When the business you work for loses £6.4bn in a year, all expansion plans are put on ice and senior executives suspended, it must be quite difficult to keep your mind on the job you are meant to be doing. But despite recent head office shake-ups, the wine department at Tesco is continuing to push forward, developing new lines and ensuring the smooth transition of new vintages onto the shelves.
Reports that the range will be dramatically cut seem to have been exaggerated. “We will be looking at the whole range in time, and removing duplications, but this is part of our on-going programme,” said wine product development manager Graham Nash. “If there are two similar wines that have been in the range for a long time, then we might weed one of them out, but we have some great new additions to replace them. We are also planning to put more facings of our customers’ favourite wines on display so that they are easier to find and don’t run out on a busy Saturday afternoon.’
I missed the main Tesco tasting because I was enjoying South African sunshine with Fiendish Quiz winner Liz Szwarc, but they were kind enough put on a special tasting of edited highlights, so last week I tasted through around 80 wines, to check on progress. One part of the range that did stand out was the sub-£5 sector which showed a lot more flavour and value for money than I have seen in quite a while. There were also some good additions to the Finest range which has become one of the most reliable and best-value parts of the Tesco selection. Here are my five favourite sub-£5 wines, with another five from the Finest range.
• Tesco Côtes de Gascogne Blanc 2014, France, £4.69: Made from Colombard and Ugni Blanc, which rarely cause much excitement for the taste buds, this wine still manages to generate fresh-as-a-daisy, lively citrus flavours with enough texture and finish to be a worthwhile welcome home drink at the end of the day.
• Simply Soave NV, Italy, £4.79: Considering half of the price goes to whoever is Chancellor by the time you’re reading this, a sub-£5 Soave is a real bargain. It has all the right lemon-edged, honeysuckle and almond notes to accompany a classic Italian dish such as spaghetti alle vongole.
• La Nonna Rioja Joven 2013, Spain, £4.29: This was my stand-out wine from the tasting for sheer value. Bright with simple, straightforward juicy, raspberry and cherry fruit, it is an ideal quaffing wine to enjoy while waiting for a pizza or lasagne to bake. More of a Wednesday-night wine, for the weekend you could trade up to its bigger brother, the deeper, creamier, much more serious La Nonna Crianza 2010 which is a bargain at £4.99.
• Simply Bulgarian Merlot NV, £4.20: The Simply range is exactly that – hitting the right amount of fruit, flavour and regional style, without bothering too much about complexity and finesse, but frankly, that is just what is needed for mid-week drinking. This one musters rounded, cassis fruit with just an edge of sweetness that really won’t show against food.
• La Folie Douce Pinot Noir 2013, France, £4.99: There are not many places in France where you can source a sub-£5 Pinot, but this one manages some clear cherry and strawberry fruit, and while it doesn’t hang about on the palate for very long there is enough grape character to be well worth its price.
• Tesco Finest Pecorino 2013, Abruzzo, Italy, £7.99: There are two sorts of Pecorino, and both are linked to sheep. One is a ewe’s milk cheese and the other is a grape, apparently named because sheep would eat it when ripe. This Pecorino wine has bright citrus fruit, touches of pineapple and a delicious rounded finish and at this price it is terrific.
• Tesco Finest Swartland Pinotage 2014, South Africa, £6.99: There are some people who recoil at the mention of Pinotage, but that is because they remember the old-style Pinotage that tasted like a newly creosoted fence. All those bad flavours have gone and now Pinotage has chunky, dark plum, spice and chocolate notes. It is a perfect wine to accompany sausages straight from the barbecue.
• Tesco Finest El Recurso Block 18 Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Chile, £14.99: It takes a special occasion to spend £15 on a bottle of wine, but make sure your special occasion is soon, because the grapes for this wine come from just a single plot in Maipo, Chile, so it will probably disappear from the shelves quite soon. This has intense, powerful chewy cassis and mulberry fruit, layers of supple tannins and a lovely, slightly grippy finish. Buy at least two bottles now, one to drink and the other to keep until next winter when the grippiness will have softened a little and the flavours expanded.
• Tesco Finest Barolo 2011, Ascheri, Piedmont, Italy, £14.99: With truffles and violets on the nose, balsamic and raspberry-edged fruit on the palate and a grippy, yet silky tannic finish, this is a terrific Barolo. If you haven’t tried one for years because the last one was old and dried out, then head for this wine – styles have changed for the better. Matteo is a terrific winemaker, using lower yields and careful ageing to get the best traditional characters in his wines. Team this with a mushroom risotto, calves’ liver or fillet steak.
• Tesco Finest Amarone 2012, Italy £29.99: Made by Allegrini, one of the top Valpolicella producers in the Veneto, the grapes for this wine are picked and then laid out on trays in a special warehouse where they are allowed to dry out, concentrating the flavours. When sufficiently shrivelled they are slowly fermented and the wine aged in cask for at least two years. The result is a wine with a blend of cherries, figs, chocolate and balsamic notes. Try it with duck or a rich braised beef casserole.