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This week is the final part of my year review roundup, with the sub-£10 category. Sub-£10 is a really hard category to get right. At this price point, margins are really tight for all involved, which means volumes need to be higher.
The big supermarkets, who dominate in this bracket, typically buy from makers who produce hundreds of thousands of bottles a year. The exception here is Lidl and Aldi, who I’ve been told will buy from producers are far smaller scale, and have a wider range of producers they buy from.
Why is this important? I explain in Learn below.
I’ve been on holiday for the last week celebrating a friend’s 30th birthday. So I’ve tasted a few different wines from supermarkets, as well as a Cockburns 1963, which we opened after dinner on the first night of our trip. Most of the fruit had fallen away here, but there was still a glass of wonderful Christmas spices, a real peppery hit of warmth, and some elegant reminders of oak ageing as well. A real, real treat and delight to open.
I tasted Tesco’s Picpoul de Pinet (£7.50) at a friends’ and really enjoyed it. It held a lovely texture in the mouth that having just had some high acid whites beforehand was quite nice to find some balance. Pears and a floral hint on the nose/palate made it a great quaffer.
This week, I tried the Sicilian Ciello Blanco, another cataratto, available from Farmdrop for £9.99. The savouriness was here again, and then behind it a selection of flavours I rarely recognise in wine but that amaze me. This is insanely good value. Cataratto is now becoming a staple favourite white grape. April 2019 Update: Of all the wines I tried last year, Ciello Blanco became our house wine last summer. It’s under a tenner and works as an aperitif, with dinner, in the park or just watching a film. It’s also stocked in a few of the Canton Arms/Hope & Anchor chains in London for about £20 a bottle there. Buy it if you see it.
Great value is to be found with Lidl's Macon-Villages (£6.99). Great value for me is about finding wine with good balance to them. This white Burgundy is gentle, with warming stone fruits and a little bit of citrus. It’s balanced and great as an aperitif white as well as with food. It lacks complexity or length on the finish but at this price, it’ll be hard to find better.
Bodegas Nodus is an organic Valencian producer. The award-winning Chaval (£10.99*) is made from a red grape I’d not drank before called bobal. This is all about red fruit and savoury notes but importantly, nicely balanced.
Old Hands (£9.50), a monastrell (Spanish name for the French mourvèdre) is from Jumilla in Murcia. I’ve stayed not far from here on holiday before but never found red wine this good: herby and spicy without overbearing and overripe sweetness.
Roan Ranger, from Darling, South Africa, is made up of cinsault, grenache, and mourvèdre, which are three of the most common grapes in the Rhône (think the infamous Châteauneuf-du-Pape). I find most low-price Rhône wines to not be that balanced meaning the dryness or acidity could overpower everything else. Roan Ranger on the other hand, really shows off those fruits and spices. If you like Rhônes reds, get some of this: L&S have it for £10.50*.
Le Fou is French for the madman. This wine is so named because it’s a pinot grown in the Languedoc, one of the hotter regions in France. Pinot is a grape that prefers cool climates, ripens early and is thin-skinned. All recipes for disaster in dry and hot places like the south of France. And yet, Le Fou is a triumph. You can find it for £8.99 at Kwoff, or south Londoners can find it at Wild & Lees. I’d particularly recommend this for anyone who prefers wines to be bigger and fuller bodied: this might introduce you to the breadth of pinot’s capabilities.
I had the Wine Route Cinsault Shiraz from Tesco this week (£7), which was delicious and a great primer for Autumn. On the nose there’s some meatiness and spice and a background of red fruits. It’s warm on the palate though the length of the finish suits its price point. That said, this is definitely one of the best supermarket reds I’ve had in a long time. If you’ve got a Tesco near you, pick up a bottle of this.
Puklavec & Friends’ Cabernet Sauvignion & Merlot (2017) is a real treat. I’m not usually a fan of lots of cheaper cab sav/merlot blends, as I find the balance is usually way off (paper dry or way too tannic). This wine is wonderfully balanced though. The tannins are smooth, the fruit is pronounced but not overripe and sickly sweet. A real delight at £8.79.
Opta Dão Tinto (£9 down from £13) is a great house red. Perfumed and spicy black fruits on the nose, this is rounded with a velvety texture on the palate.
I was put off trying Carta Rojo (£5.75 from Sainsbury’s). It’s from Jumilla in Spain but is dressed up to look like a Rioja. Imitation wines aren’t worth the bottles they sit in, but there’s a disservice here. This is a monastrell (or what the French call Mourvèdre). It’s peppery, a little gaminess, and gentle red fruits. It evokes end of season pheasant legs, slowly stewed in red wine.
Pricing in wine
At two extreme ends of the spectrum are small, totally manual producers, and at the other mass, heavily machine-operated ones. The smaller ones are labour-intensive, will sort through grapes by hand, and opt for smaller yields for flavour. Larger producers are are capital-intensive, use machines for sorting, and opt for the largest volume over highest concentration of flavour.
Not only this but the large-scale producer is making a product whose customers expect it to taste the same year in, year out. Therefore, there’s more winemaking involved than there is an expression of the year, the ground or the grape.
The former, is often associated with higher quality wine.
Those are mass generalisations of course and rarely is it quite so black and white. But it’s useful as a base point for understanding pricing in wine.
*Some pricing has changed since this list was first published, and in this instance, two wines included are now slightly more costly.