Tesco’s best wines: Jancis Robinson’s recommendations
One of the many pleasures of being the wine correspondent for the Financial Times is that, since it is a global publication, detailed knowledge of the wine range of every UK supermarket is not essential.
There was a time towards the end of the last century when the wine departments of Sainsbury’s, Tesco etc. pulled out all the stops to have the best range and use wine as a lure to lure customers into the store. With the exception of Waitrose and M&S, whose wine buyers seem to have tried harder than others, much of the wine on offer in UK supermarkets has recently been relatively lackluster. Their stock appears to be dominated by the need to shave pennies off the selling price, unhelped by successive, stealthy increases in duties.
The arrival of discounters Aldi and Lidl in the UK has provided much needed stimulation in the form of special limited batches of wine at attractive prices, but these are not always easy to find.
I tend to see many wines before they hit commercial circulation, and recently discovered that several of the real bargains that have come my way are on their way to Tesco. I had also heard from fellow Master of Wine Andy Howard, once a wine buyer for M&S and now an unbiased reviewer of UK supermarket ranges for my website, that Tesco’s range of wines was up for grabs.
Tesco’s dominance in the UK is such that the company sells one in four bottles of wine sold here, one in six for Sainsbury’s. These large supermarkets excel in sourcing their cheaper wines, which are then purchased in such large volumes that they can persuade their suppliers to cut their margins to a minimum. Once you move up their ranges, the prices are rarely much lower than what some independent retailers can offer and may even be higher (see sidebar).
There is also the convenience factor of shopping in a supermarket, especially if you have a car. But no matter how hard some retailers try to train their staff, there’s rarely anything like the personalized service a small specialty retailer can provide, whether in-store or over the phone.
So at the end of last month I went to Tesco’s latest wine tasting for the media to see for myself – and was quite impressed. Perhaps due to the cost of living crisis, seven of the 68 new Tesco wines included in the total of 143 presented for tasting were priced at less than £4 a bottle, a figure that leaves ridiculously little for cash himself and scares. for the financial health of suppliers. Four of these wines carried the Lateral brand and came from the same Chilean supplier, Ranco Wines.
The £3.89 2021 Sauvignon Blanc, containing the legal maximum of another varietal, 15% of the much cheaper Pedro Ximinez, is probably the best value, but my tasting note isn’t exactly enthusiastic: “A faint smell of Sauvignon Blanc on the nose. Good clean fruit although it tastes like it has a little water in it. It’s not really intense! But you can see some Sauvignon character in it if you are determined. . . The finish is a bit industrial. The Cabernet Sauvignon at the same price, plumped up by 4.5g/l of residual sugar and in contact with a few oak staves, reminded me of a confectionery from my childhood called Rhubarb Rock.
With our global readership in mind, I should probably focus my comments on wines that are not Tesco specific. International distribution wines that I marked GV for “good value” included two from Boekenhoutskloof’s Porcupine Ridge range, a Cinsault from the innovative Ken Forrester and a solid Cabernet Sauvignon from Journey’s End. South African wine is generally underpriced and Tesco seems to have gotten good prices from these suppliers.
Another wine that I thought was great value in context – although at £15 it costs a lot more – is the 2018 Estancia Chardonnay Monterey, which is due to hit Tesco shelves earlier this month. next. I really appreciated the basic information from the supermarket on each wine, including the residual sugar. At 6.1g/l it was high in this wine, but Monterey winds are such that the grapes have to struggle to ripen and are usually high to counteract the acidity. This wine combines a lime flavor with some pungent smoke and is very different from the popcorn style found in many California chardonnays. It’s pretty easy to find this easily overlooked bargain in the US for under $10. (Estancia was one of many brands Constellation sold to the even greater Gallo in 2019, so perhaps so much has changed since that wine was made.)
Another £15 wine that I marked GV was Te Pā Signature Series Pinot Noir 2020 from a family business in Marlborough, New Zealand. My tasting note: “Sufficient freshness and longevity with real purity of fruit. Quite a revelation. A little chewy at the end. No funky Burgundian or indication of terroir but a very well constituted modern Pinot. Not too sweet, although not a long distance runner.
Cap Royal 2019 Bordeaux Supérieur is another smartly sourced wine, an early accessible £10 red Bordeaux made by Jean-René Matignon, the former technical director of the outperforming second growth Pauillac Ch Pichon Baron. Obviously, the Merlot-dominant raw material will have nothing to do with Pauillac but it is easy to find in the United States, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and Japan. It won’t get any better and is fairly plain, but it provides more evidence of value than is found in an inexpensive Bordeaux.
I gave my highest rating to a wine that should be just as easy to find: Contino Reserva 2017 Rioja — a very fine wine from the CVNE estate in Rioja Alavesa where the wines are made by renowned winemaker Jorge Navascués. Yet while Tesco charges £25 a bottle, this perfectly judged wine is available, according to price comparison site Wine-searcher.com, at no less than three independent UK retailers for less than £20 a bottle. (Prices in the US start at $43.98 before taxes, showing how variable prices can be.)
I was only able to taste 41 of the 143 but based on that overall I would say the wine section of Tesco is again worth checking out.
The best of Tesco
Vidigal, Porta 6 White 2021 Lisbon 12.5%
£7.50 Tesco; €4.05 in Portugal; €6.95 in Germany
Boekenhoutskloof, Porcupine Ridge Chardonnay 2021 Western Cape 13.5%
£7.50 Tesco; €7.79 in Italy
González Byass, Tesco Finest Aged Fino Sherry 15%
£6 a Tesco half bottle
Vasse Felix, Sémillon/Sauvignon Blanc Classic 2021 Margaret River 12.5%
£12 Tesco; from AU$19.99 in Australia (vintage not specified)
Estancia Chardonnay 2018 Monterey 13.5%
£15 Tesco from June; less than $10 in the United States
Boekenhoutskloof, Porcupine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 Coastal Region 14.5%
£7.50 Tesco; €9.95 in Germany; €10.07 in Italy
Ken Forrester, The Misfits Cinsault 2021 Western Cape 12.5%
M Chapoutier 2020 Côtes du Rhône Villages 14.5%
Cap Royal 2019 Bordeaux Superior 13.5%
£10 Tesco; €6.99 in the Netherlands, €11.50 in France, from $11.99 in the United States, also in Sweden and Norway
Journey’s End, Sir Lowry Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 Coastal Region 13%
£11 Tesco, £10.99 Waitrose
Te Pā, Signature Series Pinot Noir 2020 Marlborough 13.5%
Contino, Reserve 2017 Rioja 14%
£25 Tesco, £18.95 Cheers of Wales, £18.99 From Burgh of Scotland, £19 Hic!, less than £20 from four other independents
Follow Jancis on Twitter @JancisRobinson
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