The wine pricing policy of the big supermarkets and chains doesn’t get any easier to understand, or keep track of. So how do you tell if that ‘special offer’ is a bargain or not?
I know I’m in danger of sounding like a well-worn record, but supermarket wine pricing doesn’t get any more straightforward. And I’m choosing my words carefully.
I’ve just wandered round my nearest local supermarket, a Tesco Metro, and found a ridiculous number of wines currently selling at more than £10 that ought to be – and no doubt will be – half that price.
If I had wanted a bottle of First Cape First Selection Sauvignon Blanc, which Tesco is selling for £10.49 at the time of writing, I could have gone down the road to our local Bargain Booze and picked it up for £5. Isla Negra Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva, again £10.49 in Tesco, is £4.50 in Bargain Booze or £5.99 from thewinestation.com (reduced from £7.49)
Ah, the argument goes, but surely everyone knows that wine prices are hiked up for subsequent discounting? I’m not so sure. I think there are many consumers out there who just don’t feel that confident about wine and are prepared to pay the full price if they discover one they really enjoy.
And it’s not always easy to compare prices. The Wairau Cove Sauvignon Blanc for which Tesco is charging £12.59 as I write doesn’t seem to be available anywhere else. Yes, £12.59! You can buy a top New Zealand sauvignon such as Dog Point (£12.50, Wine Society; 13.5% abv) for that.
I’ve singled out Tesco because it’s on my doorstep, but this is true of the other supermarkets, too, as well as of national chains such as Majestic, whose entire range now seems to be on promotion. That said, its initial prices are not quite as inflated. I’d certainly be happy to pay £8.49 for the ripe, brambley Vinha do Monte 2010 Alentejano Tinto (13.5% abv), though obviously it’s an even better deal at £6.99.
So what to do? Be exceedingly wary about any half-price offer. Stick to own brands, which are usually not subject to such weaselly deals, or go for more obscure wines such as Utiel Requena’s cheery, swiggable Valsan 1831 Bobal (13.5% abv), which Morrisons’ online operation is stocking for £6.99. Also, check out what your local indie has to offer under the £10 mark. And don’t overlook the grander wine merchants, either – one of the best-value wines I tasted last year was a delicious southern French vin de pays Cuvée des Oliviers red (13.5% abv), from Domaine Massamier la Mignarde, which is £7.95 at Berry Bros & Rudd – exactly the same price as it was last September.
• Photographs: Michael Whitaker for the Guardian