How to buy cheap wine

How to buy wine in a supermarket

First off, make sure you enter the correct supermarket.  If I were you, I’d roughly stick to this order. If you find yourself in Lidl, admit defeat and buy some cans of Red Stripe instead. Or whatever they call it in there (Blue Stripe?).

  1. M&S
  2. Waitrose
  3. Morrison’s
  4. Tesco / Sainsbury’s / Asda
  5. Aldi or Co-op (if you must)

Waitrose was always my long standing no. 1, but M&S have just pipped them to the post. They appointed a new Master of Wine at the end of 2012 and in recent months the range has expanded in all the right directions. Plenty of reliable, supermarket drinkables, lots of interesting Italian bits and at long last, a strong selection of classic Bordeaux and Burgundy at all price levels, even some with a bit of age.

*IDEA:  buy your £10 dinner for 2, re-gift the cheap plonk that comes with it and upgrade yourself to a1er Cru Burgundy instead*

Vintage Vixen wine shoppingImage: Vintage Vixen

You might be shocked about the presence of Aldi on the list but they have upped their game with their ‘Exquisite Range’ (a perhaps tenuous use of the word ‘exquisite’) and a super-premium range too. DO NOT veer from these!

Here are a few basic tips for when you’re in the big 4 (or even the top 2 as well):

Go to a big branch if you can

Bigger branch = more choice. The locals and metros are full of the same old brands, you may as well go to a corner shop and buy a Campo/Casillero job. Your wine life will get very boring very quickly, if it hasn’t already.

Avoid the ‘was £12.99 now £5’ buy

You should know better by now. Anyone who falls for such rubbish deserves everything they get – crap wine.

Don’t be a cheapskate

Spend £8-12 on a bottle rather than £4-8. It makes a real difference at this price point. Practically all, and I mean ALL, of the first £5 is bottle, label, transport, tax, duty, marketing.  About 20p is the wine. Not so appealing anymore, is it? Either that or the winemaker’s getting shafted by the beastly buying power of the evil supermarkets.

That said, we all shop in supermarkets for very good reasons and no-one’s gonna stop any time soon, no-one’s perfect.
How to buy cheap wine

If in doubt or a rush, go for the own label posh range

Yeah, shoot me down wine bores! They won’t blow your mind but they’ll usually be affordable, reliable and pretty representative of the region. They’ve been made by proper people, and tested and tasted by the MW’s and other buyers. They’re really not that bad. Reliable is what you need sometimes.

If you like Pinot Noir and haven’t got much to spend…

…sack off Burgundy; it’s just not very nice at the cheaper end. Chilean Pinot, Kiwi Pinot or a decent Beaujolais (look for the ‘crus’ – villages – like Fleurie, Moulin, Brouilly…) will do the job better.

Chile = reliable and good value

Don’t go generic warm climate Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon, try Carmenere instead, often more interesting in flavour.

Southern Italy is a good place to look for good value reds

You get delicious, full bodied, spicy Negroamaros from Puglia that taste more expensive than they are. Try M&S’ own label Negroamaro, with a smart, minty green label, about £7.

It’s not all about P-Grig

Please try some other whites from Italy instead – Fian ofrom Sicily (Tesco Finest worth a go) and Falanghina from near Naples and also grown in Puglia (most supermarket posh ranges do one).

Finally, avoid anything in a funny shaped bottle

There’s no place in your trolley for JP Chenet, Mateus Rose or, worst of the lot, Paul Masson. The ‘screw cap’ is off a small jam jar. What’s that all about?

Paul Mason screw cap wine

Of course, when faced with buying wine in a supermarket, one option is DON’T!

There’s nothing that wrong with buying wine from a supermarket (shoot me again, already down) but at least mix it up a bit.  Remind yourself you’re a grown up and walk into a local independent shop.  You’ve already got through job interviews, faced public speaking (possibly) and lost your virginity (hopefully), all of which are a lot more intimidating than walking into a wine shop.

Wine rules

They will VERY happily sell you loads of nice wine at the price that suits and they don’t mind if you go in and want to choose from the five cheapest bottles on the shelf.

Don’t feel bad saying you normally like that ‘nice Rioja with the yellow label’ and could they recommend something similar?  They’re probably a bit bored and would love to while away some time putting together a case foryou.

They’ll almost definitely deliver it. Then you’ll have a stash of decent, interesting and tasty wine at home.  THIS IS A GOOD THING.  You won’t have to go into the nearest Local/Metroand buy yet another Dino P-Grig, Oyster Bay Sauv Blanc or ‘treat yourself’to a Brancott Estate. They know what it’s like to have to seek out inexpensive yet still good wine – they work in a shop. Not all of them are stuffy, rude, patronising (OK, some are) but just ignore those ones and buy some wine anyway.

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