We’re lucky enough to live close enough to the Channel Tunnel, that it’s possible to do a quick dash to France over a weekend to stock up. Although the strength of the Euro against the pound doesn’t make it quite as attractive from a cost perspective as it was a couple of years ago, there are still numerous things we can’t easily (or cheaply) get here that make the trip worthwhile: Bonne Maman baba au rhum, big jars of cornichons, tins of cassoulet, slabs of comté cheese etc. And where in the UK can you buy globe artichokes for the equivalent of £1? Last time I looked, it was closer to £3. Our friends, K+L, have recently returned from a couple of years living abroad so we were more than happy to accompany them to northern France last weekend to help stock their cellar. We spent a very pleasant couple of days in Montreuil-sur-mer, enjoying great food and sipping Kir Royals in the sunshine. Our usual port of call for food in France is the Auchan chain – historically much better and less touristy than Carrefour, at least in Calais. However, the wine selection this time was strangely poor. Okay, the strong Euro didn’t help but, although most French regions were represented, choice seemed to be seriously limited. Last year, we bought wine at Auchan in Blois and were disappointed with almost every bottle. At the time we thought it was a one off, but perhaps it wasn’t. Having all had limited success, K+L suggested trying the branch of Majestic just down the road from Auchan. To me it initially seemed a bit of an anathema, going all the way to France only to buy wine from Majestic, but I have to concede that the offers were incredible. Yes, there was a limited choice, compared with our local branch, but as a source of ‘Monday night wine’ it was brilliant. We picked up half a case of The Ned Sauvignon Blanc 2009, which normally retails for around £9 in Waitrose, for the equivalent of about £4. Although not quite so good, their champagne offers were also great value: Pol Roger NV Brut for around £22. Not so long ago, the word was that Majestic’s French business was struggling. At the time a spokesman described how ”The romance has gone out of travelling to the continent for a day trip’ partly because of the strong Euro, but also because ‘so many French products were now as easily available in UK supermarkets as in France.’ (Not sure I agree with the latter, certainly from a food perspective). It’s difficult to see how Majestic can be making a profit in France, given those offers: the Ned Sauvignon, is almost certainly being sold at or very close to cost, for example. But are the days of the ‘booze cruise’ really dead? Is that why Auchan’s selection seems to have declined? And more importantly, to me at any rate, where do the French buy their wine, if not at the supermarket?

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