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Oddbins Selection

by Tom Cannavan, 06/07


   At the start of June 2007, Oddbins announced a new range of six "own label" wines, clearly meant to express some classic French appellations. "Oddbins Selection" consits of a a Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and Chablis in the white range, and Burgundy, Bordeaux and Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the reds.

Priced between £5.99 and £12.99, the wines are well out of bargain basement territory and, carrying the Oddbins name, promise much.
Above all other high street chains, Oddbins is the wine merchant that has informed a whole generation of wine lovers in the UK, and the one that changed the face of wine consumption radically. Oddbins brought a youthful, unstuffy appeal to wine for the first time, and introduced millions to the joys not just of the European classics, but to the wines of the New World.


Having been taken over by the French group Castel five years ago, many people expressed fears for the future of Oddbins. Castel are the people behind the Nicolas chain of wine shops (not known for their keen prices or truly broad selection), and they are significant producers of everyday French wine - generic Bordeaux and Burgundy - much of which has appeared in Oddbins, sometimes displacing wines that were, frankly, more interesting.

And yet Oddbins continues to offer a better and more eclectic slection than most of its competitors, with a list packed with interest. If anything, the last year or so has seen Oddbins regain some of its old sparkle. Those who haven't walked through the doors recently may be pleasantly surprised.

Oddbins Selection

This new range of wines is an interesting barometer of where Oddbins is at. These are core products, which will obviously be seen as representative of Oddbins, especially as they bear the company's name.

My initial reaction to the very plain monochrome packaging was mixed: "classic" yes, but very far removed from the anarchic vision of the Oddbins of old. When I opened the bottles however, I had a real problem: the whole range is closed with some of the shortest and cheapest looking synthetic corks I have seen outside the £2.99 Euro wine lake. These are actually fairly good technical closures, but they most certainly do not say "quality wine".

The really important thing is what's in the bottles of course, and that turned out to be a real curate's egg. As someone for whom Oddbins has meant a lifetime of excellent drinking, it pains me to say that these really aren't up to scratch. The best of the range are the cheapest, where the generic Bordeaux and Burgundy deliver pretty well for the price. But I have a problem with the Sancerre which tastes like a half-decent Chilean Sauvignon, but does not say "Sancerre" to me, the Chablis which is verging on industrial, sweet chardonnay, and the Chateauneuf-du-Pape that I found to be inkily unattractive.

  

These wines do not represent their respective appellations successfully, and issue like the packaging and closures make me question whether Castel really understand what Oddbins customers are looking for. Odbbins is upbeat about these wines ("I hope you love them as much as we do"), but I have a hunch that nobody in the company really loves them. They are probably no worse than any supermarket own-label collection, but that is the problem: this is Oddbins, and these wines should be a whole lot better.

the wines

Oddbins Selection Pouilly-Fumé 2006
Made by the "Marquis de Clermont" which rings no bells with me as a Loire producer, so presumably a trading name for someone else. It pours a pale straw/green colour, and offers a very dry, unfruity nose, with some herbal and grassy notes, a touch of green apple, but all rather indistinct with a slightly medicinal edge. On the palate this wine is not particularly distinguished, though some of the apple fruit character comes through and those slightly grassy, nettly notes persist. The dry, pithy acidity adds quite a nice edge to this, and it finishes with a bit of length and a bit of cut. On balance, a slightly more classically Loire style than the Sancerre in this range, and the wine I prefer. A decent buy by the case at £7.19. £8.99, Oddbins.

Oddbins Selection Sancerre 2006
A very pale green colour, and an appealing nose with some elderflower and leafy, grassy notes, as well as a quite succulent passionfruit and yellow plum character. On the palate this has a fairly oily, rich weight and texture, but the fruit dies quite quickly on the mid palate. There is some pear and even hints of a peachy ripeness of fruit that for a moment verges on the tropical, but then a pithy acidity and overall dry character sweeps through. This has reasonable length, and stirkes a decent middle-ground style, though it needs a touch more zing, a touch more acidity, and a touch less sugar. £9.99, Oddbins.

Oddbins Selection Chablis 2006
This pours a pale lemony green colour, and offers bright fruity and estery notes of pear and pear drop, though little in the way of Chablisien minerality. On the palate it continues in a resolutely fruity vein, with ripe, quite sweet orchard fruit flavours blending with a juicy citrus character. This is a fairly forward and fat style of Chablis, and although there's a core of pithy lemony acidity running through the wine, there is also a slightly cloying sweetness, that is a combination of both very ripe fruit and some residual sugar. A crowd-pleasing wine, but not great Chablis. On that basis its by-the-case price of £7.99 makes more sense than its listed £9.99. £9.99, Oddbins.

Oddbins Selection Bordeaux 2006
This Bordeaux is composed of 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc. It has a nice healthy crimson colour, and a rather muted nose with some black cherry coming though and a little herbal note, in a very light style. On the palate there's a cool creaminess to the fruit, with quite a light Merlot-dominant character, suggesting cherry and plum. This is a fairly smooth and likeable "luncheon claret", with just enough tannin and acidity to keep it fresh in the mouth. At its modest price a successful wine, and good value at £4.79 per bottle if you buy by the case. £5.99, Oddbins.

Oddbins Selection Bourgogne 2006
bottled by "Jean de Rochebrun," another name that means nothing to me, and also responsible for bottling the Châteauneuf-du-Pape in theis series. It pours a fairly dark, but transparent crimson colour, and offers a very light, slightly confectionery nose suggesting rose-hip and cranberry. On the palate this is fairly juicy and crisp, with more of that gently leafy cherry and raspberry fruit, a touch of herbal quality and very gentle tannins. Some spice comes through, and the wine is just a touch cloying despite reasonable acidity that just doesn't quite give enough cut. Not a bad effort, and though rather short and simple, a pretty good generic Burgundy at the price. £6.99, Oddbins.

Oddbins Selection Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2006
The wine pours a dark crimson colour, and has a very modest nose. There's a dry, slightly inky extract, but little fruit and a slightly soapy character. On the palate there is a slightly more giving quality, with some fruit sweetness and a fairly full texture, but I have to say a rather dry tannic quality wins out, shortening the finish to leave an impression of some heat and spice, but little else. This wine is rather disappointing overall I must say and given the price, my least favourite wine of this range. £12.99, Oddbins.