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Reliable, Budget-friendly Choices that Avoid Wine Aisle Dilemmas

Use this fast lane through wine aisle chaos and dilemmas for a smooth journey to reliable yet budget-friendly wine gems.

If I ever wonder why I started this website, I see an answer whenever I visit my local supermarket.

Almost every time the wine aisle has folk wavering in two (or more) minds over which bottle to buy.

However, those same people show no such uncertainty with the breakfast cereals – or, indeed, much else.

No one can really blame the shopper for this – the wine selection is vast, useful help is minimal and the profusion of promotions makes things even worse.

That is exactly why this site (with its Top Tips and much else) was created – and is gaining subscribers.

Treat it, gentle reader, as your route map to reliable but affordable options.

Priority boarding, if you like, for those with a budget, limited time and an appreciation of a decent bottle of wine. 

So, let’s see what that fast lane offers you today.

As is normal here, pictures and hyperlinks are provided where possible to guide you straight to the right wine on shelf or web page.

When a little subtlety is needed

2022 Best South African Sauvignon Blanc (£7 – instead of £8 until 12 March – at Morrisons and 12.5% abv): 

While New Zealand sauvignon assails you with fresh acidity and crispness, South African versions can be more subtle.

That country’s warmer climate leads to greater ripeness and more tropical fruit elements.

Illustrating the point, this example exhibits ripe melon, peach and pear flavours but still combines them with savoury herb components.

That base is partnered by lively lime acidity with a twist of sherbet, a flinty edge and touches of green apple, citrus peel and bell pepper.

Rich and popular.

2021 Bodacious Red (£6.50 – instead of £7.25 until 28 February – at Asda and 13%):

Rich red wines are currently gaining considerable traction especially among chefs eager for textured wine to complement their signature dishes.

Because it meets that overall demand for richness especially well, this example from Portugal’s Tejo region has won it many friends.

Sweet edged and embellished with clove style spices, it has sumptuous damson, black cherry and mulberry flavours at its heart.

Those elements also have the benefit of good supporting acidity and hints of vanilla.

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35 Responses

  1. Brian, what you say, rings so true, Supermarket wine aisles can be so daunting to some, with limited wine knowledge who only want to find a reasonable bottle to drink with their evening meal. To others, it’s just somewhere to pick up the cheapest bottle of red or white on offer not really caring where it comes from or what it is.
    What happens if someone generally wants to pick a nice bottle instead of blindly picking the cheapest on the shelf? Many a time in store I’ve tried to help by suggesting an alternative or just steering them in the right direction, sometimes they’re grateful other times I see them go straight back to their original cheapest option.
    Another little gripe of mine is the helpfulness of the assistants in the wine aisles, ok, I know that the person is not a wine expert and probably half the time doesn’t work in that particular aisle but I do expect a better response, as happened a while ago when I asked have you got a particular South African Chenin Blanc I wanted? I got the reply, ‘dunno mate’, hang on a minute’ then proceeded to look in the Australian section.
    I know it’s a supermarket and not a wine merchant/outlet but it’s where a lot of people buy their wines. A little more thought into giving a little more general wine information would definitely add to the supermarket wine-buying experience.

    That’s where this site comes in so useful, so keep up the good work Brian steering us in the right direction, it’s appreciated!

    Not tried that Portuguese red yet, If I get to an Asda, I’ll try and pick one up

  2. Hi all,
    Thanks for the many recent promo news & (budget) tips, both in the Brian’s blog & also comments, many purchased & much enjoyed.
    Have always felt that Suoermarkets are missing a trick by not just getting someone more interested in the Wine Aisle simply doing the re-stocking and being on hand to assist or simply promoting say a daily Wine Hour special or a promo to attend.
    Sadly whilst many customers do consume vast quantities few will do the reading and research. Hence why attractive gimmicky labelling and advertising returns sales.

  3. French supermarkets frequently have tasting opportunities .. two or three of the cheaper wines available to try, with a staff member on hand to discuss them with… I am pretty sure that trying something similar here would pay its way.
    In the meantime we have you Brian, and very grateful I am for your advice. When will you be trying out tasting samples? 🙂

    1. As I said to Richard, the “French option” was mooted a while ago but received a thumbs down. I have run something similar for a different retailer when they have opened a new store – and that did seem to work well.

  4. Agree totally with Dave, Tony and Richard however don’t expect miracles as help in the aisles is getting harder to obtain each time we go. All we can do is refresh your memory before you visit or better still shop by Home Delivery or Click and Collect. This at least allows you easy access to technology via the internet.

    I also keep cards that fit in my wallet for each store before I visit a particular store or photograph your card and have it open in the store on your phone. I just leave the cards in my car glove box.

    Thanks Brian, I have that Morrisons Best Sauvignon Blanc in my next home delivery as at £7 it’s too good to ignore!

    I bought loads of Lidl’s “The Second Fleet 2020 Coonawarra Cabernet, Merlot and Petit Verdot and it now is drinking spendidly with all that vanilla oak to the fore so if you cellared this one you have a real winner!

  5. Morning Brian. Never without a bottle of that Bodacious on the shelf. So approachable , fruity and most importantly consistent over the years with consecutive vintages. So a great call for a mid weeker that would satisfy most palates.

    Hi Dave. Surprised you haven’t tried it yet. It was Nick Hearndon about 7 years back on his wife Clare’s excellent chat group cuveereserve who first flagged it up to me. I think it was the unusual name and label first caught his eye but at the same time as Porta 6 was making big waves. I think it’s a cut above that well promoted bottle.

  6. Thanks Brian. I have enjoyed your previous recommendation of Morrison’s Cidade Branca from Alentejo so I look forward to trying the Bodacious from the Tejo region. I feel that perhaps the southern half of Portugal has been overlooked for the quality of its wines.

    1. Agree with you Rebecca about Portugal – not just quality but value too.
      Bodacious is richer than the Morrisons option you mention, so it will be interesting to see whether it floats your boat. Richness does divide opinion among wine drinkers.

    2. Hello Rebecca,
      Waitrose Loved and Found Trincadeira Alentejo red wine £8.99 which I have commented on in a previous post is well worth a try.

  7. Totally agree. Frankly I rarely buy any wine that has not been recommended by someone in a blog, or in one of the more reliable newspapers, or in Decanter’s supermarket section.

  8. Hi Eddie
    I looked back and we did talk about Bodacious Red in Dec 2020, although I didn’t taste it at the time, think it was £5.50. If I’m passing Asda (not one local to me) I’ll try and get a bottle.

  9. Chilean Red Wines update
    The Tesco Finest Valle de Colchagua Merlot £8.50 14.5%- much more balanced after decanting and leaving for an hour. A wine that amply rewards patience.
    Turning now to a previously liked vintage of Tesco Finest Peumo Carménère Valle de Cachapoal £8.50 14%. Produced by Concha y Toro powerhouse and from the best area for this grape- Peumo.
    That vintage had 86% Carménère,14% Cabernet Sauvignon and was wooded.The latest vintage (2021) is a different beast:95% Carménère, 5% Cab Sav and no wood.
    Fragrant with smoky notes.Has the silky classic green bell pepper kick with soft elderberry and fleshy black fruit flavours ,subtle hints of black pepper and St.Bruno Rough Cut, accompanied by Goldilocks levels of tannins and acidity.Tim Atkin gave it 90 points.A significant improvement and somewhat of a bargain.Recommended.
    So both good wines,both good value,both the same price.Is there a winner?
    I suspect the traditionalists will prefer the Merlot , but the Carménère is more in tune with our less woody impatient times.

    1. I would add a word of support for the carmenere. That’s partly because Chilean merlot can vary appreciably and partly because carmenere adds an extra dimension to the red wine repertoire. Its savouriness and green pepper elements, with contrasting chocolate influences, is so very different from most red wines.

  10. Interesting comments, thanks Paul. I have a bottle of the Carménère on my carving table, looking forward to trying it. As you suggest, the “winning wine” is ultimately down to the individual’s preferences. I’ve found the levels of residual sugar is one influence. For example the Tesco Finest Chianti Classico Reserva and their Finest Primitivo are 1g/l and 6.5g/l respectively. And they do an Appassimento Veneto at 9g/litre. Some may find the Chianti too “lean” and some the Primitivo too “rich”. The Colchagua Merlot is 4.5g/l and the Carménère is 2.94g/l.
    Personally, I have never taken to Appassimento wines, which I feel bad about, as MW’s seem to love them. But at a large tasting of Cru Bourgeois Clarets (which was heavy going) a touch more residual sugar might have been most welcome! I am aware of a viewpoint that it is better to know neither the alcohol nor residual sugar levels of a wine, before tasting and making a judgement. (If one wine is 14.5% and another 13.5%, I am, sadly, still biased against the former!)
    Be interested in your and Brian’s observations – and Eddie’s and Dave C’s.

    1. As I mentioned to Rebecca further down this comments section, richness really does divide opinion.
      Personally, I usually sit in the middle but, if push came to shove, am happier with a little more residual sugar that I am with super leanness. Again, personally, I try to taste a new wine as blind as possible – ignoring alcohol, sugar and anyone else’s view initially. That can mean I am in a minority of one, but it does allow me to set my conclusions against the data and assessments – and confirm those conclusions or oblige me to go back and review them. And occasionally change my mind, but first impressions count for a lot with me. All very individual stuff though.

    2. Hello Richard,
      Hope you are enjoying the Carménère.
      Ultimately I think it it is about balance .For example Riesling can be made right across the sweetness spectrum from dry to sweet and all can be delicious if the balance is right- and acidity plays a big part .
      However,like you, I am not a great fan of sweet reds and if I had to choose between two great wines,I would have a bias to the lower alcohol one.

    3. I do have a bit of a problem with higher residual sugar especially when it makes the wine taste confected, but saying that it can counteract wines that have a high acidity (as in some Rieslings etc). I know reds like Mucho Mas (between 5 & 18g/l of Res sugar) are very popular with a lot of you here but for me they are just verging too much on that ‘confected’ taste,
      They are popular though so they are doing something right

    4. Richard your cautious comments about Appassimento wines applied to me however I now feel differently. Brian likes to reccommend these from time to time and back in the £3.99 days I took a gamble on some. Yes the sweet edge annoyed me as I loved austerity in a decent red. Left them for a year and tried again and the sweetness had mellowed. The ageing/drying process has the potential to give these wine an extra edge of complexity so they can improve in flavour as the tannins etc decay. Often these wines are made from older vines so time the cork pulling to savour these Appassimento wines at the residual sugar content that suits your pallate.

      These Italian red wines are so rewarding and a big thank you to Brian’s precision taste buds and also the paper wrapped bottles makes them easy to find in the cellar.

      There is also quite a lot of dietary research about the beneficial polyphenols in older reds and the Appassimento approach does encourage sipping helping you to restrain yourself to one or two glasses.

      Paul’s comments about Carménère and Reisling are a great reminder about other varieties that will age and I would add Alsace Gewurtraminer, Sauternes and Garnacha made from old vines so anything like this sometimes benefits from residual sugar. I suspect Brian or other tasters can suggest more examples.

  11. Wow … only 4 years Dave. I’d have thought much longer. It’s from the same area as the Iceland Rabo de Galo that started at £5.50 too and is now £7.75, mores the pity. More tannins than the Bodacious but both extremely sound drinking these Portuguese reds especially if we can find some discounting like the 10% Tuesday reduction at Iceland for bus pass holders!! And TWS too has a Setubal one around the same price I like a lot as well… not forgetting Sainsbury’s own Lisboa.

  12. Your experience of wine in supermarkets is far from unique, Dave, but I guess that supermarket margins are sufficiently slender currently that the extra training and, possibly, wage cost rule out enhancing things very much.

  13. Thank you Tony and good to hear from you. It is pleasing to know that recommendations hit the spot although I do know that abv’s are important to you and I sometimes forget (a bit of a blind spot). So, do shout up when I miss them off.

  14. I did offer to do “wine hours” for a supermarket a while back but they felt the cost would not yield the necessary return. Could be useful though – for all the reasons you mention Richard.

  15. Really interested to see that last point as you are the world authority on cellaring Lidl Wine – a great idea and excellent way for the patient to get good quality options at low prices.
    The pictures that accompany recommendations on this site are designed for folk to add to their mobile phone so they can pinpoint the wines on a crowded shelf or display.

  16. I seem to remember your praising that wine and was happy to include it in today’s recommendations because so many people appear to love it.

  17. Welcome to the comments section Phil – good to hear from you. As a blogger, your thinking is music to my ears – especially given the company that, I hope, I am being included with.

  18. Yes that part of Portugal is on a roll – including vineyards over the river like that Wine Society option you mention.

  19. Thanks for that interesting input, Chris. I think it is personal thing for me as I encountered too much chaptalization back in the 70s and 80s, and I struggle to get that thought out of my mind! But I will revisit these wines.
    It is never too late to adjust one’s taste … For example I have had bad experiences with Pinotage. But a lovely example was served at a recent Wine Society’150th event, and just last week, at a MAN Family SA wine dinner, was chatting to the importer about Pinotage (which was not featured) – she disappeared and returned with a sample which was the best wine of the event. A while back had included a fairly inexpensive example in an at home 3 wine blind tasting. To my surprise it was my favourite – proving the worth of blind tasting to counteract prejudices!

  20. … Richard was asking …. so …

    I never look for/at either residual sugar or alcohol/abv. Those figures never drive my decision to buy. An informed opinion works better for me coming more likely as a recommendation from another blog party like Brian, Oz or Jancis!, people emailing here too, or I know already I like certain bottles from specific countries because of previous exploration at hobby level and spread my interest around finding what else will possibly suit.

    Judging by what gets written in online supermarket website customer reviews is quite banal at times, and I mainly take them with a pinch of salt. But there are more valuable clues on a site like TWS where the majority of customers seem better informed and often objective even though ultimately all wine appreciation is subjective. We pays our money ….

    So it’s all about tasting every time for me and for what application I am looking to cover. As a rule this relates to using any selection of chilled white or rosé as an aperitif, usually dry and crisp but could be something off dry/medium sweet like an Anjou or Coteau du Layon, although I will drink some red before a meal too, that could be a Pinot or Gamay Noir, slightly chilled too.

    Then it’s all about does it work with the food of choice? But that’s a chicken and egg thing only developed over decades of knowing what we learn from previous experience. If I get it wrong and it doesn’t seem to work well I just go for another bottle from the rack!

    But I suppose this is where my model falls apart for both the less experienced and those who don’t keep a varied stock in the house that I suspect is probably the majority of British wine drinkers sourcing from supermarkets.

    When it comes down to the residual sugar question I have to consider my wife as well as we share the selection. She is a massive fan of Mucho Mas because she doesn’t appreciate dryer, more tannic reds. I understand Dave’s point about a confection here. Mucho Mas very much is, deliberately made in a sweeter red cuvée like Piccini Memoro, that when I reviewed it early doors 10 years ago for Tesco I said that exact thing. A wine specifically concocted for a market. But my wife isn’t that interested like I am about how the wine gets created. It’s all about ”do I enjoy this?”.

    I tend to to separate apart sweeter reds like the appassimentos from confected wine blends because the producing seems to relate to natural traditional wine making technique and can demonstrate more or less sweetness depending on specifics. Primitivo Manduria is a good example as is Chianti Governo, richer compared to Valpolicella Ripasso that can have some drier, more tannic qualities attaching too. Amarone being the sweetest of all.

    Whether checking on sugar residuals on the label as we shop I can’t say because I’ve never looked. The grape variety I would suggest is a way better indicator of possibly some sweetness. Last week Brian’s M&S Bordeaux Merlot was certainly richer, fuller, fruitier and sweeter than any more typical, traditional, austere claret at the price point. But again it has been deliberately made like that.

    The Eglise Saint-Jaques Bergerac Merlot from Tesco is much drier in character. And we don’t have to travel much further north from Bordeaux to Cahors and Cot/Malbec country to find very none- sweet wines. To my mind this tells me it all has to be learned if it interests us to do that. Or just drink what we discover that we enjoy!

    Ultimately that doesn’t help the punters browsing the supermarket wine aisles.

  21. Your tasting notes above on Morrisons “The Best” South African Sauvignon Blanc are 5 lines of “your very best” Brian and I am looking forward to some later with my Waitrose “Paella.” Such a lovely balanced wine rarely gets exported from South Africa because they keep their best wines usually!

    I’m off soon to collect my Bodacious and in my book Portugal can do no wrong. The very steep river banks just flood the vines foliage in sunlight and when that grape tannin decays gracefully it’s again often a thing of great balance and pleasure.

  22. Here is a review of the white paper wrapped Passamano wine, 2021, which is a blend of Frapatto and Syrah varieties from specially selected ripe red grapes grown in Sicily with love to 14% alc. and there is still residual sugar.

    Translating the Italian front label message we have “Praise for slowness. My job and my passion, wine with a refined structure, which best expresses the history and nature of our territory. In regions rich in history and tradition we have reserved distinctive grapes to offer a mature and long-lived wine.”

    I suggest this Passamano wine is drunk over the next 12 months, The Frappatto is lighter than the Syrah so these grapes blend well together and as the residual sugar edge fades then more flavour could develop.

    So for little money you have beautiful wine made by someone who believed in what he was creating.

  23. Thanks, Chris., and another illustration of the benefits of picking “not quite ready” wines form Lidl Wine Tours and holding them for a year or so.

  24. Thanks, Eddie., always good to her your thinking.
    Two points jump out, for me, from what you say. The first is about appassimento styles and, as you imply, how the crucial thing is the balance between richness and simple sweetness. Get that right and the unadulterated opulence of the style can come through brilliantly.
    Secondly, it I that crucial four word question your mention “Do I enjoy this?”. However many words folk like me write, that is the only question that really matters and one that should guide whatever one buys or drinks.

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