Raising a glass to the Winemakers' Selection
"In the last financial year," says Andy Phelps, drinks boss at Sainsbury's, "our sub-£5 wine sales have declined while sales of wines priced between £7 and £9.99 have increased by 11% and £10-and-over bottles have grown by 24%."
If Sainsbury's is a thermometer of the wine market, we can see where things are going. And at above £5, this retailer is certainly turning up the heat. The new Winemakers' Selection range of own-label wines, which "sits between House, our everyday value varietal range, and Taste the Difference, our premium range", says Andy – is an interesting mid-price band with a lot of wines customers will warm to. Some of the wines are below £5, curiously enough, but most seem to be nailed at the £5.99 and £6.99 price points. Some of these wines, all new to me, are very good indeed, and I have included several among those featured here today.
The Taste the Difference wines continue to impress me equally, and they account for all the other wines I've picked out.
Sainsbury's deserves credit for having introduced the concept of supermarket own-label wines, back in the 1970s, and for maintaining a consistency, if not a supremacy, in this field of endeavour ever since. If they hadn't had the idea in the first place, I fancy that the remarkable in-house ranges now to be found in all the major retailers might today be considerably less diverse, adventurous and keenly priced than they are. Hands up who would like to return to the days when the supermarket shelves were monopolised by Don Cortez, Hirondelle and Liebfraumilch.
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Winemakers' Selection Portuguese Red (£4.99) This straightforward non-vintage bargain has bright, juicy fruit with hallmark Portuguese clove and cinnamon notes in its brambly depths. An outdoor red wine from the indigenous Baga grape, blended with Tinta Roriz, a variety much used in Port.
Winemakers' Selection Nero d'Avola 2012 (£5.99) You get a likeable pruny pong from this long, dark and grippy pasta red from Sicily's most distinctive grape variety. It's made by the island's giant Settesoli co-operative.
Winemakers' Selection Red Burgundy 2011 (£7.69) A superbly well-knit and polished sweetly ripe Pinot Noir by Antonin Rodet, one of the leading producer-merchants of the Chalonnais distict of southern Burgundy, this is partly aged in new oak to luscious effect. Good value.
Taste the Difference Morador Malbec 2012 (£7.99) I liked the baked fruit in this leathery but not tough barbecue red from Argentina. It has dark savour and the considerable poke (15% alcohol) that marks out the more interesting of these high Andean wines.
Taste the Difference Viñedos Barrihuelo Rioja Crianza 2008 (£8.99) From an inspired collection of own-label reds from Spain, this mature classic is showing orange at the rim of the rich ruby colour, and did I detect an orange-zest-fringe to the plump berry fruit and vanilla nose? Flavour corresponds faithfully and it tastes well above price.
Taste the Difference Barbaresco 2009 (£9.99) To me, this is the ace in Sainsbury's considerable Italian flush. It's a handsomely presented wine from the famed Piedmont DOCG with paleish but enticing colour, sweet ripeness of cherries and violets, even roses, on the nose and lush, long elegant poised summer red fruit; 14% alcohol. At a tenner a great introduction to a fabled wine style.
Winemakers' Selection Moscatel de Valencia (£4.59) Honey and candied fruit mark out this gorgeous stickie; it's a well-made wine from part-fermented Muscat stopped with spirit (15% alcohol), in good balance. A bargain for the right occasion: birthday cake, blue cheeses or just a mid-morning sharpener.
Winemakers' Selection Falang-hina de Beneventano 2012 (£6.99) Good definition and lemon tang ornament the orchard fruit in this interesting and refreshing dry white from the Campania region of southern Italy.
Taste the Difference Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie 2012 (£6.99) There is plenty of good Muscadet from the 2012 harvest in the Loire estuary. This one has a cheery seaside perkiness, lots of tangy white fruit and a forgivable shortage of wincing green acidity. Very friendly.
Taste the Difference Albariño Rias Baixas 2012 (£7.99) Another successful year for this pioneering wine from Spain's Rias Baixas, launched long ago by Sainsbury's when the region was little heard-of. This is thrillingly lush and eager, bursting with grassiness and white fruit.
Taste the Difference Languedoc Blanc 2012 (£8.99) A successful repeat of the superb 2011 vintage. This delicious Mediterranean mélange has freshness and tang as well as a basketful of white fruits, and nice toffee richness.
Taste the Difference Hunter Valley Semillon 2006 (£9.99) Petrolly old wine is fino-sherry-like in its weighted density and loaded with tropical fruits trimmed up into a dry finish. A truly special aperitif white from Australia.