How good is wine that costs less than $10 a bottle? I put a bunch a big brands to the test.

26 April 2014

This column was first published in Your Weekend magazine in The Dominion Post, The Christchurch Press and The Waikato Times on Saturday 26 April 2014.

If you’re partial to a wine bargain then the shelves of your local New Zealand supermarket have probably never looked so good.
So many wines, such low prices. It’s like being in heaven and hell at the same time. How do you choose?
Bargain hunters are likely to be searching in the sub-$10 range; an ever changing minefield of cheap and cheerful combined with not-so-great, heavily discounted wines which are ready to drink now (code for let’s move this stock, the next vintage is looming).
Other than taking pot luck – not a bad way to go when the prices are this low – there are guidelines to follow.

The best value wines at low prices are usually white because less needs to be done to transform most white grapes into wine.

After harvest, they are crushed, pressed, possibly left in contact with their skins to extract extra flavour (but usually not), then fermented, blended, fined, filtered, bottled, labeled and sent to the supermarket. This can take a little as six to eight months from harvest. Top chardonnays, sparkling wines and aged whites are a different story. They take longer to make, cost more and don’t appear until they are wearing a vintage label that is about two years old. Top reds can take even longer to emerge from their chrysalis in barrels.

Another reason to opt for white wines at low prices is that we live in New Zealand; a country specializing in high quality white wine production.

For this story, I scoured the shelves of two major supermarket chains; tasted a vast number of low priced wines and interviewed distributors and retailers. Interesting sales trends came from brothers Reese and Ashley Drake, who run Thorndon New World in Wellington, which is owned by their father, Brian.
Reese says their customers want good value wines and often buy sub-$10 discounted bottles, but adds that: “If there’s a $100 bottle selling at $50 then it will fly out the door.”
The average spend on a bottle of wine at his supermarket is $12 to $15 rather than discounted sub-$10 wines. And he sees the biggest growth higher up the price chain at $19.99 where pinot noir sells swiftly, as it does between $20 and $30. Back in the bargain bins, my top 5 under-$10 wines may not always sell at this price, but they are stellar bargains when they do.

Wines of the week

Prices are recommended retail with regular discounted prices in brackets.

2013 Montana Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay $11.95 ($8.99 on special)

Flagged on supermarket shelves as the Montana Classics Range, this range includes the usual suspects; pinot gris, riesling, sauvignon blanc, rose, a merlot cabernet sauvignon blend, and shiraz. Which is the best? Personal preferences aside, the chardonnay and riesling boast the most flavour now and can also age well for up to five years, offering maximum value.

2013 Dashwood Sauvignon Blanc $14.99 ($8.99)
This is a steal under $10 because it’s so flavour packed; think tropical fruit salad in a glass – passionfruit, mango and pineapple led by freshness, clean, bright flavours.

2012 Corbans Homestead Riesling $11.99 ($8.99)
Better when it’s half a decade old, this is a great match as a drink with Thai food, especially when it’s infused with lemon grass, basil and mint, which marry well with this wine’s honey and apple flavours.

2013 Jacob’s Creek Chardonnay $10.59 ($8.99 on special)
The big JC is one of the world’s most successful wine brands for good reason; its whites and reds offer extraordinary value, like  this full bodied, creamy chardonnay.

2013 Rawson’s Retreat Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon $12.99 ($8.99 on special)
This shiraz cabernet sauvignon tastes like delving into a velvet cushion feels; smooth, rich and soft. A tasty combo of fruit, spice and earthiness.