Essen and Drink’n at Aldi

POSTED ON 01/08/2015

I recently visited Aldi’s Midlands HQ to find out more about the Aldi story from head wine honcho Mike James, a thoughtful doctor of philosophy who topped Off Licence News’ Top 100 list of the UK’s most influential wine people. First we called into the Atherstone store to check out the core wine range of some 75 wines. The no-frills-no-false-promotions message was reinforced by few staff, rudimentary shelves and no fancy packaging, but rather, wines that do what they say on the tin, and in some cases more.

Mike James checks out a whiteMike James checks out a white

It’s hard to argue for instance with the 2012 Crémant du Jura Chardonnay, £7.27, an explosive fizz full of tangy pineappley bubbles; or the Veuve Monsigny Champagne, which at £9.97, is arguably the best value champagne in supermarkets. The modestly named Exquisite Collection range is becoming a brand in its own right with gems such as the smoky, passion fruit-rich 2014 Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc, £7.99, Taylor’s fragrant, lime-zestily dry 2014 Clare Valley Riesling, £6.99, along with a spicy, blackberryish 2013 South Eastern Australia Shiraz, £5.99 and best-selling 2014 Uco Valley Argentinian Malbec, £5.99.

Aldi’s founders, Karl and Theo Albrecht, didn’t build their global empire by not looking after the Deutschmarks. After Theo was kidnapped in 1971, he went to court in an (unsuccessful) attempt to claim tax relief on the ransom payment. The brothers now lie in the Essen burial plots adorned with Aldi-discounted rhodedendron, yew and cypress, but under MD Matthew Barnes, Aldi today is sitting pretty. More than 500,000 new customers wheeled trollies around its 560 stores this year, making it the sixth biggest supermarket in the UK with a growing market share of 5.5 per cent.

An exquisite collectionAn exquisite collection

Its thrift-centric approach saw additional wine sales of £88.2 million last year. As wine has grown exponentially, Mike James has a better understanding of what Aldi’s customers want. He’s a master of tweaking blends to Aldi’s requirements as well as building solid relationships with suppliers, who appear only too keen to be part of the bonanza. James minimises risks with seasonal wines like the excellent 2014 Cotes de Provence Rosé, £5.99, and by trialling new products like a Freemans Bay Chardonnay from New Zealand and a Paul Mas Languedoc Clairette in a limited number of stores.

Luvvvly jubblyLuvvvly jubbly

Introducing a new upmarket Lot Series this year has brought greater depth to the range. Along with a handful of new premium wines such as a premier cru Chablis and supertuscan red, it’s to be expanded in the autumn with, among others, a promising £9.99 Cape chenin blanc and Aussie cabernet sauvignon. Fingers crossed that one of the 65 new stores in the pipeline for both this and next year (as part of its target of 1000 stores by 2022) will be a store near me.

Something for the Weekend

Night In

2013 Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference Pic Saint Loup, Languedoc.

This is an aromatic blend of syrah and grenache whose sweetly ripe blackberry fruit flavours are infused by spicy notes and underpinned by a seductive touch of bittersweet chocolate in a robust Southern French framework. £8, Sainsbury’s.

Dinner Party

2014 Mount Edward Central Otago Riesling

This delicate riesling from New Zealand’s netherworld is imbued with scented citrus fruits and a mouthwateringly zingy bite of lemon and lime, adding up to an appetisingly off-dry white. £11, down from £13, until 3 August, Marks & Spencer.

Splash Out

2012 Michel et Stéphane Ogier, Côte Rôtie

The black pepper, olive and spice scent of this pure syrah from the Ogier family is alluringly sniff-worthy, and when you sip, its pepper and spice-infused blackberry fruit richness is tempered by a cool climate freshness. £50, Waitrose.


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