My desire to be even-handed in seeking value wines from a variety of sources found me blinking at the 40+ metres of wine-laden shelves in my nearest Tesco Extra. I actually like food shopping at Tesco for that wide-aisled, 10 varieties of cornflakes feeling. But their selection of wine was truly mind-boggling. My criteria was under £7 and no obvious Tesco labelling.
Marqués de Caranó, Gran Selección White 2011, Spain. £6.99 reduced to £4.
Having enjoyed sipping my way through some exquisite wines in sunny Spain last week, I was immediately drawn to the Spanish wines. This Macabeo-Chardonnay blend is attractively packaged with a wire wrap over the bottle. On the nose, it was bland and insipid, reminiscent of wet paper. It tasted just as bland, with notes of kitchen cleaner and tongue depressors. As far removed from tasting of grapes as is possible for wine, even apple juice has more character and finish. With no redeeming qualities aside from the packaging, I would not even use it for cooking. Taste 0/10, value 0/10.
On the basis of that dire tasting, I couldn’t bring myself to open the Marqués de Caranó Rosé, also £6.99 reduced to £4.
A bit of internet sleuthing revealed that Marqués de Caranó is made exclusively for Tesco by one of North East Spain’s largest wineries, Grandes Vinos Y Vinedos. They specialise in value wines, and have won prizes for packaging and label design. Personally, I’d rather drink good wine than look at a pretty bottle. Nuff said.
McGuigan Bin 218 Chardonnay-Viognier 2011, Was £10.99, on sale for £5.49
I have been a fan of McGuigan wines for years, so this blend was an easy pick, especially at half price. Appealingly golden in colour, the nose is floral with pineapple and melon. It is dry on tasting, but fruity and balanced. Easy and uncomplicated to drink. I like Viognier with Thai and Indian food because the varietal is fruity and off-dry enough to balance the spicy food. In this blend, the Viognier is subtle enough to work with most any cuisine and to bridge the gap of taste preferences in a crowd. Taste 7/10, value at half price 10/10.
McGuigan Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011. Was £9.99, now £6.99
Deep ruby colour, the nose has blackcurrant, black cherries and liquorice notes. In the mouth, it is smooth with blackberry jam, chocolate and earthy forest fruits. It has enough spiciness to give it some complexity. Better than plonk, this is a very solid choice for an all-purpose red wine. At the discounted price, it is excellent value. Note that if you choose wines based on the prize stickers on the label, bring your reading glasses. The IWSC awards are for Winemaker of the Year and Producer of the Year, not for the specific wine in the bottle. Taste 8/10, value on sale 9/10.
Why I’m not a big fan of supermarket-branded wine…
Over the years, the major supermarkets have gradually displaced wines made by vintners for their own-branded wines. They claim to offer value to customers and some have even deservedly won prizes. But the rationale for supermarkets to offer own-branded wine is more cynical. They use their considerable purchasing power to squeeze producers down on price, and encourage loyalty to their store by selling wines that are not available anywhere else. Value-priced wine is often the hook to get new customers through the door who will leave with more than just wine. Supermarkets are free to change suppliers without telling consumers, so the Pinot Grigio you bought last month might taste completely different today. Wineries can dump unwanted vats of wine into their supermarket contracts or be squeezed too tightly on price to supply a consistent quality product. Whenever you buy store-brand wine, it is a lucky-dip. My own pet peeve is to see the cheesy store logo and catchphrase on the packaging, like I can’t “Taste the Difference” or know the “Finest” for myself. You can take the plums out of the punnet, but who decants swill?