Is it worth paying more for expensive supermarket wine?

Are you missing out by buying cheap wine? Or are you wasting money splashing out on a special bottle? I’ve looked into whether the average punter like me can tell the difference. Plus, how you can tell whether a wine is on offer more often than full price.

I’m not a wine expert. If anything I find the variety available at the supermarket a little daunting. So when shopping I normally restrict myself to what’s on offer, normally paying between £6 and £8 – rarely more, never less. But I’d like to know more.

Fortunately, my friend Rob is a wine expert (he’s also a top chef – check out his website)! So I roped him in for a blind taste test. The aim was to see if there really is a difference between three bottles of wine. One priced £7.50 (on offer at £6), one priced £9 and one priced £13 (on offer at £11).

To make it slightly scientific, I bought them all from the same supermarket (Sainsbury’s) and all the same type of grape (Pinot Noir). Then I disguised the bottles and poured a glass of each for me and Rob.

To complicate it even more, we added in a £5ish bottle of wine to see how that compared.

Watch my latest video to see what happened:

For me, the most interesting result was neither of us particularly liked the most expensive bottle of wine. Though Rob felt it would improve with food, I’d have been hugely disappointed to spend the full £13 on it.

The cheapest bottle was almost half the price and at first sip, much nicer. Given the choice between the two, I’d have picked this one every time. Hey, I could have picked two bottles for the same price!

But the best one for taste and value came in at £9. Not only that it was an own brand “Taste the difference”. This is more than I’d normally spend, but it was really good, and I’d be happy to spend more to get something this nice. So perhaps the safest price point is around that mark?

Of course, the problem is for the amateur like you and I is we’re still guessing. And everyone has different tastes. But at least I know expensive doesn’t necessarily mean good.

As a result of our test, I’m certainly going to avoid supermarket wines above £9. I’d hoped the most expensive wine was going to be the best, and if I’d shelled out for one as a treat I’d have regretted it. I don’t think it’s worth the risk.

Perhaps the answer if you want something special is to ditch the supermarket. Rob advises heading to a local wine shop and talking about the wines you like. That way there’s less risk of wishing you’d just picked up the old familiar. And hopefully you’ll get to enjoy something new.

How much wine are you paying for in a bottle?

We weren’t able to keep all of Rob’s insight in this video (it’d easily have been close to 20 minutes – there’ll be another video soon), but it’s safe to say there are lots of factors which contribute to the price you pay at the supermarket. However, there’s one fixed cost which is quite dramatic.

Whether you buy a £5 bottle or a £200 bottle (as if), the price includes a flat £2(ish) duty.

Costs like bottling and shipping don’t change much either, so once you add on VAT and supermarket profit the wine itself in a £5 bottle could be worth just 50p!

But for a wine that costs £6, the wine could be worth £1.50. A wine that costs £9 could be worth an extra £3, if not more.

Though the wines we tasted showed expensive doesn’t mean good, and cheap doesn’t mean bad, it’s an interesting statistic to remember when comparing similar wines.

Are special offers the real price?

Some wines seem to be on special offer ALL the time, which makes me question whether “full price” is just an inflated figure to allow for “discounting”.

A great trick to find out the real price is the website/app MySupermarket. Here you can see price history, including how often the item is on special offer.

I took a look at some of the wines I frequently see cut-price to see just how often they are cheaper. The Casillero Del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon has been on offer for more than 50% of the year at Sainsbury’s, while a Campo Viejo Tempranillo was only full price at Tesco for 24 weeks. Clearly both examples of the real price being the discounted price.

So what about the wines we tested?

Hautes Côtes de Nuits Pinot Noir

The first wine we tasted was reduced to £10.50 for 10 weeks in the last 41 weeks and then spent two weeks at £11 (when I bought it). So it’s been on offer for a third of the time it’s been on shelves at an average price of £11.98. Still an expensive wine by supermarket standards.

Bouchard Aîné & Fils Pinot Noir

The cheapest wine in our test was also on offer when I bought it, costing £6 rather than a full price of £7.50. MySupermarket shows the average price at £6.98 – but it’s been on offer for 17 weeks in the last year – so it’s cheaper one-third of the time.

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference New Zealand Pinot Noir

Our favourite was £9, and MySupermarket shows the average price is £9.11. That’s because full-price for most of the last year has been a higher £10.  But I didn’t buy this Marlborough Pinot Noir on offer, so it must be a price cut, perhaps suggesting why we felt it was such a bargain. Again it’s been on offer over the last year, but less often than the other wines at just 25% of the time.

McGuigan Classic Pinot Noir

 This bargain £5.50 bottle I threw in at the end of our taste test is new on the shelves so there’s no price history to examine. But we both felt it’s a good price for an easy to drink “session” wine.

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