/ Food & Drink

Wine not fit for purpose?

Tis’ the season to be merry… but is the wine you’re sipping there actually nice to drink? Which? Conversation community member Alfa explores why some red wines are just palatable, but not pleasurable.

Is it just me or does all reasonably priced red wine seem to taste the same these days, just about drinkable but not enjoyable.

Maybe I’m getting older and my taste has changed, but too often I find red wine unpleasantly sharp, grabbing the back of my throat and hard to swallow…and I know I’m not alone.

A fine whine

We seem to have a ritual:

Open the bottle… taste…let it breathe… taste again and then give bottle a good shake, let it breathe again… taste…open another bottle and repeat.

Supermarket shelves are filled with lots of brands and styles that we keep trying, but many of them end up being used for cooking or down the sink.

And if they don’t smell good they go back to the supermarket for a refund. But you can’t ask for a refund just because they’re not to your taste. I’m sure people too often put up with a bottle that is barely palatable instead of taking it back, but where is the line of wine that’s not fit for purpose?

It’s not that long ago that I realised a lot of wine was not bottled in the country of origin, but shipped here and different brands all bottled at the same place. Many years ago, I worked in a food factory where the same product was packed for several different brands. They wouldn’t do that with wine would they? But it sure does taste like it to me.

Finding a favourite

My favourite used to be a Spanish red wine, but when the vintage changed so did the wine and we ended up with six cases of wine that went down the sink. I wonder if it has anything to do with corks being replaced by metal screw tops?

Recently I had a lovely wine called ‘Fat Bastard Pinot Noir’ in a restaurant but it is only available mail order, and due to the bad experience with my old Spanish favourite I‘m now reluctant to order wine by the case.

These days I find that Mcguigan wines seem more drinkable than most, although their Shiraz and Merlot taste the same to me. But I would like better.

Where’s the nice everyday (well not quite every day) drinkable red wine or even that something special to enjoy at Christmas time?

So, does anyone have a suggestion for a smooth, flavoursome red wine to go with Christmas dinner?

This is a guest post by Alfa, a regular community member on Which? Conversation. All opinions are Alfa’s own, not necessarily those of Which? We chose Alfa’s idea from the ‘Your ideas’ section on the website, make sure you share your ideas too.


No, no suggestions which will be any use…..I just hope the wine you enjoyed last week tastes the same when you buy it this week.
But try this! I hate cold red wine. And I prefer less alcohol than today’s ‘big’ wines. But to get wine to room temp can be time consuming. I have tried microwaving but it worries me for the 45 seconds its in there.
So…..add a few drops of hot water to your glass and stir! Lower alcohol, warmed up beautifully, perfect.
(That must surely draw just a few adverse comments)

Be patient.Leave until at room temperature

Why not store a bottle or two in the sideboard!

Google “How to fake a wine review by markov chains” if you want a laugh about this.

McGuigan Shiraz red label is one we like, but it is really a matter of personal taste. This particular McGuigan isn’t on sale in Tescos, but you can get a crate of six from Amazon at a reasonable price.

Ditch the varietal wines from the well-known labels. Go to a small local supplier if you have one, rather than the big supermarkets. Go for wines which blend two or three grape varieties. My current best buy is a luscious red from Languedoc called Villa Symposia – opened two bottles of it after breakfast ready for
Christmas dinner. I get it from Booth’s supermarket (only oop north).

About every four months my wife and I make a day trip to Calais where we have a splendid lunch at one of two lovely restaurants we know. We then motor to Fretun (about 12 miles) to an establishment called Franglais where we load up about 150 bottles of red wine, Cote du Rhone and, surprisingly, Siglo Sac (a favorite Rioja).
The price per bottle is unbelievably low and the saving compared with buying wine of this quality in the UK covers the cost of the ferry, the petrol and the expensive lunch with still a margin. It does mean an early start and a 95 mile return drive to Dover but it is a lovely day out.

I usually get my wine from a small retailer in a village called Quercamps, about a 20 minute drive out of Calais down the A26 towards Reims. A good Rhone selling in Waitrose for £13 can be bought for €6 (Jaboulet Parallel 45). There are many other bargains to be had, but they are nearly all French wines. For lunch there is a lovely town called Wimereux on the way back to Calais. The Atlantic Hotel does some great fine dining food for equivalent lower prices than in the UK, whilst in the summer there’s a great seafood venue nearby on the coast in Framazelle called The Mermaid or La Siréne. Its only open in the summer and is very reasonable for the quality on offer.

I suppose what we are looking for is a smooth red version with the qualities of a good Riesling. I sometimes get close with a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

We were first introduced to it at a restaurant – at restaurant prices – but have bought a few from different supermarkets but haven’t really done much comparison so cannot recommend. We have tried Sainsbury’s, Tesco’s and Waitrose’s own-label and producer’s versions and it seems to be a fairly easy-drinking wine that is reasonably similar in character. I would say that the more expensive ones are usually more enjoyable but the overall price range is not very wide. Indeed the price seems to have been falling across the range over the last two or three years which makes the higher-priced wines better value. At the entry level, I think they are all drinkable but more rustic than the next level up. At the end of the day it is plonk and very pleasant at that, and at £8-10 for a good one I find it very agreeable. It certainly feels good in the mouth and some descriptions give it a damson taste but I have to take their word for that.

Valpolicella used to be a staple in this bracket but that seems to have slipped down the appreciation league table, I don’t know why because it is still very pleasant albeit a touch coarser.

I am also taken with Oyster Bay Merlot currently on offer at Sainsbury’s [as well as others no doubt] .

While checking supermarket websites for Italian Reds I could not resist lingering over this specimen from Waitrose : Sassicaia Tenuta San Guido – “One of the great Super Tuscans – complex . . . exceptionally refined and elegant, this magnificent wine has notes of raspberry, red cherry and a hint of roses and violets. Red fruit and herbal notes are balanced by fine tannins, a bright freshness and immense depth”. Sounds a bit like a pomander and at £130 a bottle it might be some time before I slip one in the trolley. Using the filters to classify the wines by “popularity” instead of price might be a good way of trying out unfamiliar varieties so long as other customers’ judgments and choices are sensible.

You have to spend about £10 these days for a reasonable bottle. Less than that is mostly tax so the wine is rarely good, but it depends on your palate. If you only drink plonk then it will mostly taste the same with some good and bad bottles. Over £10 and the wine gets better but don’t think just keep spending more as its bound to be better, as that’s not always the case. Your palate may pickup nuances in an expensive bottle that you don’t like, or vice versa.
Personally we tend to use Majestic for our wine buying as they have a decent range at fair prices. You can’t go wrong with a Rhone or a good Rioja, or for white I like burgundy. It all depends on what you like, and that changes over time.

If the wine is no good take it back!
Some wine is variable and you can get a few good bottles and then a bad one. I have had no problem getting a refund or replacement in the same way you would do if there was something wrong with food.

Many consider spending more than a fiver on a bottle of wine an extravagance. One you take the tax and fixed costs off that fiver there isn’t much left for the wine. OK maybe for every day drinking, but it’s not surprising that what you get is a lottery. Spend more than £10 and things are different, you are far more likely to get something you really enjoy. After all, you are lucky these days to get change from £15 for a round of four drinks in a pub. Why baulk at spending that on a bottle of good wine at home?

Totally agree with you, generally the more you pay the better the wine. You sometimes get a duff one.
Have tasted wine from all over and my conclusion is French is best , you just have to find the wines that suit you best. Go for vineyards next to the well known ones, for example a white wine from vinzelles is as good as the next village of poulley fuisse.

As mentioned above, the vintage has a great bearing on which to choose. A few years ago I would swear by a Chilean merlot, called El Otro, but no longer. What someone recommended to me some while back, I didn’t like, so there’s also personal taste to consider. If you were to ask me as now, it would be an Australian called Yellow Tail.

I do not know how with all the brands, annual changes, mass production vs. small growers, even if you find a wine you like one year you can expect to get something similar the following year, unless you have a lot of expertise, deep pockets and are prepared for a lot of disappointments. I do not have this expertise. I am not a great fan of many red wines but have found a few “types” that I like. I prefer whites.

So I use other people’s expertise. Many years ago we joined the Wine Society, a cooperative owned by its members, whose buyers travel the world looking for reliable wines from around £5 upwards. Mail order, by the case, 12 bottles mixed to your choice if you like. I can honestly say we have not had a bad wine (except one bottle in a bin end case that was a little oxidised and immediately credited to our account). I don’t mean we have liked every wine enough to reorder, but most have been at the very least acceptable, and many very enjoyable.

I hope this isn’t regarded as advertising, no more than naming a reliable dishwasher brand!

How you can expect to find reliable wines in the supermarket I don’t know – it seems a complete lottery to me.

The best value for money red wine I have found is McGuigan Black Label Shiraz. You can buy it for £5 a bottle when it’s on special offer at Morrisons, (delivery is £1 extra, It’s not worth getting the car out of the garage to go and collect it at that price.) A word of warning , buy a case when it comes on special offer because it quickly goes back up to it’s normal price of £7 a bottle.

To some extent, what makes a good (not quite) everyday wine is a matter of personal taste and what suits one person doesn’t always suit another. My taste leans towards Australian reds. Hardy’s Shiraz Cabernet seems to be consistent, and if you like it, the quality doesn’t seem to vary from year to year. I also keep an eye on the Morrison’s special offers, because occasionally this features Jacob’s Creek which is well worth stocking up when on offer. For something entirely different in flavour I go for a Californian Zinfandel. McGuigan’s Merlot is lighter and goes well with poultry if you want a red rather than white. If I feel like experimenting with something different, the staff in my local Majestic are knowledgeable and I have not been disappointed in their recommendations. Finally, I have never ever tipped wine down the sink. Use it to marinade a cheap cut of beef overnight, then add herbs and spices to the liquid and use it as the juice for a casserole of that beef. It is an expensive gravy, but it does return more of the investment than pouring it away.

I notice the post talks about opening the wine and then giving the bottle a good shake… how about giving it some room to breath in a decent wine decanter? Slosh it in and it will feel the better for it (unless it is very old and expensive)

breathe – not breath!

Ray B says:
27 December 2015

I have discovered ‘Dark Corner’ from Laithwaites, a beautiful australian red. I don’t live far from their Solihull store and when I visit usually on a Sunday there are always wines to sample. Another good one recently on offer at £6.65 per bottle is an italian red called ‘Corsiero Nero’.

I would encourage anyone who likes wine to join the Wine Society. A friend persuaded me to join several years ago and I now buy most of my wine from the society. There is no pressure to buy at all, it is entirely up to you. There are wine plans called Wine Without Fuss if you want to join them, but the frequency of delivery is up to you (just one case a year if you want) and you can cancel at any time. As it is a co-operative there is never any pushy selling, just knowledgeable advice from experts. They have wines at all price levels and regularly offer themed cases (Spanish whites, Sauvignon blancs, Beaujolais village etc) with good discounts.

Others have already mentioned how much of a £5 bottle is fixed costs so I won’t go there save to say that it tends to be a case of (sorry!) you get what you pay for.
Part of the problem is the focus on wines from the “New World” = particularly from Australia, New Zealand and South America. These areas are capable of producing great wines …… but generally not wines far south of £10 a bottle. I have been known to describe most New World wines a “alcoholic Ribena” because of their tendency to be very two dimensional loaded with fruit and increasingly strong.
The French make the best wines in the world ….. and the worst wines in the world. Generally you’re not going to get anything decent from France unless you pay for it but some of the classics can be magnificent. St.Emilion, St, Estephe, Cotes du Castillion, Corbieres, Cotes du Rhone etc. The best bottles of French red can have magnificent complexity unlike their Australian and South American counterparts. A particular favourite of mine is the much lesser known “Cahors” which is the original wine made from the Malbec grape. The best Cahors are far superior to South American Malbec.
For me the two best kept secrets of the red wine world are those produced in the Puglia region of the “heel” of Italy made from the Primitivo and Negroamaro grapes. Try a Salice Salentino …… but sometimes the wines will simply be described by their grape variety. The second favourite area is Portugal. Try a “Douro” ….. they can be sensational.
Don’t forget Spain and some of the other classics from Italy. “Sangres de Torro” (literally ” Bull’s Blood) is pretty good (with a cute little plastic black bull attached to the neck of the bottle). Valpolicella can be amazing but make sure that its “Valpolicella Ripasso” – much more full bodied, Genuine Rioja can be wonderful but the Spanish have really cranked the price up over the past few years so you might need to search around for the best. A good lesser known alternative from Spain is a nice full bodied “Priorat”. Sainsbury have a nice one at around £10.
Don’t forget a nice Chianti but you wont find much to please at £5.99 …… and Barolo can be fabulous.
My main tip is don’t just stick to Oz and NZ and S.America. The European classics are called classics for a reason …… but do try to resist pinching too many pennies. Spend just a little more and you’ll find something to please.
Booths supermarkets are excellent for wine ….. but they are a relatively small chain based largely in the North of England. They do however run a very good online service.

Try ‘jugging’ your red wine before drinking it. By that I mean pouring it between two large jugs several times to aerate it. A before and after taste will confirm the benefit.

How does one’ keep’ wine after the bottle is opened?