Andrew Polmear writes for the love of wine…
We all buy wine from supermarkets, if we buy wine at all, even if we prefer to buy by the case online or from Majestic or abroad at the cellar door, if circumstances permit. But which is the best supermarket for the occasional purchase? I’d have guessed Waitrose or perhaps M&S, so imagine my surprise when the Decanter Retail Awards 2015 awarded the title to Asda.
That makes me realise that wines from Asda have been cropping up in Decanter magazine recommendations for a few years now. So, of course, have wines from other supermarkets but what distinguishes the good Asda wines is that they tend to be cheaper than anyone else’s good wines. Let’s look at the performance of wines from Asda in terms of medals won in the 2015 Decanter World Wine Awards.
- Asda was awarded a gold medal for its Extra Special Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina 2014. No other supermarket got a gold for Argentinian red, but some specialist wine retailers did, at prices per bottle of from £35.99 down to £16. Asda’s bottle, judged to be of the same quality, cost £5.
- Asda won a silver medal for its Winemaker’s Choice Sauvignon Blanc, Central Valley, Chile 2014. Three other supermarkets won a silver medal for their white wines from Chile, at prices from £9.99 (Aldi) down to £6.49 (Morrisons). Asda’s wine costs £4.
So Asda does seem to have the cheapest quality wine. What they don’t have is quality across the range. They only won those two medals. Every other supermarket won more, even Lidl won four, although it’s true they were all bronzes.
The next test is, are they available? The Decanter awards were published in mid-2015 but when I tried to buy them online from Asda direct in October, neither was listed. That’s not very helpful, but it is understandable. I’d missed the boat. Instead I took a No.7 bus to Asda at the Marina armed with a copy of the latest Decanter magazine. Two Asda reds were recommended and both were there: the St Chinian 2013 at £4.75 and the Primitivo from Puglia at £5; two full-bodied wines with character, the Primitivo being especially interesting. Extraordinary value.
In real life, few of us are going to trek across town for a bottle because it won a medal and might or might not be on the shelves. So perhaps the question is not “which supermarket?” but, “given that I shop at X, how do I choose their best value wines?” This is where a fantastic website, supermarketwine.com, comes in. You choose your supermarket and the website lists all their wines that have been favourably reviewed in the national press. You can narrow the choice down by grape, country, and type of wine. So, if you use Waitrose and have only a fiver to spend, you can stand in front of the shelves on your phone and discover in seconds that Fiona Beckett of the Guardian thinks that the Waitrose Mellow and Fruity Spanish Red is, well, mellow and fruity and great value at £4.99. Amazing!