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When to Pay Just a Little More

Sometimes stumping up an extra couple of pounds can really pay off. Here are suggestions about when to do it  - and why.it can work.

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.

Conclusion

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. 

Conclusions

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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21 Responses

  1. Thank you Brian., especially for your opening remarks. You are so right about the balance of probability on £6 and £10 but yes a trusted source like yourself can find wonderful exceptions. Ignore reader reviews and their stars. With supermarket brands it’s always worth looking at the small print or clues on the back about the wine producer if you know a bit about them. I remember, I think, for example the TTD CDR usef go be from. Chapoutier, though now it’s Mefre (still.good). Equally TTD Chilean Sauvignon used to be Errazuriz.

    1. Thanks for your kind words, David; much appreciated. Your point about producers shown in small print is a brilliant one. Several times I have been disappointed with a wine that has been great in its last two vintages only to discover that the source has changed.

    2. Hi Brian, Good post as always, just like to endorse the addition of Eddie, he will no doubt be an asset to the site, a man who knows his stuff (Eagle-eyed Eddie, maybe a more appropriate name).
      Of the wines you highlight, Montes is always reliable, and I rate Robert Oatley wines very highly.

    1. Thanks Mark. It is something I have been keen to say for a while and these particular wines presented a good opportunity to do so. One of the goals behind the site goes beyond just highlighting good value wines but also helping folk to “ladder up” to more expensive wine occasionally in the certain knowledge that it will repay the extra “investment”.

  2. Great post, thanks Brian. And look forward to Eddie the Eagle’s discount spotting.

    As well as stocking up on old favourites, I find the Waitrose 25% offer useful in taking a punt with lesser known bottles – for example their Loved and Found range. These are rarely (never?) on offer individually, but I have often been nicely surprised e.g. their Frapatto and Clairette examples.

    Advance notice of new additions to the Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Discovery Collection would be welcomed – again I’ve been lucky in taking a chance with these in the past. I really feel that the Wine Buyers take pride in digging out obscure gems.

    M&S I find frustrating – their web site just seems to list selected wines by the case. So not very productive to periodically online skim their current offerings. A recent random purchase, Nerello Cappuccio (in their Found range) was a delight. So advance notice of M&S offers would be welcome.

  3. And bang on time with your 25% off 6 bottles at Waitrose shoutout Brian I see that Joanna Simon’s Wine of the Week recommendation is the Grenache / Syrah L’Arène des Anges Costières De Nîmes (£8.49, but just £6.37 until Tuesday as part of a 6 bottle deal). I do find that Waitrose are a bit sneaky though in taking off all (most?) of their regularly-changing discounts on a selection of wines whenever they have the 25% off 6 offer. In Sainsburys, for example, the discounts on selected bottles still remain when the offer is on so then there are sometimes some truly remarkable bargains!

  4. Hi Brian. My remit here to keep folks abreast of discount deals in good enough time to take advantage of them goes hand in glove with this subject of “trading up”. I have a budget that I try to stick to but I can at times go beyond it and tryy a more expensive bottle when a 25% deal applies. I used to use up my available funds stocking up on the cheaper bottles I enjoy. But latterly I’ve traded up to the higher shelves when a £12 wine becomes £9 a nd makes it just about affordable to me. I hope.I can point people towards the occasional mention of something of real value as well as high quality.

    1. As you say, Eddie., today’s post fits well with the “25% off” alerts. With a little organisation a lot of money can be saved while enhancing one’s wine drinking experience. Who could ask for more?

  5. Thank you Brian for a most stimulating post and thanks to Eddie for his Eagle eye. I love Eddies point about using the 25% discount to venture further up market. And big respect to you Brian for witholding the identity of the probanly unfortunate Australian Grenache. I think we should all be forgiven the odd error. He who never makes a mistake never makes anything and I love producers who are willing to push the boundries occasionally.

  6. May I suggest a fair contest?
    Tesco Vista Castelli Montepulciano D’Abruzzo £4.75 Bottom shelf, very plain cheap looking label.
    Versus
    Tesco Finest Montepulciano D’Abruzzo Clubcard offer price of £6 until 13/03/2023.Gold medal winner.Top shelf.
    Not only are both these wines from Tesco, same grape,same area but also it seems the same Coop -Citra Vini.

    1. Interesting thing Paul Davies… the Vista Costelli at £4.75 ”low everyday price”, seemingly can’t ever be cheaper than £4.75 even when Tesco run its 25% off buy-6. But that Finest MD’A can be as cheap as £4.50 if it stays at the Clubcard price of £6, AND the 25% deal is on as well!

      I can rarely shop in-store at a Waitrose but take Keith Evans’ point about that store rarely offering the double-dip opportunity with reduced shelf price at the same time as 25% off, buy-6 applies.

      But Sainsbury’s often do have some current reductions on when their 25% deal kicks in and that’s when previously more expensive wine becomes way cheaper sometimes with almost a 50% drop. The decent Marzemino Trentino for instance, full price £9, currently £7, is typical and has often featured like that at £5,25 in this double dip deal. Next time Sainsbury’s have their offer then fingers crossed that the £10 Discovery Range, Morellino di Scansano is still on the shelf at £7.50, it was last Tuesday, but then such a classy bottle can be had for £5.63. If the Yealands NZ-SB is still £7 down from £10 then again it becomes a £5.25. So Brian’s ”trading up” pitch really becomes easily facilitated when it happens and we get excellent cheaper drinking. I think it’s likely Sainsbury’s will be earliest, next!

  7. I am really pleased that Eddie the Eagle Eyed is on the case. He is nothing if not persistent!
    Buyers do take pride in these “found and discovered” ranges but, of course, they have to sell well too – exploiting “25% off” deals is one way of helping that to happen. Incidentally, M&S do have a problem because their arrangement with Ocado seems to leave limited scope for single bottle sales online. Visits to stores, where possible, can pay off there.

  8. Good call Keith I have enjoyed that wine several times in the past and know you will not go far wrong following recommendations that Jo. makes.

  9. Not identifying wine that didn’t quite make it is a little controversial – and a theme I shall return to next week. Your second point, however, chimes nicely with the thrust of Matthew Syed’s Black Box Thinking nook and is so refreshing in the unforgiving “Gotcha” landscape that often seems to be today’s world.

  10. Still gutted that “Cultured Chris’s Curated Collection” didn’t make it but happy to have been beaten by the better man and look forward to seeing the “Eagle Eyed Eddie” merchandise making its way into the website soon. Love the look of a pair of wine bottle binoculars or magnum bottle telescope………

    PS. Do thoroughly enjoy that best Garnacha

  11. There’s still time Chris – and I am pleased that the said cultured collection will include that garnacha. Really sound option in my view.

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