The best supermarket own-label wines for summer

'One limiting factor on the quality of own-label wine is the vineyards and wineries from which it's sourced' - Franz Lang

Supermarket own-label wines have been around for more than half a century. Sainsbury’s is thought to be the British pioneer, launching a range in the 1960s. When M&S followed, in 1973, four of its initial collection of 12 wines were from a particular corner of southern Spain. Yes, a third of the range consisted of sherry.

Today’s own-labels take in some of the best-value wines around. It’s where you can find some of the most adventurous wines in the store, including sherry. Retailers calculate (usually correctly) that, feeling safe within a familiar brand, such as Tesco Finest or Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference, shoppers are more willing to take a risk with an unknown grape or region.

M&S and Waitrose both introduced rosés made from an Italian grape called susumaniello this spring. Tesco has a new albariño from Uruguay, and recently previewed a Finest wine so unusual it’s under embargo until it launches in August.

One limiting factor on the quality of own-label wine is the vineyards and wineries from which it’s sourced. In recent years there have been periods when supermarkets have sought to ‘reduce their supplier base’ – to buy wine from a smaller number of people. This cuts the costs of admin and logistics. It also pushes supermarkets towards very high-volume producers, which isn’t always a good thing.

Happily, there are plenty of own-label wines made by top-notch producers. Some retailers hide these names. One example is Co-op’s superb Les Pionniers Champagne Brut NV, France (12%, Co-op, £22.75), made by Piper-Heidsieck. Similarly, Morrisons doesn’t shout about the producers behind its The Best range; I don’t rate them all, but they do include top names, such as Yealands, which makes the Marlborough sauvignon blanc, Zuccardi for the Uco Valley Argentine malbec, and San Marzano for the Italian primitivo.

Les Pionniers Champagne Brut NV, France (12%, Co-op, £22.75)

Other retailers highlight the fact that they’re working with good producers and put it on the label. Examples include the beautiful Definition by Majestic Viña Majestica 2018, Spain (15%, Majestic, £14.99 or £12.99 in a mixed six) produced by the excellent La Rioja Alta, and Tesco Finest Falanghina 2023, Italy (13%, Tesco, £8.50), a beautifully refreshing white that smells of orange blossom, made by the brilliant producer Feudi di San Gregorio.

Definition by Majestic Viña Majestica 2018, Spain (15%, Majestic, £14.99 or £12.99 in a mixed six)

The quality of an own-label wine is also dependent on the in-house buyer and/or winemaker, who often creates a bespoke mix from the available barrels and tanks in the winery. This is a skilled task. I once met an Italian producer who spoke of a former M&S winemaker with an exquisite balance of venom and admiration: ‘She took all my best tanks.’

So, even when several supermarkets use the same supplier for a particular wine, they can taste different. One supermarket’s customers may prefer a sweeter or a fruitier wine, so the buyer creates a blend that caters to that taste.

Chutzpah also comes into play. A couple of Christmases ago I was surprised to find Aldi’s own-label sauternes came from the highly regarded Château Suduiraut. How did they manage that? ‘We just asked them,’ said the buyer.

In short, then, own-label certainly isn’t cheapskate. Choose carefully and you can find some real jewels.

Try these...

Finest Peumo Carménère 2023, Chile

14%, Tesco, £8.50

Consistently one of Tesco’s best, but I particularly like the mulberry flavours and black-tea tightness of this new vintage. Made by Concha y Toro.

The Best Gran Montaña Uco Valley Malbec 2021, Argentina

14.5%, Morrisons, £10

Zuccardi makes next-gen malbec, with texture and more transparency than the claggy builders’ tea style. This is excellent.

Taste the Difference Discovery Collection South African Cinsault 2023

12.5%, Sainsbury’s, £10

A cranberry- and pomegranate-scented cinsault made from 34-year-old vines.