason du Rhône Châteauneuf du Pape 2010 (£20.99 but currently reduced to £13.99) is a fabulous wine from the revered Rhône appellation, hugely reduced in price. I got a whiff of capuccino off this big, multi-layered and ripe oaked de luxe wine, and liked it very, very much. Try to keep it for a while.
Vignale Pinot Grigio 2011 (£4.99) from Italy's Veneto is a cut above the average. It is plump and ripe in the Alsace manner, dry but smoky with suggestions of honey and grapiness.
Cowrie Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (£5.99) is a bargain from New Zealand. It has gooseberry freshness and trademark assertive NZ fruit.
Fief Guérin Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu Sur Lie 2011 (£7.49) is a big-flavoured briny and crisp oyster wine from the Atlantic estuary of the Loire. It is not from the usual Sèvre et Maine appellation, but is still my favourite Muscadet of the year.
Domaine de Vieux Vauvert 2011 (£8.99) is designated "medium dry" but this doesn't do this delicious Vouvray (Loire) justice; from chenin blanc, it's a tour de force of balance, honeysuckle perfume, luscious autumn fruit, and a tangy finish.
El Guia Rosado 2011 (£3.99) is a fleshy but fresh and dry-finishing magenta cherry pink from Spain's Utiel Requena region. A bargain.
Inycon Growers' Selection Nero d'Avola Rosé 2011 (£6.99) from Sicily is a party-frock pink dry refresher with fresh soft summer fruit.