Traditionally, wines have been sold under the name of the producer or a brand name created by them. There have always been a few exceptions, mainly retailers such as Berry Brothers and the Wine Society putting their own name on wines they have bought in, but this trend has increased greatly in recent years. Virtually every supermarket has its range of own label wines – some have 2: a basic selection sold on price and a premium range which often includes some interesting bottles which are excellent value. ‘Tesco Finest’ and ‘Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference’ are examples of this latter category but others do the same – they just spring to mind because they’re my 2 nearest supermarkets.
These premium ranges often involve the supermarkets’ own wine buyers (these days generally Masters of Wine or other well-qualified individuals) working with producers to craft something that reflects the local style but would also appeal to the tastes of customers – and, because the supermarkets can buy in bulk, prices are usually very attractive.
But, it’s not just the supermarkets who do this. I’ve already mentioned the Wine Society, whose ‘Exhibition’ range is particularly good, but, now, Majestic Wine Warehouse is joining the party with their bottlings under the ‘Agenda’ label. The examples I’ve tasted so far are well up to standard and excellent value. It’s difficult to pick just one but their Portuguese red from the Daó region (a real bargain at £7.99 if you buy as part of the ‘mix 6’ offer) is certainly worth trying.
It is just so drinkable – soft and rounded with flavours of cooked plums and herbs. A hint of oak gives a savoury edge and there are the gentlest of tannins. For me, this makes perfect every day drinking, especially to accompany some mildly spicy sausages.
And that’s exactly what these premium own label ranges are designed to do: nothing fancy, just good drinking at sensible prices.
Pinot Noir is the trickiest grape. It can make great wines or disappointingly ordinary ones. The problem is that it’s very choosy about where it grows: it generally prefers a coolish climate to show off its subtle elegance. But, too cool and it won’t ripen properly resulting in raw, green flavours. On the other hand, too warm and you get thick, jammy fruit. And don’t ask the vines to produce too many bunches or the wine will be dilute and thin. So growing – and buying – Pinot Noir wines can be a nightmare.
The grape is a native of Burgundy, but the growers there only get it right some of the time; the USA turns out some fine examples, as does New Zealand. But good bottles from any of these places are generally quite pricey (£15+) and I usually avoid cheaper – sometimes even mid-priced – examples as they rarely show much Pinot character. So I must have been in a good mood (or not thinking!) as I picked up a bottle from a Tesco shelf recently. Wairau Cove Pinot Noir (£9) is described as from New Zealand’s South Island – an interesting description as I’m more used to seeing a more precise origin such as Marlborough or Nelson or Central Otago. ‘South Island’ sounds as though it might be a blend of fruit from more than one region, although the Wairau River flows through Marlborough. A clue or just a convenient Kiwi-sounding name?
Whichever, the wine itself was a pleasant surprise: a typical earthy, ‘farmyard’ nose (some describe it more explicitly!), quite light-bodied in the mouth but plenty of fruit – stewed plums and some slightly dried fruit flavours – and a reasonable finish, too. So how do Tesco do it for the price? It appears from the label that the wine may have been shipped from New Zealand in tanker and bottled here in the UK. Not what we might expect in a £9 wine, but, in this case, it’s given us a very drinkable Pinot Noir at a fair price. Nothing tricky about that!