Supermarket own-label wines often deliver the right flavours and price, says Christine Austin.
Some of the best value and reliable selections of wines on the shelves are the supermarket own-label brands. Whether it is Tesco Finest, Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference or Asda’s Extra Special, these wines provide supermarket buyers with the chance to find exclusive wines that deliver the right flavours and can be sourced, bottled and shipped into stores at the right price. They are often priced with a little padding so they can be reduced in the usual merry-go-round of offers and that is when they should be bought and tucked away under the stairs, providing a stock of wines to bring out when needed.
Leaving Marks & Spencer aside, where the range is wholly own-label, I have found the Tesco Finest selection to be one of the most consistent of the supermarket own-labels. These are wines that I taste vintage after vintage and they seamlessly move forward, maintaining quality and offering flavour for money, even at full price.
Among the whites, Tesco Finest Saint Mont 2012 is a refreshing, lively wine that makes a terrific aperitif. Historic varieties Gros Manseng, Petit Courbu and Arrufiac from the Gascony region of South West France create this crunchy, citrus-charged, zesty wine which can perk up a work-weary palate at the end of the day. The regular price of this wine is £6.99 but it occasionally goes down by £1 or so.
Also lively and full of crunchy fruit is Tesco Finest Picpoul de Pinet 2013 (£7.99 usual price down to £5.99 until May 20). The name of the grape is Picpoul which translates as ‘lipsmacker’ on account of its high acidity, although modern winemaking techniques means that it is fresh and zesty rather than painfully acidic. This is the wine you should drink with anything fishy, so grilled sardines, prawns or mussels are the perfect accompaniment.
Staying in the South of France, Tesco Finest Limoux Chardonnay 2011 (£8.49) is well worth looking out for even if you have resolved never to buy Chardonnay again. This is a fresh, clean style of Chardonnay and while it has some oak it is so subtle, under the white peachy fruit and creamy, food-friendly texture that it sits alongside food extremely well. Try it with a herb and lemon-zesty roast chicken, or poached salmon.
Other still whites in this range that I have enjoyed include Tesco Finest Fiano, Sicily, 2013 (£7.99), for its peachy-pineapple flavours with an exotic spicy twist while Tesco Finest Albariño 2012, Spain (£7.49) is a classic, sourced from one of the best producers in the region. Its gentle, apricot-edged flavours and crisp, citrus finish make this a wine to pour with creamy fish dishes.
Champagne is often worth buying when the offers are on and Tesco Finest Premier Cru Champagne is not just good, but prize-winning too. Made by one of the largest co-operatives in the region, Union Champagne, they have access to some of the best vines in the region and this is a creamy, toasty fizz that would be perfect for a summer wedding. Tesco Premier Cru Champagne is currently on offer at £17.99, down from £19.99 until May 20, although occasionally it goes down even further in price. I’ll keep you posted.
Among the reds I find there is a real depth of flavour in Tesco Finest Teroldego 2012, Italy (£7.99). I fell in love with this grape decades ago when I used to visit the mountainous region of Trentino in northeast Italy on a regular basis. The Teroldego grape variety is almost limited to a few valleys in that region although California has started to plant a little and with good ripeness the wine develops dark blueberry fruit with bitter cherries and soft, gluggable tannins. It is happy at room temperature with grilled red meats, but in hot weather it can even stand an hour in the fridge.
I know from many readers that there is a strong following for the Viña Mara range of Riojas, especially the Reserva 2009 (currently on offer at £8.49 until May 20) and Gran Reserva 2007 (currently £11.49). Both wines are sourced from Baron de Ley and they manage to keep the ripe Tempranillo fruit in perfect harmony with the oak. I actually think that the Reserva has a touch more bright fruit and lively flavours although for a serious dinner party with lamb on the menu then the Gran Reserva shines through.
At the other end of the price scale, Tesco has come out with a range of wines labelled ‘Simply’ which do exactly what they say on the bottle at great value prices. Simply Garnacha (£4.79) from Campo de Borja in Spain is packed full of exuberant uncomplicated, juicy, bramble fruit that anyone would be happy to drink at a summer gathering. Simply Pinotage from South Africa (£4.49) musters blackberry and redcurrant fruit with just a touch of savoury spice without the thud of tar and tannin that often accompanies this grape.
Simply Prosecco (£6.99) is a no-brainer if you are entertaining. It may not have quite the delicate balance of floral fruit that more expensive versions have but it does have bags of frothy, sherbet-lemon flavours with enough character to be worth drinking all afternoon. If its simple style palls then use it as a base for fruit juice spritzers.
For sheer value Simply Chenin Blanc is terrific with clean, fresh, green apple fruit and a citrus finish.
This is a range that can be light on its feet, taking advantage of excess production in some vintages and disappearing from the shelves if yields are low. All the ones I have tasted have been bottled at source which may add a few pence to distribution costs but it does keep some of the top notes of flavour intact.
Don’t look for a vintage on these wines, they are quite often non-vintage, probably because a splash of older wine in a blend can add a touch more flavour and depth.