Most "bargain" supermarket wine is "incredibly dull", lacking in character, blended and bland, according to an industry figure who is urging shoppers to spend a few more pounds on a really enjoyable bottle.
Most of the cost of a £4 or £5 wine goes in tax, bottling and transportation, leaving little for the drink, according to Graham Mitchell, a former director of the El Vino Company with 20 years' experience in the business.
In comments which have divided the wine trade, Mr Mitchell, whose family ran the El Vino wine bar in Fleet Street, London, said: "Unfortunately, a considerable amount of wine imported into the UK is incredibly dull. Much wine lacks character, is bland and blended for the mass-market brands, and massively discounted in a supermarket or big retail chain.
"These concoctions all taste the same, and the final wine lacks attitude, identity and soul." Supermarkets sold around 70 per cent of wine in the UK last year, at an average price of £4.59.
Mr Mitchell, who runs the thewineexplorer.co.uk website, said: "The tax alone on a bottle at this price is approaching £2.50 and then the cost of the glass, label, capsule and closure will add more, leaving less than a £1.00 for the value of the liquid inside the bottle." He urged shoppers to avoid £2.99 "bargains" and spend at least £9.99, explaining: "Although it's only three times the price you are getting eight times the quality."
Wine writers disagreed with his remarks, saying a decent bottle could still be had for £5 or £6. Richard Ehrlich, wine editor of Good Housekeeping magazine, said the ideal trade-off between price and quality was between £7 to £10 – lower than Mr Mitchell's estimate. "It's getting difficult to find a really interesting wine for less than £5, but it can be done still," Mr Ehrlich said.
Ned Halley, author of the The Best Wines in the Supermarkets 2012, said: "I don't think you have to pay £10 to get a decent bottle of wine. I would say you do need to start at about £5 because below that you will be paying for nothing but tax. Once you have got about £6 you can end up with something interesting in most supermarkets."
Five of the best:
Popolino Rosso 2011 M&S, below, £4.99: juicy, endearing Sicilian red
Sainsbury's Cuvée Prestige Côtes du Rhône 2010 £4.79: hearty, spicy, insanely underpriced red
Tesco Finest Picpoul de Pinet 2010 currently £5.79: tangy, dry white
Cuvée Pêcheur 2011 Waitrose £4.69: fresh, orchardy, Toulouse white
Finca Mirador Shiraz 2009 Co-op £6.49: peppery-velvet Argentine red
Three to avoid:
Minervois 2010 Tesco £10.99: not worth it, even at perpetual half price
Morrisons Best Fleurie 2009 £8.49: "Prestige" Beaujolais far worse than the ordinary stuff
Sainsbury's House Soave £3.49 : Defines the need to avoid very cheap Italian whites
By Ned Halley, author of the Best Wines in the Supermarkets 2012, published by Foulsham at £7.99