While independent wine merchants remain the go-to choice for a small portion of the wine-drinking public, in the UK it’s the national high-street chains and supermarkets which continue to attract the lion’s share of wine sales. Accessibility, price and the ability to fling a few bottles into the trolley along with the weekly shop all play into the hands of the big operators. And there’s seemingly no better time than now to hit the high street and pick up some bottles of Italian wine – despite Brexit-related supply chain concerns, the global pandemic has helped to kickstart a shift in consumer behaviour to which the high street has been quick to react.
A trend towards premiumisation allied with an increased appetite for experimentation was borne of the pandemic’s ‘stay-at-home’ mantra, during which time consumers increased their per-bottle spend on wine to drink at home. ‘Spend levels appear to have risen in the second half of 2020 as the initial shock of the pandemic wore off,’ notes a December 2020 report from analyst Wine Intelligence. And a market report from the UK’s Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) covering the 12 months to 27 March 2021 supports this, showing that wine sales across all price brackets from £3-£4 up to £10-plus were in growth year-on-year, with healthy double-figure increases in all categories from £6 up.
In this context, Italy was the world’s leading exporter of wine in 2020, according to market data providers Statista, exporting 20.8 million hectolitres worldwide. With its myriad varieties and styles, Italian wines have been perfectly positioned to benefit from this new consumer trend.
‘Italian wine is very popular with Tesco customers, with the favourite being Pinot Grigio [starting at £4.50],’ said Charlotte Lemoine, wine product development manager for France, Italy, Germany and sparkling at Tesco, the UK’s biggest supermarket chain with 4,008 stores nationwide last year (Statista). ‘There seems to be a trend of customers favouring the richer, more flavourful styles of premium Pinot Grigio. This premium trend is also true for reds and other white varieties, as customers are clearly enjoying exploring the numerous Italian grapes and styles, instead of basing decisions on low price points,’ she added.
Majestic Wine, Decanter Retailer Awards 2021 National Wine Shop category winner, opened its 201st store last July. ‘We see customers who are happy to trade into more premium wines from well-known areas such as Gavi and Soave, but are also venturing into other premium wine areas such as Lugana,’ says Majestic buyer Elizabeth Kelly MW. ‘The £10-£15 price point is particularly strong.’
There have been marked improvements in quality across the board in Italian wines over the last couple of decades. With growers and winemakers moving to organic or sustainable practices and adopting modern techniques in the cellar, the biggest beneficiaries have arguably been wines at the lower end of the price spectrum. Majestic currently offers more than 70 organic wines, including 16 from Italy. ‘We have tried to offer a breadth of organic options in different styles,’ explains Kelly.
Of the 20 wines selected by Decanter’s editorial team for this feature, it’s good to see some wines from less well- represented regions – including Campania, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Marche. Eleven of the 20 wines scored 90pts or higher, while nine wines didn’t even break the £10 barrier – Aldi’s Specially Selected Lugana (£6.99) and Morrisons’ The Best Negroamaro (£7.25) stand out as particularly good value given the quality on offer. The wines on the following pages are, of course, only
a tiny cross-section of what is available in 2022, but it’s heartening to see that the UK high street is enabling consumers to experience more of Italy’s diverse and wonderful wines.
High Street Italy: great choices under £20
Wines are grouped by style and shown in score order, in descending order