If you notice that a wine you bought a couple of weeks ago is suddenly 50p more expensive, you no doubt assume that all the other bottles have gone up, too. The real surprise, however, is that there is still a fair amount of value around, with prices not much higher than they were 12 months ago.
One reason for this is that the supermarkets are getting progressively more ingenious about their marketing. Tesco, for example, now seems to have near-permanent discounts for its Clubcard members, even in smaller stores; Co-op members also benefit from discounts. And the more affordable 20% off three bottles seems to have become more popular than 25% off six.
But how do they manage these lower prices, especially after Brexit? The supermarkets themselves are reluctant to talk about promotions, waffling on about being committed to offering value to their customers, but my suspicion that they treat wine as a loss-leader is borne out by wine consultant Angela Mount, former head buyer for Somerfield. “A wine promotion will often be funded from a central marketing pot for several departments,” she says, “but it’s a key footfall driver and pays for itself in sheer volume.”
So what do you have to spend nowadays to get a decent bottle? Although many supermarket wines have now hit the £9.99 mark, I can guarantee that, if you’re prepared to spend between £7 and £8 a bottle, you’ll still drink pretty well.
I’d say the three most important things you can do to keep your wine bill down are not to be sniffy about own-label, particularly the premium ranges such as Tesco’s Finest, Morrisons The Best and Asda’s Extra Special; buy brands only when they’re on offer; and stick to inexpensive sources such as South Africa, which is currently giving New Zealand a run for its money on sauvignon blanc – Chile and Portugal, especially for reds, Languedoc (cheaper for rosé than Provence), and cava, which offers the best value for sparkling wine; Italian wines, especially whites, are also almost invariably good value, too.
According to Mount, some of us are willing to pay more, even at discounters such as Aldi and Lidl. “They’ve been really successful in building credibility in the quality of their wines,” she says. “So if people see a barolo at £13.99, they assume it’s going to be good and are inclined to spoil themselves, especially at weekends. When restaurants reopened, there was a rush to eat out, but people forgot how expensive it is to go out, say, twice a week – and £13.99 a bottle in a restaurant would be cheap.”
Four of the best-value wine buys
Tesco Finest Soave Classico Superiore £7.50, 13%. You have to thank soave for being such an unfashionable wine for this brilliant price. A really elegant, Italian white that would be great with risotto, or chicken or pasta in a creamy sauce.
Villiera Sauvignon Blanc 2021 £8 (by the case) Marks & Spencer, 13%. New Zealand had a poor sauvignon harvest in 2021, so look to South Africa for savvy b bargains such as this deliciously crisp, citrussy example.
Morrisons The Best Barbera d’Asti 2018 £7.50, 14.5%. Warm, hearty barbera is a bit of a bargain, and great with robust pasta dishes or pulses.
Aldi Specially Selected Ribera del Duero 2019 £7.99, 13.5%. If you like rioja, you’ll love ribera del duero, a similarly mellow, oak-aged red from the north of Spain that cries out for a Sunday roast.
And one at under £7…
Asda Extra Special Fiano Terre Siciliane 2020 £6, 12.5%. Smooth, ripe, peachy, chardonnay-like white with a fresh, citrussy aftertaste. Ideal with a chicken caesar salad.