Six top supermarket wines for under £6

Is there really such a thing as bargain booze? Liz Sagues shopped around to investigate.

If the dictionary definition of good value is “something well worth the money spent on it”, how does that relate to wine?

I’d argue that much-hailed “bargain bottles” are rarely good value. Think about it: excise duty and initial VAT alone account for £2.45 of the price. Add in all the other non-wine costs: bottle, closure, label, transport, profits along the supply chain... and wonder that in a £5.50 bottle – the average UK consumer spend – the actual wine is counted in pennies.

The test is what the wine tastes like, so my thanks to the seven supermarkets who willingly provided 20 sub-£6 bottles, and to the friends who helped me try them. I’m grateful for their notes and scores, even if theirs didn’t always agree with mine. But that’s wine: personal taste is a big element in the pleasure.

We were unanimous on the top wine, the excellent Aldi Exquisite Collection Malbec 2014 (Argentina, £5.99). Number two slot was shared by Tesco finest* Old Vine Garnacha 2014 (Spain, £5.50) and The Co-operative Fairtrade Merlot 2014 (Argentina, £5.99 until October 13). Two shirazes came next, Morrisons 2014 (South Africa, £4) and Sainsbury’s SO Organic 2014 (France, £6).

Not a bad spread: four countries, four grape varieties and five suppliers in the top five. More on these wines, and some others, below.

I suspect it’s significant that, one wine excepted, these were all at the top end of the price scale (£3.79 - £6). And wine quality apart, that’s good from the ethical viewpoint – better rewarding the people who grow the grapes and make the wine.

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Overall, despite the occasional “yuk”, “burnt car tyres” or “vinegar”, the wines weren’t actively bad, though often bland and boring. But I’d still recommend spending a bit more (carefully), drinking less and finding more pleasure.

Six top supermarket wines for under £6

1. Aldi Exquisite Collection Malbec deserved its top slot. It comes from 1,000 metres up in Argentina’s Uco Valley, a rising-star region. Rich and aromatic, though far from OTT, it balances ripe fruit, fresh acidity and smooth tannins – a great food wine. Next evening, the leftovers perfectly partnered a lamb tagine.

2. Tesco finest* Old Vine Garnacha showcases Spain’s heritage vines. It’s big and gutsy (14%) with sweet damsony, spicy fruit, a true winter warmer. 3. I liked Fairtrade Merlot less than many of my friends did – too sweet for me. But how good that The Co-operative’s long, strong support for poorer wine farmers delights drinkers.

4.Sainsbury’s encouragement of organic growing is also welcome. The Vins de Pays d’Oc shiraz has plenty of dark berry fruit, but again there were other wines I much preferred.

5. Same with Morrison’s Shiraz: I dislike the tarriness of too many South African reds and there’s some here, though tempered by ripe, spicy fruit. Ideal wine for roasts was the consensus.

6. Aldi Vignobles Roussellet Pinot Noir (£4.39) exemplifies the good sense of the Vin de France blends across different regions. It has crunchy red fruit scents and flavours, sound and enjoyable.

Others to consider: Lidl Baturrica Tarragona Gran Reserva 2008 (£4.99), big-fruited, oaky and wearing its age well; Lidl Côtes du Rhône Villages 2014 (£4.99), decent if simple; Waitrose Cuvée Chasseur £4.99), fresh, easy, lighter style; Sainsbury’s Rioja Reciente (£5), classic older-style; Sainsbury’s Winemakers’ Selection Nero d’Avola 2013 (£6), best served lightly cooled to sharpen oversweet fruit.