Wine Buying in the North East – Makro

I don’t shop at Makro often, 2 or 3 times a year on average, but whenever I do I enjoy spending a little time delving into their wine section because there’s usually several hidden gems amongst the cases of big brand quaffers. This time round I returned to the store in Washington within a month of my last visit because of some wine I noticed when I was there but wasn’t confident enough to buy without doing a little research first.

As a bit of background Makro is a UK Warehouse club, a “Cash & Carry” like Costco, where to join you have to run a business or be “authorised to purchase on behalf of the business” (luckily for me my other half meets those requirements!). The Washington store is on the Wear Industrial Estate a couple of junctions off the A1 Washington Services and opened in 1973, the 4th store to open since the group was first founded in 1971 (it now has 30 stores across the country). Up until this month it was part of the International Metro group but looks like it has just been sold to UK Food & Drinks wholesaler Booker.

Makro proclaims itself as “one of the UK’s leading wine suppliers” with “an eclectic selection of fine and rare wine from independent vineyards.” Definitely their general Fine Wine selection (by the bottle purchase) is worth a look, but for me there’s always something unusual or unexpected in the single-bottle Bins. Over the last few years I’ve noticed a large selection of obscure Italian Appellations and grape varieties (Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio, Greco di Tufo, Cannonau di Sardegna, Morellino di Scansano amongst others) and old Australian vintages, particularly from the Yalumba range – a very reliable producer and “Australia’s oldest family owned winery”.

Up until now the best wines I’ve tasted from the store were Penfolds 1997 St. Henri Shiraz (bought in 2010 for £26.50) and Miguel Torres 2001 Manso de Velasco Viejas Vinas (2009, £17.50) with the 2006 Crios de Susana Balbo Torrontés being the best value for money (2008, £7.50). Still biding their time in my collection (and hopefully improving with age) are a 1993 6 Puttonyos Tokaji Aszú  (2007, £21 – but still available in store and supposedly one of the best Tokaji vintages in memory) and a Masi Costasera 2001 Amarone Classico (2007, £21.70). To be fair I’ve had some disappointing ones as well, typically Italians that have been left on the shelf too long, but isn’t that part of the fun of bargain hunting?

On my earlier visit to the store this year I couldn’t resist picking up a Brown Brothers 2002 Orange Muscat & Flora for £6.30, 3 bottles of the Crios de Susana Balbo 2008 Torrontés for £3 each (hiding behind decidedly brown looking bottles of the 2006 vintage which I didn’t feel lucky about!) and a lone bottle of E. Guigal 2003 Brune et Blonde Côte-Rôtie for £7.20 (yes, that’s right, £7.20 for what looks to be a classic and long-living Northern Rhône red – if only they’d had more!).

However, it was their mature Bordeaux that caught my eye as I’m giving a tasting later in the year to the NEWTS, prompting me to take a few snaps on my phone for research back home. After some digging it looks like most of it is past its best, except for one 1998 from the Médoc which I bought but won’t mention by name (in case any NEWTS read this ahead of the tasting) – suffice to say it looks like it should be a classic example of a mature Bordeaux, albeit at a higher price than you can find through on-line specialist suppliers.

Although the Bordeaux was the reason I went back to Makro this weekend I found that a new batch of wine had appeared, even though it was just under a month from the first visit. I grabbed the bottles I was after and took a few more photos of the rest to look up when I got home. So for those of you who have a Makro membership card (or can blag a visit with a friend who does) here is my summary of what’s on the shelves right now worth thinking about (prices including VAT);

  • Susana Balbo Torrontés 2008, Salta, Argentina. £3. There’s still a couple of bottles hidden behind the 2006 (give them a miss) but the ’08 I opened recently was fresh with similarities to a dry Alsace Gewürztraminer, a bargain!
  • Yalumba The Signature 2000, Barossa, South Australia. £20.53. Internet searching suggests you’d pay on average £25 elsewhere, although the wine is probably past its peak with the producer suggesting an 8-10 year drinking window.
  • Yalumba The Signature 2002, Barossa, South Australia. £20.53.  £25-30 elsewhere and likely just at its peak (also rated highly on CellarTracker).
  • Yalumba The Menzies 1998 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia. £19.32. £25 elsewhere and  Yalumba claim “Medium to Long Term” cellaring so this could be worth a punt.
  • Yalumba Mawson’s 1999 Limestone Coast Cab-Shiraz-Merlot, South Australia. £9.26. Possibly the dud in this list with a comparative price difficult to confirm (possibly lower) and likely to be 5 years past its best – but you never know.
  • Concha y Toro Don Melchor 1997 Maipo Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile. £21.67. £28 elsewhere and likely at its peak for the next few years. Jancis Robinson scored this 17/20 and said drink from 2011 to 2019.
  • Guigal Hermitage Blanc 2003, Rhône, France, £12. £21 elsewhere and scored by Robert Parker at 94 points, saying it “should age effortlessly for 20 or more years”.
  • Prinz von Hessen 2005 Johannisberger Klaus Riesling Auslese, Rheingau, Germany. £15. £30+ elsewhere this is a wine built for the long-term and should be entering a good place now and for many more years.
  • Zagara 2004 Passito de Pantelleria, Sicilia, Italy. £11.10 (half bottle). Previously on sale in Makro for £16+ and a hard to find dessert wine I’ve tried (and enjoyed) before.

Personally I’m looking to make another trip back to Makro in the next few weeks to get multiple bottles of the Guigal Hermitage Blanc and the Prinz von Hessen Auslese – there were quite a few bottles left of each and they look to be excellent wines at half the price you’d expect to pay from other retailers, assuming you’d even find somewhere stocking these relatively old (= mature) vintages. If there’s still any left when I go in then I’ll know no local Makro cardholders read this blog!


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One Response to Wine Buying in the North East – Makro

  1. Karl Laczko says:

    Well, after almost 2 months, I finally made in back in store. Sadly all of the Prinz von Hessen Auslese had gone, but the Hermitage Blanc was still there, this time for £9 a bottlle, so I got 3! The ’03 Côte-Rôtie was also back, but this time at a more understandable price of £15 (I still bought 2!).

    They’d cleaned up the wine racks a little, but there’s always something to take a gamble on.

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