How to choose wine in the supermarket

One of the questions I get asked the most by my friends and colleagues is “what wine should I buy in the supermarket?”. I understand why – supermarket wine aisles can be overwhelming. So, today I thought I would share my top tips for choosing wine in your local shop.

Before I launch into it, a short note on supermarket wine. A lot of people think that because I used to work in the wine industry and know a thing or two about wine, I’ll be snobbish about supermarket wine. Which just isn’t the case at all!

There are so many great wines you can buy in the supermarket – the fact they are available in a national retailer doesn’t make them inferior to the wines you’d buy in an independent wine shop. But there is a lot of choice and (generally) no one on hand to help you make a decision. So, it does help to know what to look for.

I am a huge advocate of wine education. Before I worked in the industry, I thought I didn’t like red wine and drank mainly Prosecco and the cheapest white wine that I could find. Now my tastes are so different – it’s incredible how learning a bit about wine and trying lots of different things changed everything.

Now, into the tips!

Avoid the big brands

Look, I’m a marketer, so I understand completely the allure of the familiar big brands. However, they are not necessarily the best choice in terms of value or quality.

I would recommend avoiding the Gallo and Jacob’s Creek type brands. I know they are cheap, but they are cheap for a reason! The wines are mass-produced on a huge level, without the same sort of attention to quality that you would get in wines from smaller producers.

Now, I’m not telling you to only buy expensive wines – far from it! Price is important, but there are ways to get value outside of just picking the cheapest brand on the shelf.

I’d recommend looking at supermarket-owned brands like Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference or Tesco Finest. These wines often come from the same producers who are selling their own label wines for a higher price on the same shelf! The supermarkets usually buy the wine in bulk and bottle it themselves, meaning they can offer it at a lower price. Plus, these are often the wines that are put on promotional offers, which means you could bag a great deal.

There’s value in lesser-known wines

Buying supermarket-owned brands isn’t the only way to get great value when buying wine. In fact, one of the main drivers of price in the wine industry is where the wine comes from – and more importantly, how in-demand that wine is.

For example, popular wines like Chablis, Chianti and Cote de Provence rosé are often sold at higher prices than other similar white, red and rosé wines. While many higher priced wines are more expensive because of their particular wine making process, this isn’t always the case. Quite often the cost of making wine in one region to another is pretty similar – it’s just that some are more popular than others, which means they command a higher market price.

That’s why you can find great value in lesser-known wine regions. These are wines that aren’t widely popular – normally because the country they come from or the grape variety used hasn’t reached the mass market yet.

Here are some of my favourite lesser-known wine regions:

  • Puglia: Italian wines in general are popular and on the pricier side, but this region in the ‘heel of the boot’ of Italy isn’t as well known. However, the wines are amazing and are normally priced really well. My favourites are Primitivo and Negroamaro – both lovely, juicy reds.
  • Galicia: there’s more to Spain than Rioja! My favourite wine region in Spain is Galicia – the wines are light, fresh and normally a pretty good price. The most common varieties are Albarino, Godello and Mencia.
  • Beaujolais: this is one of my all-time favourite wines. It is made from a grape called Gamay which is quite similar to Pinot Noir, so it also makes a lovely, light-bodied red wine. Beaujolais has become more popular in recent years, but is still great value in comparison to French Pinot Noir like red Burgundy.
  • Chile: I wouldn’t say Chile is the most ‘unknown’ wine region, but it is true that the wines are normally priced lower than other countries. This, despite the fact they grow some of the most popular varieties – Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir to be exact. If you love wines from New Zealand, you’ll love Chilean wines – they share a very similar style.

Spend a bit more – it’s worth it

Ok, hear me out on this one!

I like a bargain as much as the next person, but when it comes to wine I don’t generally buy the cheapest options on the shelf. The reason being that when you look at the different costs that make up a bottle of wine, you may think twice about buying that £4 bottle of White Zinfandel.

Between tax, duty, packaging, logistics and margin there is only roughly 30p left to spend on a £5 bottle of wine. Spend £10 and that amount goes up to £2.70. Makes quite a difference, doesn’t it?

What I do in the supermarket is look for wines that retail for between £10-£15 that are on offer – every week there will be something or other that is on sale, as long as you aren’t looking for anything too specific. This normally brings the price down to £6-£10 a bottle, meaning you can still get the great quality at a good price.

So there you have it – my tips on how to decide what wine to buy at the supermarket. Hopefully these tips are useful to you the next time you find yourself in front of those vast supermarket wine shelves and you can bag yourself some delicious wine for less.

Please do let me know in the comments what your experiences are when buying wine in your local shop. Do you feel confident buying wine? Do you have a go-to brand or type of wine that you always gravitate towards? I would be fascinated to hear all about it!

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