I tried the best wines from Australia's big 4 grocery retailers -- and there's weren't as many good ones as I expected

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The pitched battle between the major grocery retailers finds no respite in their respective liquor departments.

The two superpowers, Coles and Woolworths, with their vast ranges and multitudinous outlets bearing various monikers, have in more recent times been engaged in focused skirmishes by the guerrilla warriors Aldi and Costco.

As it has for groceries, this has meant lower prices for the consumer and lower margins for the business. The latter has meant a back-to-the-future moment; the rise of Buyers Own Brands/exclusive imports.

A little history might be useful at this point. There is a long tradition of serious wines and spirits purveyors utilising their expertise to work with suppliers, both local and overseas, to develop exclusive products built to the taste of the merchant’s clientele, with the bulk buying delivering better purchase prices with some if not all of that value flowing through to the drinker.

In the UK there were many famous examples such as the whiskies Cutty Sark, created in 1922 by Berry Bros & Rudd, and J&B by Justerini & Brooks as well as Bristol Cream by John Harvey & Sons.

Australia had its merchant selections by leading lights such as Johnny Walker of Rhine Castle Wines, Doug Crittenden of Crittendens, W.J. Seabrook & Sons etc. (My apologies to many other quality local merchants not cited but who did similar good work.)

So against this historical background, how are our major booze purveyors acquitting themselves with their “exclusive” wines, both their proprietary labels, and their exclusive imports?

All of the wines below are definitely worth trying, with the best showing an excellent quality and price rapport, but the choices were tougher and more limited than I expected.

I purposely avoided the cheaper/entry level wines, being fearful of what punishment my liver might endure for very little satisfaction.

The wines featured below represent the separation of the wheat from a fair bit of higher-end chaff which included: an out-of-condition $30 Chateauneuf-du-Pape, a bizarre Californian red blend, an insipid $30 Oregon pinot noir, overpriced local Margaret River chardonnay and cabernets, and a Californian chardonnay which badly needed a crash course from Jenny Craig.

Frankly, the success/review rate was lower than I had expected. Many of the wines marketed under the auspices of the supermarkets simply not up to being reviewed on the basis of quality and/or value.

Using quality and price rapport as the yardstick, Dan Murphy’s and Aldi were clear winners.

There were good wines from both Coles and Costco interspersed with a higher level of disappointments.

My strong recommendation is speak with your usual store assistant and get their opinions before buying, because it might well not live up to the expectations you have of the label and price.

All four merchants have varying levels of work to do before laying claim to walking proudly in the shoes of their illustrious predecessors.

Here are the 10 best “supermarket” wines I found:

CHAMPAGNES

MV Veuve Monsigny Champagne Premier Cru Brut
RRP $25 from Aldi

“Champagne” on the label assures this wine must come exclusively from the 318 villages which comprise the Champagne appellation. This wine is made from Premier cru vineyards which are rated from 90/100-99/100 on the 100 point Èchelle des Crus rating scale. (Only Grand Cru vineyards are rated 100 points).

Inviting colour, good bead and fresh aromas of acacia, and spiced apple. The palate begins promisingly, as it feels like Champagne with its lively fine mousse. The medium-bodied flavours are easy and generous with notes of brioche and stewed apples.

The farewell is just a little short. Nonetheless, good drinking and fine value.

MV Charles Orban Blanc de Blancs
RRP $50 from Dan Murphy’s

From a small Champagne maison situated in Troissy, with annual production circa 200,000 bottles.

100% chardonnay. This is a significant step up in quality (and price) to the above. Racy mousse with intense, piercing flavours of delicate brioche, poached pear and a whisker of nougat. Very persistent, clean and refreshing finish.

Quite delicious, this is a versatile style which can work equally well as either a pre-dinner aperitif or served with oysters and other seafood entrees.

WHITES

2016 Pazo Barrantes Albariño, Galicia Spain
RRP $23 from Dan Murphy’s

Part of the Marqués de Murrieta group, the Barrantes Pazo (manor house) has belonged to the count of Creixell family since the beginning of the 20th century.

In the albariño boom of the 90s the family decided to transform the estate and to grow and produce the variety. A winery was built next to the house and 1991 was the first Pazo de Barrantes wine to be marketed. Today total production is circa 100,000 bottles.

Pale lemon appearance, the aromas are clean and fresh with floral notes, honey and a back note of balsamic. Good attack on entry, the texture from some lees stirring is apparent and gives welcome body to the culinary-herb and savoury flavours which finish with medium length while wearing an iodine top-coat. Will work really well with chargrilled seafood.

2017 Blackstone Paddock Margaret River Chardonnay
RRP $18 from Aldi

This wine has featured prominently in recent news after winning two trophies in October at the Western Australian Wine Show in Mount Barker: best chardonnay of show and best white wine of show.

I actually drank it a few weeks earlier, making the following observations:

Pale light-lemon appearance. The nose is very lifted and in your face with straightforward characters of matchstick/sulphide and oak. Very tight and tingly, the “work” in the wine is the dominant feature with the fruit taking a back seat.

Speaking of which, this reminds me of your optioned-up everyday family car; a reliable conveyance underneath, and with enough toys on board to keep everyone happy.

Good value for the dollars.

Now if I was scoring the wine in show terms I would have given it a strong to very strong silver medal.

I haven’t re-tasted the wine, and this review might be completely academic because the show success could have it long departed from Aldi shelves. But if you do find a bottle, grab it, as you certainly get bang for your buck.

REDS

2015 Cave du Château de Chenas
RRP $17 from Costco

The name sounds faux, but in fact it an estate of some importance. This Beaujolais co-operative was formed in 1934 by 44 viticulteurs with 44 ha of vines.

Today, the estate vinifies the harvest of 250 ha of vines from 110 members, with a total production of approx 145,000 dozen.

From Fleurie, one of the 10 crus of Beaujolais, this has an impressive deep red colour.

The slightly subdued nose has some dark red fruits showing with just enough of the classic Beaujolais lift to identify as same. The palate has good texture and intensity, with the flavours a satisfying melange of dark red and blacker fruits with cherry pip acidity to close.

It just lacks a little brightness/excitement to be really good, however still enjoyable and ridiculously cheap for a Cru Beaujolais.

2015 Castello di Albola Chianti Classico
RRP $25 from Dan Murphy’s

This blend of 95% Sangiovese and 5% canaiolo (a white) is a winner.

Clean-as-a-whistle lifted red fruits aromas. The palate has a bright and lively attack of cherry fruit flavours which continue evenly through to a medium-bodied mid palate of excellent intensity.

Really nice length with the fruit coating the tannins all the way throughout the long finish which the crisp acidity supports and keeps fresh. Perfectly delicious example of Chianti Classico and at this price, a genuine bargain. Molto bene!

2016 Blackstone Paddock Barossa Valley Shiraz
RRP $18 from Aldi

Impressively intense, deep black-red appearance. The nose is straightforwardly ripe and black-curranty. Palate has very good depth of easy-going Ribena and dark cherry flavours of pleasing length.

Like the white stablemate reviewed above, there’s nothing overly complex about this, but it is well made and exhibits enough vigour and character to deliver pretty good satisfaction, especially at the price.

User-friendly and very good value.

2016 Saint Cosme Cotes-du-Rhône
RRP $18 from Wesfarmers’ First Choice Liquor

From a heralded vintage for the Southern Rhône comes this 100% shiraz from a producer of some repute. Deep red, youthful appearance.

Nose is full of dark fruits, a bit of meatiness and a slight touch of h2s (aka rotten egg, which cleaned up immediately by adding a 1c coin to the glass).

The juicy flavours are lively and thirst quenching with the racy sour cherry and mineral characters lingering nicely. Again, user friendly and happily recommended at the price.

2016 Deep Woods Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec, Margaret River W.A.
RRP $50 from Wesfarmers’ Vintage Cellars

This is a ”vineyard selection” done exclusively for Coles. Vibrant dark crimson red. The bouquet has plenty of dark red and black fruits on display with back notes of spice.

This is really quite stylish. Plush, vigourous dark red fruit flavours on entry which progress to a mid palate with complex flavours, belying a melange of creamy dark chocolate, black currants and bay leaf backnotes.

This finishes long and fragrant with perfectly integrated firm tannins. Quality Margaret River cabernet is rarely found inexpensively, and this is no exception.

MV Père Anselme “La Fiole du Pape” Chateauneuf-du-Pape
RRP $40 from Costco

Some oddities here; firstly the proprietary bottle shape, which was introduced in 1952, fashioned to represent the regions gnarly twisted vines and complete with faux dust of golden anthracite grey powder meant to symbolise times past.

Secondly this Chateauneuf is never from one vintage with this being 60-70% from the 2016 vintage and the balance from reserve wines up to 5-years-old. Grenache dominant with syrah, cinsault and mourvèdre making up the blend.

Dark cherry red, looks virile. Palate has excellent weight on entry, palate is chock full of savoury red fruit characters. Grippy, mineral, sauvage notes to close.

Persistent and aromatic aftertaste. Very nice wine, just lacks some genuine high note excitement to be excellent.

Nonetheless a bargain priced Chateauneuf and a handy wine. You just have to get your head around the wacky bottle and the non-vintage element.

* Frank Wilden is a retail food strategist and a “lapsed” restaurateur whose love of wine began nearly four decades ago.

He believes that on the road to wine nirvana, if you don’t end up in Burgundy you have probably taken a wrong turn somewhere.

This is his final column for Business Insider. Cheers Frank!

Get in touch with him via @thefrankreport on Twitter

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