Published 18 October 2010
We all buy wine from supermarkets. However snobby you get and however much you vow to only buy wines from specialist independent merchants like The Sampler, Corney & Barrow or Naked Wines, you will buy at least some of your wines from supermarkets.
Forgetting ‘special offers’ (see earlier articles suggesting that 99% of supermarket offers are bulls**t), the primary question surrounding supermarket wines is whether they are any good?
Well Sainsbury’s recently gave me the chance to form an opinion on their current offering, when they invited me to a tasting of their full Taste The Difference range: 108 wines, plus fortified wines, spirits, beers and ciders.
Faced with such an insurmountable task, I made the immediate decision that I’d cut out the fortifieds, spirits, beers and ciders. But that still left me with over 100 wines to taste and on which to formulate useful opinions.
The wines were split into the following categories:
- Taste the Difference Whites & Roses
- Champagne & Sparkling Wines
- Taste the Difference Reds
- New Wines
- New Vintages from Our Cellar
- Fine Wines
As I only had a couple of hours, and am not a professional, I decided to taste the Taste The Difference whites and reds, and the reds in the Fine Wine section. That gave me a total of 54 wines (16 whites and 38 reds). I had a couple of hours. 54 wines in 2 hours – easy?
It quickly became obvious that this was not going to be an easy task. Forming a valuable summation of a single wine in about 2 minutes might be possible (I have to admit that I’ve never timed myself), but to do that continuously for 2 hours was a ball-busting exercise.
TTD (Taste The Difference) Chablis (£7.49 to £12.99)
There are 3 wines from the region within the Taste The Difference range: a Petit Chablis 2009 (£7.49), a Chablis 2008 (£8.99), and a Chablis Premier Cru 2008 (£12.99). All are made from 100% Chardonnay by winemaker Bertrand Cherel and are left to mature on the lees for varying lengths. The Petit Chablis has a good apple taste, good length, and is good for the price. The Chablis is smoother and subtler, with the Premier Cru having lovely subtle flavours of summer apples. Although the quality of the wines did improve marginally as the price increased, I think that (of the three) the Petit Chablis was the best value-for-money.
TTD Sancerre 2009 (£12.29)
Made from 100% hand-picked Sauvignon Blanc, this wine uses inert gas in the wine-making process in order preserve the fresh mineral flavours. I experienced aromas of nail varnish but found it pleasant in the mouth; with a creamy mouthfeel – although slightly cloying – and a good length.
TTD Casablanca Chilean Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (£5.99)
Like the famed New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, these vines are subjected to a moderating coastal influence during the ripening period – meaning that they can ripen slowly and gain full and subtle flavours. It was light and pleasant, with lovely peach aromas (with a subtle hint of tropical fruit). There was a slightly acidic aftertaste, but it was one of the nicest whites.
TTD Gewurztraminer 2009 (£7.29)
Made in Turckheim, Alsace, from 100% Gewurztraminer grapes, this sweeter wine is full-flavoured with powerful aromas of pineapple and tropical fruit. Next time you’re cooking a slightly spicy dish, you could do a lot worse than grabbing a bottle of this.
TTD Douro DOC 2008 (£7.99)
Using grape types that are native to Portugal (Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional), and which are hand-picked and undergo a careful selection process, this was my favourite wine of the day. The wines lovely cherry flavours are as pleasant as the winery’s joint owner, Miguel Roquette, who was at the tasting representing the firm. Roquette acknowledges that “the UK is the toughest market”, but I think that, with wines like this, he will have no problem making a big impression on it.
TTD Cepa Alegro Rioja Reserva 2005 (£8.99)
The winery, family-owned for four generations, turns out a very typical Rioja – in a good way. Made from 90% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano, this is a good wine for the price.
TTD Gigondas 2008 (£11.99)
Credited by Sainsbury’s as being “Complex, textured and full flavoured”, I’d be inclined to agree. With evident tannin, a good amount of fruit and acidity, this is one of my favourites of the day. Made from 35+ year old vines of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, and aged in oak barrels for 15 months, this wine is produced exclusively for Sainsbury’s.
TTD Barossa Shiraz 2009 (£7.99)
This is made exclusively for Sainsbury’s by Toby Barlow at St. Hallett Wines. I’ve had Gamekeeper’s Reserve from the same producer which was unimpressive. And I heard the ‘experts’ at the tasting saying bad things about this wine. But I thought that it was actually pretty decent for the price: good fruit content, lusciously sweet, full-bodied.
Fine Wine Reds
Jacob’s Creek St Hugo Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (£24.99)
This is far from a subtle wine, but this 100% Cabernet Sauvignon is a good quality wine. It was a lot fruitier than I’d expect a 2005 Cabernet to be. Unfortunately, I think that experienced wine lovers will probably shun this wine because it is a Jacob’s Creek (which has a reputation for being a mass-produced crowd pleaser). But maybe that will be this wine’s success: because it IS known by the public and will be bought for ‘special occasions’. If I wasn’t a bit of a snob, maybe I’d do the same?
Barone Ricasoli Rocca Guicciarda Riserva Chianti Classico 2007 (£16.49)
Another wine that I’ve previously bought from Sainsbury’s and not been very impressed with; but this time it was better priced (in the past I’ve had it on ‘offer’ from some ridiculously over-stated price) and is a pretty decent bottle. Made from 80% Sangiovese grapes (the rest being Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon) by the oldest winery in Italy and the largest in the Chianti Classico region – it has a luscious velvety texture and is a good example of a Chianti.
Chateau Clarke Listrac-Medoc 2002 (£24.99)
Made from hand-picked and hand-sorted grapes (70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon), this wine shows what care in the vineyard and winery can give. There was a good deal of fruit flavours present (including, surprisingly, raspberries) and a good length.
Chateau Smith Haut Lafite 2004 (£49.99)
I hate it when wine ‘experts’ go all flowery with their descriptions, so I apologies in advance when I say that upon sniffing this wine I was hit by a smell that reminded me of a French patisserie: that sweet smell of baking cakes, icing, and slightly burnt caramel. It’s one of the most pleasant smells in the world, and this wine had it wafting out of the glass. It was smooth in the mouth with a long smooth finish. It’s a stretch at nearly £50, but this is as a result of using top production methods (including hand-picking and restricted yields – the latter meaning that the ratio of grapes to vine is kept low so that the all the good stuff gets concentrated into just a few bunches, rather than being spread thinly over many). Smith Haut Lafite is a wine that I’d expect to see in a specialist wine merchants rather than my local supermarket. To be honest, if I was buying at this price level, I’d probably go to a specialist supplier rather than my supermarket. But good on them for stocking such a quality wine.
Antonin Rodet Gevrey-Chambertin 2008 (£24.99)
Initially I was underwhelmed by this wine: it had few aromas. However, I think that much of this was due to the bottle being newly opened. In tasting the wine, I found a subtle, smooth varietal Pinot Noir which had the expected cherry and red fruit flavours, and was one of the best wines on show.
I won’t go into details on why I didn’t favour the following wines. In my opinion, if you’re going to buy wine from Sainsbury’s, I’d buy any of the above instead of these ones:
- TTD Silver Fish South African Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (£7.49)
- TTD St.Emilion 2008 (£8.99)
- TTD Barolo 2006 (£15.49)
- Chateau Potensac 2006 (£24.99)
I know that I was there for tasting the wines, but my thoughts on departure were hijacked: I picked up a bit of bread and some Taste The Difference Manchego cheese – wow! What a fantastic cheese. After that, I also tried some of the Taste The Difference balsamic vinegar – wow again! In a world with so many wines to choose from, I may or may not get around to drinking all the wines I liked; but I will definitely be picking up a packet of their Manchego when I am next in Sainsbury’s.