New World's big brands 'taste no better than many cheaper wines'

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The Independent Online

Labels such as Blossom Hill, Rawson's Retreat and Jacob's Creek suggest a drink full of bucolic charm and character. And while the arrivals from the New World are unlikely to offend, they barely rank in terms of taste above much cheaper wines.

Labels such as Blossom Hill, Rawson's Retreat and Jacob's Creek suggest a drink full of bucolic charm and character. And while the arrivals from the New World are unlikely to offend, they barely rank in terms of taste above much cheaper wines.

That is verdict of research from a group of experts for Which? magazine who put the 11 "big-brand" wines, accounting for 26 per cent of the UK market, to the test.

Only 13 of the 41 wines, priced between £4 and £7.50, rated "palatable" or better and in terms of value for money the verdict was even more damning. Only the Lindemans Cawarra Cabernet Merlot 2004, a "blackcurranty and pleasantly fresh" wine priced at £4.99 and given 13 marks out of 20, was given the "Best Buy" award. Others scored as high on taste, such as the Rosemount Diamond Label Merlot 2002 costing £7.49, but did not rate as such good value for money.

Propping up the table in a survey which slightly favoured the reds, were a medium white from Piat d'Or, eight points, and a Banrock Station merlot, seven. In an indictment of some of the country's most popular tipples, the judges cited a lack of character, balance, freshness and vibrancy, and one summed it all up as a "shocking experience".

"People often feel that, unless they know about wine, it's probably a safer bet to plump for a big name they recognise," said Malcolm Coles, editor of Which? "The majority of big brand wines we tasted were mediocre, though, and we're not talking about bottles that cost three quid either - some of them sell for six or seven. At least they're reliable though - just one bottle in the whole batch we tried was faulty."

Susy Atkins, the report's editor, urged big-brand devotees to change their habits. "People need to get out of a rut if they are not feeling inspired and taste something different. It's just a case of reading a few newspaper columns and buying a wine guide. Instead of buying your wine at the corner shop or the supermarkets where the big brands tend to dominate, it would be better to go to an independent wine merchant."

For wines costing between £5-£7 Ms Atkins recommended labels from Chile, South Africa, Languedoc in the south of France and southern Italy. Many of these countries and regions had made "enormous progress" in the past 15 years and their warm climates produced "reliable, ripe, fruity and modern" flavours she said.

Much of the big brand wine originates from vast vineyards and is blended, often with fruit from other regions, with the aim of creating a drink that is consistent, reliable and "clean".

This, critics say, is too often at the expense of character that would come from the more risky venture of sourcing grapes from a small, old vineyard. Sales of big brand wines are heavily dependent on the British market and blends are created to suit British tastes.

"They produce with the UK in mind because it is one of the biggest for them. They see the UK as the shop window to the world because we have so many wine writers and competitions here and import so much," Ms Atkins said.

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