Matt Walls’ book Drink Me! How to Choose, Taste and Enjoy Wine is the latest in the New Voices in Food Series, due for publication in May 2012. Matt is the author of a fabulous wine blog, providing tips, tricks and info on how to get the most out of wine.
With the festive season approaching many of us will be cozying up at home with a glass of wine in hand and hoping not to be disappointed. But what to buy? Especially if you are not an expert. Fear not, Matt has done the the work and here below gives you the lowdown on the best and worst wines he recently tasted at the Tesco Wine Fair.
Tesco Wine Fair: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
by: Matt Walls
I’m not going to lie to you. The masochist in me just couldn’t wait to go to the Tesco Wine Fair. I’ve been before. I always go; usually alone. It’s my naughty little secret.
This is the ticketed event they put on every year for their customers. It costs between £6 and £10 to get in, and they have either one or two sessions during the course of a day. I went to one of the London sessions, at the Royal Horticultural Halls in Westminster. Previously the Fair had called at Manchester, Bristol, Brighton and Edinburgh, spending two days in each city. Every session on every day sold out. The queues to get in are biblical.
Once inside, there are about 80 stands. I must admit that I tasted a lot of wines that were pretty average. But there were several very good wines on show as well that I would be more than happy to buy and drink. Over the coming festive months, if I happen to pass a Tesco on my way to a party, I’m sure I will. But sure enough there were wines at the other end of the scale… I think it’s fair to say that most of the worst wines on the market are made by big commercial wineries – and a good number were in attendance here.
Working in wine, you get spoiled. It would be easy to lose touch with the average wine drinker. There are multiple industry tastings on every day, many exhibiting unusual, rare or valuable wines. The Tesco press tasting will, of course, only show what they consider to be their very best wines, but many of these will be limited to their bigger stores. I want to taste the other stuff they sell too. The big names you see in all the supermarkets. The ones that are often on promotion; which are the wines most people in the UK take home and drink. So every year I go to the Tesco Wine Fair to see which brands are improving, and which are sliding downhill. There are always a few surprises.
Consistency of quality across whole brands was rare. Many producers only offered a small number of wines from a large range. As such, it is difficult to generalise here about the entire production of any particular brand. For each brand, I tasted all the wines they had on show. Next time you find yourself in Tesco in need of a decent bottle I hope this is a useful page to pull up.
Needless to say, it’s not just the big brands that you can find at Tesco. Many of their Finest range are very good, and they also stock some quality wines by some interesting smaller producers. The Tesco Wine Fair I attended was packed, and it was well organised, with useful regular 20 minute smaller guided tastings on specific topics. It’s great to see so many people, and so many different types of people, all getting stuck in and tasting. As a beginner it’s not such a bad place to start – after all, these are the wines with the widest distribution. It’s good to know which ones are good – and which ones are not.
The Chardonnay, though admittedly not the cheapest, was one of the best wines I tasted all day. The sparkling wines were less successful.
All prices quoted are in-store prices per bottle when off promotion.
Silver Label Chardonnay 2009 £13.00: 89 points, good value
Silver Label Shiraz Cabernet 2008 £13.00: 88 points, fair value
Sparkling Rosé NV £9.49: 85 points, fair value
Sparkling Brut NV £9.49: 84 points, not great value
Another very good Chardonnay, one of the best sub-£10 wines on show. Their Moscatos, while interesting to see they are experimenting with this style, tasted a bit confected, especially the rosé.
Reserve Chardonnay 2009 £9.99: 88 points, fair value
Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2010 £9.99: 87 points, fair value
Moscato 2010 £7.49: 85 points, fair value
Moscato Rosé 2010 £7.49: 82 points, not great value
These two were relatively elegant compared to many of the Australian branded wines I tasted, not overdone.
Nottage Hill Chardonnay 2010 £7.99: 87 points, fair value
Nottage Hill Cabernet Shiraz 2010 £7.99: 87 points, fair value
Reasonably solid stuff, particularly their dry Riesling.
Koonunga Hill Riesling 2010 £8.54: 88 points, good value
Koonunga Hill Retro 76 Shiraz Cabernet 2009 £8.54: 87 points, fair value
One of the most consistent ranges I tasted, not brilliant but not at all bad.
Classic Chardonnay 2010 £7.79: 87 points, fair value
Classic The Semillon Blanc 2011 £7.79: 86 points, fair value
Classic Shiraz 2010 £7.79: 86 points, fair value
Classic Merlot 2010 £7.11: 86 points, fair value
Classic Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 £7.79: 86 points, fair value
Classic Pinot Grigio 2010 £7.79: 85 points, fair value
Oxford Landing Estates
Consistently decent quality cheaper options.
Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2009 £6.99: 87 points, fair value
Sauvignon Blanc 2011 £6.99: 86 points, fair value
Chardonnay 2010 £6.99: 86 points, fair value
Merlot 2009 £6.99: 86 points, fair value
Their white wines are definitely their stronger suit.
Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2011 £9.79: 87 points, fair value
Marlborough Chardonnay 2010 £9.79: 87 points, fair value
Hawkes Bay Merlot 2010 £9.79: 85 points, not great value
Sparkling Cuvée Brut NV £13.00: 84 points, not great value
Marlborough Pinot Noir 2010 £10.79: 83 points, not great value
Casillero del Diablo
Though not as good value as they once were, the quality is still pretty good.
Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 £7.79: 87 points, fair value
Malbec 2009 £7.40: 86 points, fair value
Sauvignon Blanc 2010 £7.79: 86 points, fair value
Pinot Grigio 2010 £7.40: 85 points, not great value
Pretty big wines as you would expect, but with some complexity of flavour.
Golden Reserve Malbec 2008 £10.99: 88 points, fair value
Reserve Malbec 2010 £9.00: 87 points, fair value
If you need some cheaper options, you could do worse than opt for the first two here. The more expensive wines aren’t worth the extra.
Negroamaro Zinfandel 2010 £4.55: 85 points, good value
Catarratto Chardonnay 2010 £4.99: 85 points, good value
Pinot Grigio Veneto 2010 £6.48: 85 points, not great value
Merlot Sicilia 2010 £6.99: 85 points, not great value
With better quality and value elsewhere, though not awful, these have little to recommend about them.
Orginals Chenin/Chardonnay 2010 £7.29: 83 points, poor value
Originals Cabernet/Merlot 2010 £6.99: 83 points, not great value
Originals Pinotage Rosé 2010 £6.79: 83 points, not great value
There was something about these wines that tasted unnatural.
Black Tower Silvaner Pinot Grigio 2010 £5.79: 82 points, not great value
Black Tower Rosé 2010 £5.68: 82 points, not great value
Black Tower Fruity White 2010 £4.58: 82 points, not great value
Confected flavours, and surprisingly expensive really, especially the White Zinfandel.
Vineyard Collection White 2010 £5.99: 82 points, not great value
Vineyard Collection Red 2010 £5.99: 81 points, not great value
White Zinfandel 2010 £6.29: 79 points, poor value
Gallo Family Vineyards
I can understand the appeal of these in as much as eating a bag of sweets. The wines are all in fact slightly sweet – not in itself a bad thing – but the flavours are reminiscent of jelly sweets. And hey, I like jelly sweets. But at the end of the day, there are more delicious, more authentic and more nourishing things to eat, if you know what I mean.
Sauvignon Blanc 2010 £6.48: 84 points, fair value
Pinot Grigio 2010 £6.48: 82 points, not great value
Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 £6.48: 81 point, poor value
Merlot Rosé 2010 £6.29: 81 points, poor value
Summer Red NV £6.16: 79 points, poor value
Last, and indeed least:
White Grenache 2010 £6.48: an unprecedented 78 points, poor value