/ Food & Drink, Shopping

When is supermarket wine worth its full price?

Wine rack

Some wines are always on offer in supermarkets, or at least it seems that way. But are they worth their ‘full price’ or are endless special offers conning us into believing we’re getting a great deal?

When we asked wine expert Charles Metcalfe to blindly taste wines from the top five selling wine brands in the UK (Blossom Hill, First Cape, Ernest & Julio Gallo, Hardys and Lindemans) we found most weren’t worth their full price.

Of the 10 wines tasted only one would have been worth buying at full price – Hardys Stamp of Australia Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon. This was good value at its full price of £6.49, as Charles estimated it to cost £6.99.

The true worth of wine

Using data from mysupermarket.com we tracked the price of these 10 wines across 2010 in Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose and Ocado. At their highest prices these wines cost from £5.99 to £8.99 in these supermarkets, but Charles estimated their cost at between £4.99 and £6.99.

First Cape First Selection Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon was £8.99 at full price, but at other times was on a three for £10 offer. Charles estimated this wine to cost £4.99.

Similarly, Hardys Chardonnay costs £7.98 at full price but was on offer for three for £10 – less than half price. Charles estimated the cost of this wine as £5.99.

Should you shun supermarket wines?

Of course if you like these brands and they’re on offer, such as three for £10, you’re getting a good deal. But if they’re full price then they’re probably not worth it.

So how do you choose wine – do you stick to the same wines or just go for those on offer? How much do you tend to spend on a bottle? Can you tell the difference in a £5 bottle and a £15 one?

I’m no wine buff – I recently used a £25 bottle of dessert wine in a risotto as I didn’t think the label looked very nice. We now have a system at home where ‘special occasion’ wines are kept on the top shelf of the wine rack and the bottom shelf can be used freely!

I tend not to buy wine in supermarkets; if I need a bottle I go into our local wine shop and ask for advice. These findings mean I won’t be changing my ways in a hurry.

Rob @thirstforwine says:
27 April 2011

Supermarkets offer a great way to introduce people to wine, making it easy to buy just a single bottle from a vast selection in order to discover what you might like or not like with minimal fuss or complication.

However, they are not good ways to educate shoppers about wine – shoppers take all the risk by buying these wines “blind” so it is only fair that producers and retailers incentivise shoppers to take a risk on a bottle with occasional discounts and offers.

Unfortunately, instead of teaching us about wine, we have become hooked on the offers, so these have to get bigger and bolder all the time to attract attention, and since there is little margin in wine, it means that prices become inflated on SOME wines to pay for the promotions.

The best suggestion is to buy the discounted wines you might like, decide what you would be prepared to pay for it, and only buy it when it is below that price. You may discover you are more than willing to pay full price for it if you love it.

However, the best deals might be those wines from regions and producers too small to afford the promotional activity. Buy stuff you’ve never heard of, instead of flashy bottles, and you might discover the next best thing at a very reasonable price.

David Swaddle says:
27 April 2011

Not all supermarkets shy away from allowing customers to try their wines.

At Tasting Sessions we have been working with Sainsbury’s to convert some of their cafés into wine schools for an evening. Customers have been able to try 18 different wines over three different evenings and make their own minds up about what they like and what they don’t.

We’ve had to charge at most events, but this has been a modest £10. Customer receieve a £10 off wine voucher on the night (£30 spend required), so they get their money back if they decide to make a purchase. It’s mainly a way of controlling numbers.

It has been great fun. Different customers have wildly different tastes, though there has often been a standout favourite in each store.

We spend most of our time running public and corporate tasting events and I’d like to say well done to Sainsbury’s for taking the plunge and getting their customers trying their wines. Their buyers have shown their passion for what they do – whether they’re on offer or not.

There might be a few spaces left on our latest events.

I’ve noticed that Sainsbury’s regularly run a special offer at an apparent huge discount (eg 50% off) on one or two wines. Typically these are makes you’ve never heard of (not necessarily a bad thing) but with strangely cheap and nondescript looking labels. These are always duds in my experience, certainly worth no more than the offer price.

It seems this is an instance where you can judge the wine by the label (and the discount)

Dave Butcher says:
29 April 2011

Waitrose do a bottle of red [and a white] at 4.35 called Cuvee Chausser which is often as good, if not better than some of their 7.00 bottles, and is far better than the ‘sample’ bottles listed above

It’s a rarity for wine at supermarkets to be worth the so-called “full price”.Who is to say what the price should be,there are no RRP’s or Manufactuer’s list prices on wine,so it is clearly up to the retailer to price it based upon cost,what margin they wish to make,or if they use it as a loss leader.
You do get some supermarket own label wines that are both inexpensive and palatable for everyday drinking,such as Tesco’s Australian red @ approx £3.25 a bottle.
I think which should do some supermarket own brand wine reviews,so we have an idea what to buy when the branded wines we enjoy are not on offer.

I by a lot of stuff at Tesco.

A while back I emailed them saying that I would never by their wine at “full” price, but that at “50% off” they were good value.

Tesco customer service did not reply.

Michael says:
29 April 2011

I am appalled by the shallowness of the Which survey that kicked this off. You make a sensational claim that only 1 in 10 of the wines was worth the full price, then fail to back it up with the evidence. The sample size is ridiculously small, and the results are one person’s subjective opinion. (Reminds me of Sigmund Freud!) You don’t say whether there was any difference between the supermarkets. Anyway, I should have thought that any reasonably intelligent shopper would first decide what they wanted, then decided whether the price was right for them, regardless of whether it was on offer.

I don’t need a survey of 2,000 products across 1,000 shops to know that a wine reduction from £10 to £5 is highly unlikely to be a true bargain. I’ve yet to see one that is. (I’m no wine expert, by the way, but I’m not stupid and I AM a bit of a shopping expert.)

I look out for wines down from, say, £7/£8 to £5/£6. They tend to be better value. And I’ve even pushed the boat out and got a £27 Oz red for about £20. Just the once ! (Not tried it yet. Saving it for my funeral.)

e.g.a recent bottle of (branded) Chilean Riesling (yes, you read that right) was a fiver – well worth it, and it got good feedback from friends I shared it with. 2 weeks later, it’s £6.79 and not really worth that much, in my opinion. (Although I unfortunately had to buy it again anyway for the birthday of the friend who’d praised it so much.)

Edward says:
1 May 2011

A few years ago I was buying wine in a supermarket and felt frustrated by the lack of any help and the in-your-face promotions which seemed too good to be true. I didn’t trust the half price offers and yet I knew there were some good wines on the shelf. I read the reviews in The Guardian every weekend, but I just couldn’t remember which ones had been recommended. Then I had a spark of inspiration: I made web sites and I read wine reviews. Why not combine the two? So I came up with Supermarket Wine (http://www.supermarketwine.com). The site aggregates reviews from the national press so anyone can find a recommended wine at their local supermarket. The simple idea was that before you go to the supermarket, you find a wine (or two) which has had the thumbs up from a critic in the national press. And if you like, you go back to the site and write your own review.

Fred says:
2 May 2011

Sainsburys has some genuine shockers in its Champagne range – real obscure non-vintage clunkers nominally sold for up to £29.99 then sold at “half price” in their promotions . Even at £12 or £15 they represent poor value . Also a lot of indifferent Cote de Rhone “reduced” to six or seven quid when I’ve seen the same stuff a week before in Calais for 3 Euros – the difference isnt all duty!
Protection for the consumer seems to have nose-dived in recent years in so may respects and far too many household names appear to have acquired the business model of Arthur Daley

In 2009 the Bordeaux region of France had its best wine vintage ever. This wine is finding its way to supermarkets in Calais. If you want a price and flavour bench mark and a great day out jump on a ferry. The demanding flavours of French wins will give pause for thought when compared with new world wine supper market offers. If you drink wine regularly you will save money. Compared to Supper markets in Britain.