Supermarket own brands used to be the “grey goo” of wine. There has been significant improvement in recent years but they are still to be bought randomly only by the wreckless and the feckless (i.e. those who don’t give a feck). The job of finding what I estimate to be the 15-20% of genuinely good wines has been made somewhat easier by the introduction of premium ranges by most chains – upping the hit rate to maybe 25-33%.
Finding the, what?, maybe 3-5% of real stonkers – regardless of range, and often produced by leading winemakers – is not so easy. BUT, at the tastings that the supermarkets organise for the wine hacks they stick out like … well, like very sticky-outy things indeed and these same few dozen wines feature regularly in the columns of the national press writers. A quick scan of who’s writing about what and, yes, jotting down a few notes, is well worth the little effort required.
The general concensus seems to be that Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference (TTD) is the best of the supermarket own-brand ranges at the moment. In no order at all, these are some the best at the lower end of the price-range: Verdicchio, Brachetto d’Acqui, Douro, Casablanca Sauvignon Blanc, Gavi, Crozes Hermitage, Languedoc White, Curico Merlot, Moscatel, Chilean Rosé, Rosé Côtes-de-Provençe, Trentino Pinot Grigio, Grüner Veltliner, Beaujolais-Villages (made by Duboeuf) and Côtes-du-Rhône Villages (made by Chapoutier. See? I’m not joking about top producers).
Tesco’s large (too large) Finest* range (and what that f**king “*” is for, I’ve never understood) is a mixed bag, but with some very good stuff at the (generally) lower end, like Vinho Verde, Autumn Riesling, Alsace Riesling, Steillage Riesling, Picpoul de Pinet, Gavi, Palomino, Rueda, Fiano, Grüner Veltliner, Grenache-Marsanne, Tapiwey Sauvignon Blanc, Australian Dessert Semillon, Muscadet, Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc, Malbec Rosé, Côtes Catalanes, Dão, Douro, Touriga Nacional, 10 Year-Old Tawny Port, Nero d’Avola and Teroldego. Sounds like a lot, but there are over 100 in the range. Lower down, among the regular stuff, South African Chenin Blanc, Reserve Australian Shiraz, Sicilian Red, Simply Muscadet, Soave Classico, Verdicchio Classico and Reserve Australian Riesling/Gewurztraminer shine.
Morrisons gets plenty of stick from the wine hacks, but there are good things to be had, among them Cotes du Rhone La Calade (a standout cheapie), Moscatel de Valencia, Italian Pinot Grigio, “Italian” Chianti (as if ..!), Australian Chardonnay, Merlot delle Venezie, Corbieres and (on and off) stonking Barolo (from Araldica) for under a tenner.
For real cheapies, Asda have a handful of the (few) really good ones: Marsanne Pays d’Oc is worth going to Asda for, and their Beaujolais, South African Chenin Blanc and Australian Chardonnay are good. Pickings are slim among the own brands at the Co-op, but some of the better own-label stuff is from their large range of Fairtrade wines, especially the Argentinian Malbec and, of the unfair trade offerings, the Argentinian Cuyo Cabernet Franc and the Chablis’ are none too shabby
Marks and Spencer have a quite small range of good own-label stuff (try Fitou, Spanish Garnacha Shiraz, Ardèche Gamay, Minervois, Orvieto, Chilean White, Touraine Sauvignon and Sparkling Rosé Zinfandel – yes, really!).
Ironically (or annoyingly, depending on how you look at it) Waitrose – by a country mile the best of the supermarkets as far as wine, or for that matter, food is concerned – have one of the smallest ranges of own brands (but, usefully, they often name the – usually top-class – producers and they’re pretty good across the board). But, like M&S, they concentrate their best efforts on the artful (if somewhat crafty) business of “private brands” and we’ll look at those next time.