A bunch of grape gripes

 

IF YOU have recently stocked up on wine in a supermarket, it’s likely that you will have at least paused in front of the now ubiquitous half-price offers. Promising savings of €6 or €7 per bottle, it can be hard to walk by without stuffing a couple of bottles in your trolley. After all, it seems too good a deal to pass by.

Or is it? Like many people, perhaps, PriceWatch has long had its suspicions about the veracity of such claims, and the quality of wine on sale in these offers.

So are they genuine discounts? Under consumer law, in order to proclaim a discount, supermarkets must have the bottles of wine on sale at the full price for a period of 28 successive days. Moreover, retail multiples such as supermarkets must have the wine on sale at the original price in a “significant” number or proportion of outlets.

According to the National Consumer Agency (NCA), the overriding principle of pricing legislation is that any promotional activity is carried out in “good faith” and is not likely to “mislead” consumers.

Given such legislation, supermarkets are bound to comply. According to a spokesman for Tesco Ireland, for example, the supermarket will have wine on sale at the higher price for 28 successive days in the three-month period prior to any price reduction being set. He cites the recent example of Turner Road Merlot, which was on sale at €13.99 for seven weeks prior to going on offer at €7, and the Five Climates Sauvignon Blanc was €13.99 for 10 weeks. It is now €7.

However, the NCA has nonetheless received a number of complaints regarding pricing claims on wine. After all, to satisfy the legislation a supermarket can simply put a couple of bottles on sale at the full price at the bottom of a shelf somewhere, before then slashing the price in a much publicised offer.

And the question also remains as to whether such bottles of wine were ever really worth the full price the supermarkets claimed. If so, are you being hoodwinked by the half-price claim for a bottle that’s really only worth €6-€7?

To answer this, PriceWatch asked some wine buffs to give their opinions on some of the half-price offers.

Lar Veale, author of wine blog sourgrapes.ie, tried out a bottle of Hardy’s 1853 Private Bin 2010 Chardonnay, on sale in Dunnes Stores.

Promising “a medium-bodied wine with peach and tropical flavours and soft integrated oak”, the wine was recently retailing at €5.99 – indicating a saving of €6 on its original price of €11.99.

So what did Veale think? “I don’t particularly like that style of wine. It’s what Australia is best known for, cheaper chardonnay, ‘sunshine in a glass’,” he says, adding that the price also strikes him as a bit high, even at the discounted price.

“There is far better wine in that price bracket,” he says, “Jacob’s Creek is my go-to wine for value when paying in or around that bracket.”

Veale also tasted a bottle of red Argentinian wine, a Trapiche Melodias Malbec 2010. Retailing for €7, it’s down from a full price of €13.99 at Tesco.

So did he think it “well rounded and supple, one of Argentina’s best examples of Malbec”, as the label claims? “It was a good quality, but the full price is definitely too high. You’d find better Malbecs at €10 in independent wine shops.”

However, at the discounted €7 you “wouldn’t be disappointed”, he added, noting that the wine would go well with barbeques or steak.

Maureen O’Hara, owner of Premier Wine Training, tried a bottle of French red wine, Cuvée des Amandiers Pays D’Oc 2010, on sale in Superquinn. From the Languedoc region, “it has a deep red colour, a full fragrant bouquet and good depth of fruit flavour on the palate”. It was reduced from €13.99 to €6.99.

“It was really pleasant, with earthy jammy aromas and a lovely long length of flavour to it,” she said. However, she wouldn’t classify it as a “€13.99 wine”.

“At that price you’d expect a higher quality level AOC,” she said, referring to the appellation dorigine contrôlée label which is assigned to French wine of a certain quality. Instead, the wine is labelled “indication geographique protegee (IGP)”, which, to the uninitiated, is also known as vin de pays and is of a lesser quality.

But she thought it good value for money at €6.99, adding that she would pair it with some light food such as a cold-meat platter or drink it without food. “It wouldn’t stand up to a steak or stew,” she said.

On sale in Supervalu, consumers could have savings of €3 on a bottle of Doña Paula Los Cardos, Malbec, 2009 Mendoza, Argentina, which was reduced from €9.99 to €6.99 Unlike the other bottles tested, this was considered to be worthy of its full price.

“It’s a super deal, it’s absolutely worth the full price,” she says, adding that she would have put the price closer to €11-€12.

“It’s really good, a really fruity style of south American wine with lots of blackberries, spices, and layers of flavours on it,” she said.

And apart from this, there are other deals out there if you know what to look for.

According to Veale, Tesco frequently has bottles of McWilliams Elizabeth Semillon and Philip Shiraz, at half price, down from €20 to €10, which, he says, represents “superb value”.

For O’Hara, Peter Lehmann’s range of wines “always over-deliver at standard retail prices”, while Tesco Finest’s Chenin Blanc is an “absolute steal”.

Veale also says that it’s worth looking out for discounted bottles of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc because it’s typically of a standard quality. However, while the popular Oyster Bay is frequently on special offer, he would opt for Villa Maria, saying it’s of a better quality.

BUT CONSUMERS should be wary when it comes to discounts of big wine names. O’Hara is keen to point out that just because a wine on special offer may have a big name like a Rioja or St Emilion, it doesn’t always mean it’s of a particular standard.

“It simply means that a wine maker has followed a recipe, it doesn’t guarantee quality,” she notes.

If you’re eating out, watch out for the house wine. “House wine can unfortunately be the lowest common denominator,” says O’Hara, and instead suggests you might get better value for money if you buy a bottle at just over the €20 level.

And, if you tend to shy away from serving bottles with screw caps at your dinner parties, it may be time to change your tune. According to Veale, many producers around the world now opt for the screw cap as it guarantees the quality of their wine.

“It used to mean bad quality of wine in the eyes of the consumer, but literally the whole of Australia has now gone screw cap, even up to really expensive wines,” he notes, adding that it is “no indication of quality”.

Veale also predicts that “bag in a box” type wine, which is typically more associated with the cheapest varieties, may become more popular for environmental reasons.

When searching for a nice bottle of wine, O’Hara suggests that you look out for favourable write-ups from newspaper columnists (such as John Wilson of this newspaper) which supermarkets will often display.

And finally, enjoy. “Don’t be afraid to drink what you like, and the odd time go into a wine shop, and don’t be afraid to try new stuff. Where wine shops can be great is to give you advice – but don’t take it too seriously,” advises Veale.

Forget about half-price and try these bottles for value:

Peter Lehmann range

Jacobs Creek range

Tesco Finest Chenin Blanc

Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc

McWiliams Elizabeth Semillon and Philip Shiraz

Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc

Gerard Bertrand Minervois