June 7, 2023

Are bargain wines really worth buying? | Fiona Beckett on drinks

on Feb 19, 2023

Show caption Marques del Norte ‘vintage’ cava, at £7, has ‘an attractive freshness that works well with any seafood’. Photograph: Ola O Smit/The Guardian. Food styling: Ellie Mulligan. Prop styling: Anna Wilkins.

Fiona Beckett on drinks

As retail prices soar, some retailers are trying to undercut the market by offering super-cheap bottles. Are they drinkable, or do you get only what you pay for?

With prices soaring across the board, last month’s news that Tesco has launched a range of wines at under £5 might seem welcome – but how good a wine can you really get for that kind of money?

The answer, I found, is not that great. After all, once you’ve factored in duty, tax, bottling, packaging and all other costs, there’s only about 20p of wine in a bottle costing less than £4, say. While none of them was actively undrinkable, there wasn’t much wine character in the two Casa Maña wines I tried (a red tempranillo and a rosé), made, incidentally, by Felix Solis, the outfit that produces Tesco’s own-label alcohol-free wines.

Several of the wines were bought in bulk, which from an environmental point of view is no bad thing, but rarely indicates high quality. The Lateral Cabernet Sauvignon 2021 (£3.89, 12.5%) from Chile was at least pleasantly blackcurranty, if untypically light for Chile; and if you’re a malbec fan, you might find the Firemark Malbec 2021 (£4.49, 13%) OK. (It does seem strange, though, that the back label recommends that it’s “great with juicy steaks and firepit-style BBQs” – if you could afford either of those, I’d have thought you could probably run to a better bottle of wine.) Oddly, it was the pinot grigio from Caparelli (see today’s pick) that turned out to be the best of the bunch: it’s an easygoing wine to swig with a selection of antipasti or a carbonara.

It’s also curious to see Tesco pushing wine at such prices just as the so-called discounters such as Aldi and Lidl are going upmarket – Aldi, for example, now has a Chinese cabernet sauvignon and a Greek pinot noir for £14.99, and a chateauneuf-du-pape and an amarone for £19.99. People apparently trust the store to deliver on these more expensive bottles, but if you’re spending that much, why not support an indie instead?

Asda also has some good deals. At £7, its Marques del Norte vintage cava (see today’s picks) is astonishingly good value, even if the term vintage is a touch misleading. It’s only from 2020, but that gives it an attractive freshness that would work well with any seafood. For the same price, you can get Bruce Jack’s ballsy pinotage malbec, which is a much better buy than the Tesco’s Firemark.

Finally, and slightly more expensive but really good value for an interesting wine, try the new Alicante Bouschet from Marks Spencer’s excellent “Found” range. True, it’s twice the price of the Lateral cabernet, but it’s easily three times as good.

Four cheap and cheerful budget wines

Caparelli Pinot Grigio delle Venezie 2021 £4.50 Tesco, 12%. Fresh, clean and citrussy. Better than a lot of cheap pinot grigio out there, and perfectly decent.

Marques del Norte Cava Brut 2020 £7 Asda, 11.5%. Pleasantly light and creamy. Perfect for fish and chips or a selection of tapas.

Bruce Jack Pinotage Malbec 2020 £7 Asda, Sainsbury’s, 14.5%. A hearty South African red – ideal for a barbecue.

MS Found Alicante Bouschet 2021 £8 Marks Spencer, 14%. Vivid, fruity red that tastes of dark cherries. Would be great with duck.

  • For more by Fiona Beckett, go to matchingfoodandwine.com












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