Sharron Livingston knows Calais' wine shops like the back of her hand. Here's her expert guide to the best

Sharron Livingston knows Calais’ wine shops like the back of her hand. Here’s her expert guide to the best

Only 26 miles of water separate the French port of Calais from the British bargain hunter. But beware: the uninitiated could all too easily find themselves lost in the latticework of Calais roads in a hopeless search for somewhere worthwhile to spend their euros.

Unlike any other French port, there are around 40 wine outlets at any one time in Calais, all of which work hard to attract a share of the British market. Everywhere you look, there are advertising billboards and colourful leaflets. Around half the
outlets come and go with the seasons – a tax-avoidance measure – or offer no service or ambience. In one extreme case there is just a product list on the wall to browse.

Others market to the coach trade by offering ‘incentives’ to drivers who bring hoards of excited Brits to their outlet to choose from enticingly named bottles such as Frog’s Piss, Fat Bastards and Old Tarts – great gimmicks but as dull as a dreary day in winter.

But some outlets are truly worth a visit. These won’t stock 50p bottles of plonk but instead offer good quality wine, at a good price. Worth crossing the Channel for.

You can expect to save between £1.50 and £2.50 on wine costing less then £10. This is because a bottle of wine starting life at say £1 has £1.62 UK duty and VAT added, plus another 17p for shipping. The same bottle of wine now costs £2.79 in the UK before allowing for retailer’s profit – usually around 30%. This rule is constant no matter the price of the wine. Therefore very expensive wines tend to be similar in price on both sides of the Channel.

But this calculation is nonsense when comparing the French and UK prices of Champagne, especially non-vintage, in the smaller outlets. You can expect immense savings of £5–10 a bottle. In fact, if you were to buy your entire customs-dictated allocation (60 litres or 80 x 75cl bottles) you could save enough to pay for an entire weekend away.

Branded wines are available everywhere in Calais, with the notable exception of wine outlet Eastenders – everyone’s heard of ex-barrow boy Dave West, haven’t they? – due to a dispute with Hardy’s, Penfolds and Lindemans. Savings on brands tend to be generous and many are perpetually ‘on offer’. Most outlets I visited had a special six-for-five offer on Wolf Blass Shiraz Grenache 2000, £4.48 (UK £5.99).

BEST FOR PARTY WINES AND THE FAMILIAR

Tesco is awash with special-offer banners. The day I visited, its advertising said that the price of two shopping trolleys in France equates to one in the UK – savings of up to 50%. Items such as Kendermanns Dry Riesling at £1.92 and Valpolicella Classico 2000 at £2.16 prove the point.

Amid the gloriously large range of French and New World wines (more than 1,000 products) there are stacks of special-offer beers and spirits, but a disappointing fine wine section.

Sainsbury’s stock is biased towards its Classic Selection range, but the shelves also offer other bargains such as Château La Vieille Cure, Fronsac 1998 – a chunky, gamey heavyweight, which at £7.99 offers a
saving of £6 on the UK price of £13.99.

BEST FOR RARE

Le Chais offers a fine range of claret, French wine and Champagne. One golden-hued gem is the delicious Champagne Louis Roederer Cristal 1995 – its price, £68 (UK price £80, saving £12). The fine wine
section has bottles such as Pétrus 1983, on offer at £360. The range is also heavily loaded with great wines from the Rhône from producers such as Paul Jaboulet, Chapoutier and Guigal, starting at £5.

BEST FOR FRENCH WINE (£3.50–30)

Perardel is on an industrial estate amid a gaggle of other warehouses, and offers an inspired range of French wines, including some from not-so-trendy areas. It has a highly commendable range of Chablis in all quality tiers, and some New World wines too. The Champagne range is pretty good (as you would expect from a company with a head office in Reims). It also sells cheap but tasty wine en vrac at the back of the shop.

Calais Vins is a newcomer to Calais. Barely four months old, its philosophy is: ‘A bad wine, even at t1, is still a bad wine, and we won’t stock it.’ The company has invested £10,000 on a temperature-
controlled wine dispenser so that clients can taste up to 50 wines before they buy. Some fine wines are generally included in the tasting selection, such as Gevrey-Chambertin and even a Margaux.

Bar A Vins is a small wine bar owned by Luc Gille, who is effervescent in his enthusiasm about his wine range. When asked to suggest some bargains he chose the aromatic, full-bodied, oaky Domaine Sol-Payne, Côtes du Roussillon 1999 at £5.14, and the fruity yet elegant Château de L’Escarelle Coteaux Varois 1999 at £3.60. He would have expanded on this but was stopped in full flow when his 10-year-old son flew into the bar to give him a kiss.

BEST FOR INTERNATIONAL WINES

Oddbins, nestled in a cosy outlet, always has an interesting range of international wines. One contender is Greece’s organic Sigalas Santorini Varelli 2000 at £5.83 (UK £7.99), made from Assyrtiko, with rich lemon and lime flavours and a honey
softness. It’s amazing how much of the world is represented in such a small outlet.

BEST FOR NON_VINTAGE CHAMPAGNE

A visit to either Auchan or Carrefour is imperative. There is something about the anonymity that comes with being one of hundreds of British trolley-pushers in thousands of square metres of floor space. Fill your trolley with beer, cheese, olive oil and mineral water. Savings can be up to 50% and sometimes more. Leave some space in the trolley for your favourite
tipple, as prices tend to be very keen.

BEST OUT OF TOWN

Mille Vignes, 90–94 rue Carnot, Wimereux.
Pick up the D940 at Blériot Plage in Calais.
Owned by an Englishman and managed by an ex-Oddbins employee, this corner wine outlet offers a range of great French wines. One fine example is Domaine du Colombier, Crozes Hermitage 2000, £6.50.

Les Halles de Quercamps, 15 rue Fiefs, Quercamps. Take 1st exit off A26 motorway.
Partying French wine lovers should consider shopping here for their French wines. There is a dizzying array of 1,200 French wines on offer and what’s more they are often happy to let you try before you buy.

WHERE TO SHOP IN A HURRY

Cité Europe because:

1. It is next door to Eurotunnel.

2. It is home to a clutch of wine outlets: Carrefour, Tesco, Oddbins and Le Chais.

3. It has a restaurant area for all tastes.

4. There is a selection of fashion and gift outlets ideal for Christmas shopping.

Sharron Livingston is the author of the Channel Hopper’s Guide (Calais, Boulogne, Dunkirk and Le Touquet), Passport Guide Publications, £5.99 (new edition, Dec 2002).

Written by SHARRON LIVINGSTON