Two types of wine drinker irritate me beyond measure.
One is the snooty “any wine under £20 is rubbish” contingent.
Equally annoying are those with the mirror image view – “any wine over £20 is a snobby rip off”.
Assuming that you, gentle reader, fall in neither category, let’s try to make practical sense of the wine price hierarchy.
A number of basic factors impact on costs (and, hence, selling prices).
These include land prices, attracting and retaining the best winemakers, investing in the top level equipment needed and ensuring that you produce, or buy in, the best fruit from the best vineyards.
The results will vary as a consequence.
In addition to the advantages the best fruit bring, more expensive wines are often thought to have more texture, complexity, better balance and longevity (both in bottle and once opened).
To look at this in more detail, shall we consider some examples?
After we have done so, feast your eyes on a new feature that should offer a different sort of help to wine drinkers anxious to stay within budget.
Details of specific wines being discussed are accompanied, in most cases, by images and hyperlinks to help you to find them in crowded displays.
Our first wine
The sharpest differences came when I compared two merlots (one Australian and the other from Chile) costing £6.50 and £10 respectively.
First up was the widely available 2021 McGuigan Black Label Merlot (£6.50 at Morrisons and 12.5% abv) from the massive South Eastern Australia geographic area.
Light in colour and medium bodied, this brings us soft cherry, raspberry and red currant flavours supported by lively acidity (but minimal tannin) along with vanilla, toffee and baking spice hints.
And the comparison
The more expensive option involved merlot in its darker and fuller form and from a widely respected producer.
2020 Montes Single Vineyard Merlot (from £9.99 at some Majestic stores but sold out online and 14.5%) uses grapes grown in what is actually a carmenere stronghold – Chile’s Colchagua Valley.
Blacker in colour and textured, the wine’s flavours are of darker fruits too (blackberry, damson and elderberry here) as well as chocolate, sage and cedar components, but with firmer tannin – although its acidity seems more restrained.
If you want a lightish, uncomplicated red with soft fruit flavours that fits the overused “crowd pleaser” expression, then the McGuigan is a good choice.
However, if the moment demands something more textured, darker and with extra alcoholic oomph, then be prepared to stump up another £3.50 for the Chilean example, or something like it.
And for a white
Perhaps because both examples are from the same country, the differences here were not so marked yet still clearly in evidence.
First, I tried a wine available in 100% recycled plastic flat bottles of a shape (and, apparently, robust enough) to go through letterboxes.
I refer to Riverland’s 2021 Banrock Station Chardonnay (currently £6 for Tesco Clubcard holders and 13%) but some examples may not be in flat bottles.
Medium bodied but with deep yellow colours, this features smooth pear, melon and pineapple flavours partnered by measured lemon-based acidity with saline and pie crust elements.
And its compatriot
I chose here a classy example from a respected producer using fruit from Margaret River, some way west of the previous wine’s home – 2020 Robert Oatley Signature Series Chardonnay (£11.50 at the Co-op and 12.5%).
Paler (more like white gold) in colour but still medium bodied, it offers us apple, greengage and gentle peach flavours embellished by sharp grapefruit acidity.
Subtle oak contributions also come into play here introducing a suspicion of vanilla, caramel and buttered toast to add complexity and depth.
Major differences here include the greater depth and particularly diverse flavour range of the more expensive option and its increased oak influences – although they are always proportionate.
So, if you cherish the skilful use of oak and the smoothness and extra flavour range it brings, the Bob Oatley one is for you.
If, however, straightforward, smooth white wine with conventional flavours is your quarry, then the £6 offering should suit you nicely.
But then there are exceptions.
During this comparison exercise, I assessed a well-crafted but inexpensive Spanish garnacha with a dearer Australian grenache.
They are the same grape of course but Australia is very much the “source of the moment” for the variety.
Perhaps I was unlucky (with wine, vintage or a rogue bottle) so I shall not identify the Aussie one, but 2019 Best Marques De Los Rios Garnacha (£6.50 – instead of £7.50 until 16 April – at Morrisons and 14%) actually outperformed it.
So, here are details of that wine, which had as its main drawback the high alcohol level – and the noticeable “after burn” that created.
Otherwise, the wine (from Spain’s Navarra region) is aromatic with real depth and delivers bright cherry, loganberry and plum flavours.
These are combined here with modest tannin and the firm orange acidity that grenache can provide, but also with additional black pepper, mocha and mint influences.
The overall verdict
On the balance of probabilities, if you spend £10 instead of £6 you most likely get more complex wine with better balance, complexity and flavour ranges.
It is then for you to decide how important those properties are for the relevant occasion, mood and company.
That garnacha reminds us though that the rule is not infallible and, once you have a price point in mind, it is still wise to seek input from a source you trust.
That can be one of the UK’s excellent independent wine merchants or one of the newspaper or online wine commentators which I am immodest enough to number myself amongst.
Now for the New Service
Feedback from subscribers suggested that last year’s comprehensive features on supermarket promotions did not “add much value” for them.
One aspect that was considered helpful though was the alerts about those short-term “25% on when you buy 6” promotions.
In addition, a week or two back, I suggested using exactly those promotions as part of everyday wine drinkers’ push-back against rising prices.
So, I have sought help from MidWeeker Eddie, whom regular readers of the comments section know, keeps an especially watchful eye on those promotions.
Once he gets wind that something stirs among the big five (Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrisons and Waitrose), he will pen a suitable alert from “Eddie the Eagle…eyed” for the next regular MidWeek Wines post.
Special thanks go to Eddie for agreeing to provide that input.
Starting the Ball Rolling
Let’s begin with one from me though because Waitrose have told me something relevant.
Until Tuesday 14 March, they are offering 25% off all wine and Champagne priced £5 and over, when you purchase any six or more bottles.
They remind us that this does not apply to branches in Scotland, Wales and Jersey or to motorway service stations, Welcome Break petrol stations or via Deliveroo.
However, do check the “legals” yourself before hitting the check-outs.
My next post (on Monday) continues the run of terrific recommendations of Top Tips that form part of my weekly feature of the same name.
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