Cheers: drink up and don’t break the bank
Spread your vinous horizons this Christmas and you will find buying wines at competitive prices can be a real treat, says Giles Kime
Thanks to the recent strides in quality achieved by wine makers, particularly in France, Italy and Spain, festive belt-tightening no longer has to mean resigning yourself to dull, insipid wines.
The secret lies in avoiding offers of bargain wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy and Châteauneuf-du-Pape that are cheap but rarely cheerful. The name of a famous region might be a reassuring presence on a label but when the wine tastes like battery acid, it has a somewhat hollow ring. Instead, use the credit crunch as an opportunity to expand your vinous horizons by exploring styles of wine that are delicious in their own right, rather than having ideas above their station.
In previous economic downturns it was this pragmatic approach that led to British love affairs with Rioja, Chianti and Bulgarian cabernet sauvignon. The result is that not only will you substantially cut your spending, you’ll also discover new flavours and aromas. Claret There are plenty of wines that are passable substitutes for the elegant flavours and aromas of claret. Thirty years ago, a combination of recession and spiralling prices in Bordeaux, precipitated a passion for less expensive Rioja that offers similarly delicate, mature flavours that go well with
WHITES Alternatives to the classics abound. They include from the left, Tesco’s Gavi, the Reach Marlborough sauvignon blanc, Tesco Denman sémillon, La Grille sauvignon blanc, De Bortoli sémillon, Moncaro Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, Colterenzio pinot grigio, and Sainsbury’s white burgundy
festive staples such as turkey and roast beef. Delicious wines such as Olarra Classico Rioja crianza 2005 (£5.99, Sainsbury’s) and Rioja “Single Vineyard” 2006 (£7.99, as part of a case, Majestic) mean that there’s a high chance that history will repeat itself.
For those with a taste for the more forthright, plummier flavours of youthful, sprightly claret, head south where wines such as Château de Surville 2006 (£7.99, Mark & Spencer) combines syrah with grenache to create rounded, subtle flavours that make the perfect festive red. For a little more subtlety try the Enclos des Pins merlot 2007 (£5.99, Marks & Spencer).
Further afield, you’ll find glossy, berryish wines such as the excellent Graffigna malbec 2007 (£5.99, Sainsbury’s) from Argentina. Red burgundy Those accustomed to the sensual delights of a bottle of Nuits-Saint-Georges at Christmas might be tempted by its far flung relative in New Zealand. But while New Zealand pinot noir is made from the same grape variety, its full-on flavours might overwhelm the palate of anyone used to the more polite character of a decent red burgundy.
But you need look no further than Burgundy itself for some pretty passable substitutes such as the Bouchard Ainé et Fils pinot noir 2007 (£5.99, Sainsbury’s). Further west, in the Loire, often overlooked reds such as the Les Nivières 2006/07 (£5.99, Waitrose) offers deep, damsony layers of flavour, hard to find at this price.
Anyone who hasn’t recently experienced the berryish delights of northern Italian reds should try the mouthfilling Tesco Finest valpolicella ripasso 2005 (£5.99,
(Decanter.com) Tesco). Another burgundy substitute worth considering is the easy-going, perennially delicious Cono Sur pinot noir 2007 (£5.99, Sainsbury’s) from Chile. White burgundy Because even premier cru white burgundy can be underwhelming, the reasons for looking elsewhere aren’t purely economic. But before you do, consider some of the more modest home grown bargains such as Sainsbury’s
white burgundy 2007 (£5.49, Sainsbury’s) that offers crisp, lemony flavours perfect for those who love the austere but refreshing whites. Palates of a similar bent will enjoy the cheap Italian whites such as the simple but satisfying Moncaro 2007 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi (£4.69, Waitrose) or the refreshing, satisfying flavours of new wave whites such as the Colterenzio Alto Adige pinot grigio 2007 (£7.19, Tesco).
Australian sémillon is another white that delivers plenty of flavour. Tesco also has two examples in different styles; the supercharged De Bortoli All Rounder sémillon 2002 (£7.19) and the more restrained, nutty Tesco Finest Denman Vineyard Reserve sémillon 2006 (£7.99). Rich, Rhône reds While it’s tempting to substitute the deep layered flavours of a wine from
Châteauneuf-du-Pape with a full throttle Barossa Valley shiraz, there is a danger that it will swamp the subtle flavours. Wines such as Les Oris rouge 2007 (£7.99, Marks & Spencer), the Côtes du Rhône Villages Maurice 2007 (£5.99, Marks & Spencer) and the Beaumes de Venise 2007, Cave de Saint Desirat (£7.99, as part of a case, Majestic) offer a restrained, peppery character that is a more sympathetic partner to food. For a richer, glossier character, try Winemakers’ Lot carmenère “Puemo Lot 32” (£8.99, as part of a case, Majestic).
Supermarkets might have cornered the market in midprice champagne, yet many tend to be a pale reflection of the classic combination of citrussy freshness and biscuity aromas offered by a glass of Pol Roger or Taittinger. When money is tight, it is wiser to steer clear of champagne and embrace the delights of prosecco, a sparkling wine with no higher aspirations than being delicate and pleasingly refreshing. Three great examples are the La Marca NV prosecco (£6.99, Waitrose), the Tesco Finest prosecco di Valdobbiadene brut (£8.99, Tesco) and Taste the Difference prosecco (£8.99 Sainbury’s). For Venetian flair, add a dash of peach juice.
Champagne snobs seem to be less sniffy about pink sparkling wine, so you could also try the refreshing, raspberryish Codorníu pinot noir rosé cava (£8.99, Sainsbury’s) which makes a palate-reviving partner to fruit-based puddings.
Those with a weakness for sancerre and pouilly-fumé will find them in abundance in southern hemisphere sauvignons such as the Reach Marlborough sauvignon blanc 2008 (£7.99, Tesco) from New Zealand and the Springfield Estate special cuvée sauvignon blanc 2008 (£8.99, Sainsbury’s). But if it’s grassy freshness and minerality that you love in a Loire sauvignon, the region also offers its own bargains such as the La Grille classic sauvignon blanc 2007 (£7.25, Waitrose). Alternatively, enjoy the relaxed, refreshing character of an Italian white such the Tesco Finest Gavi 2007 (£6.99, Tesco). While there is no substitute for the heady aromas and flavours of Laphroaig or Talisker, Bailie Nicol Jarvie, pictured left, (£14.49, Waitrose) has 60 per cent of Speyside, Highland and Islay malts. It’s the thinking person’s blended whisky.
There are plenty of cheap and cheery alternatives to ethereal delights of Sauternes from the unctuous, grapey Lustau moscatel de chipiona, pictured above, (£4.49, 50cl, Waitrose) to the fresh, vibrant Concha y Toro late harvest sauvignon blanc 2005 (£5.99, 37.5 cl, as part of a case, Majestic). But the prize for best value must go to the honeyed Muscat de Saint Jean de Minervois (£3.99, 37.5cl, Sainsbury’s).
While there are plenty of inexpensive ports around few offer the subtlety of £30 bottle of vintage port. For sheer indulgence, opt instead for the Taste The Difference 12 Year Pedro Ximenez (£7.19, 50cl, Sainsbury’s) best described as sticky toffee pudding in a bottle. Or discover the delights of the Vin Santo del Chianti Rufina, Villa di Monte 1990 (£16.99, Marks & Spencer).
Even top-of-the-range fino such as Tio Pepe is arguably one of the best value wines which makes Hildago La Gitana manzanilla, pictured above, (£7.49, Waitrose) seem like a steal. Serve ice cold with toasted almonds. It makes a great alternative to festive fizz.
Delicious wines need not cost a fortune. Our choice includes, from the left, Tesco valpolicella ripasso, Olarra Classico Rioja crianza, Les Orris rouge, Rioja ‘Single Vineyard’, Bouchard Ainé et Fils pinot noir, St Maurice Côtes du Rhône Villages, Les Nivières saumur, Cave de Saint Desirat Beaumes de Venise, Winemaker’s Lot carmenère, Château de Surville and Cono Sur pinot noir
Wines that bubble with character include, from the left, Codorníu pinot noir rosé cava and proseccos from Waitrose, Sainsbury’s