Waitrose holds two press tastings every year, one in the spring and one in the autumn, to showcase new lines, new vintages and new innovations. The autumn 2023 tasting included 42 entirely new lines and 31 new vintages of existing lines.
In Decanter’s 2023 Retailer Awards, Waitrose was once again runner-up in the Supermarket of the Year category, just pipped at the post by Marks & Spencer. It was also runner-up in the England & Wales Specialist Retailer of the Year category, as it does great work for English and Welsh wine by offering a diverse selection from these areas.
The supermarket’s buyers have added some fantastic new choices for the festive season, with a wide selection from classic regions such as Bordeaux, Rhône and across Italy, as well as a smattering of more esoteric examples or little-known wine regions.
A period of warmth and sunshine into September meant that Waitrose’s red wine sales were slower than expected for this time of year as shoppers ‘were trading into rosé for longer,’ says Waitrose wine buyer Poppy de Courcy-Wheeler. However with the autumnal weather returning, Waitrose now has some excellent choices of fuller-bodied reds and richer whites on offer.
Fuller styles for winter
The stylistic melting pot of the south of France has much to offer and a particular highlight from the tasting was the Waitrose, Loved & Found Carignan Blanc, and de Courcy-Wheeler says ‘this is the sort of parcel which to me is really exciting, and I would like to do more of these style projects’.
Fuller-bodied, more opulent whites are a great pick for chillier weather and hearty food, so the Les Vins de Vienne, St-Péray – a Marsanne/Roussanne blend whose concentrated and creamy notes of peach and honeysuckle are balanced by nutty complexity – is a top choice.
The supermarket has brought in a number of wines especially for the festive period, hitting the nail on the head with the Bordeaux parcel this year: at £15.99, the Château Liversan, Haut-Médoc 2015 is the one to buy, with its ripe cassis fruit well balanced with its tertiary characters. Not only that, it is also included in the 1o at £10 selection, meaning shoppers will be able to snap it up for just £10 a bottle when the promotion starts.
A few other strong classics would make snazzy additions to the dinner table this Christmas, such as the Domaine Chatelain, Pouilly-Fumé 2022, whose bright aromatics and weighty palate make it a great food wine, ‘which feels appropriate for the time of year,’ says Waitrose wine buyer Imogen Bowen-Davies
Waitrose’s full wine range hasn’t grown, but the new lines and new vintages have filled out areas that might otherwise have been gaps. As a result, ‘what we have done over the last year, and will continue to do a little bit, is just slim down the range’, says Jamie Matthewson, wine trading manager at the retailer. At the same time, the team is also looking to ‘make the fine wine range more fine’, he says.
The place to look for more esoteric wines, older vintages or something a bit more niche is Waitrose Cellar, which does list wines that are not available in any of the shops.
Waitrose’s Loved & Found range remains a source of interesting and great value wines from lesser-known grape varieties, well worth discovering. The ever-changing range currently includes an exotically aromatic Zibibbo white from Sicily (£8.99), ideal to pair with spicy dishes.
Waitrose has plans to expand its Blueprint and No 1 ranges next year, aiming to bring good quality, lighter alcohol wine from more unknown regions under the umbrella of these reliable ranges, for example Eastern Europe, Greece and Portugal which are all growing in popularity with the retailer’s customers.
The ethical consumer
Waitrose places real importance on sustainability. It continues to move more and more of its range from small glass bottles to cans, saving 320 tonnes of glass per year from its supply chain. According to Matthewson, this category continues to grow, as does bag-in-box, thanks to the quality of the wine that can now be found in this packaging. He says that there’s a different generation of people who don’t see the format as anything other than simply packaging.
It has also recently introduced capsule-less bottles, particularly to the Loved & Found range. It is the first UK supermarket to remove plastic and foil sleeves from the bottle necks, in a bid to cut unnecessary packaging, and it estimates that it will cut the amount of packaging used by half a tonne annually.
Waitrose is also invested in reducing the weight of its wine bottles and has committed to reduce the average bottle weight across the range for 75cl to 420g by the end of 2026.
Waitrose & Partners: top buys this autumn
The recommendations that follow are a mix of new wines and new vintages tasted by Natalie Earl in October 2023 at the Waitrose Autumn 2023 press tasting in London, and wines tasted by the Decanter tastings team at previous press tastings that are still available. All bottle prices are correct at time of publication. Wines are grouped by style and ordered by score, in descending order.