The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - The Telegraph Magazine
Victoria Moore A wine romance
The British pursue cheap wine so keenly that finding the most inexpensive bottle we can manage to ‘get down’ could almost be considered a national pastime. We’re good at it, too, though of course it helps that there are plenty of extremely good inexpensive wines on the high street. As a result, a mere four per cent of wine in the UK retails at over £10, according to market analyst Nielsen, and while there is a caveat – as commentator Chris Losh points out, ‘the data behind this figure does not include many independents and some online businesses where prices are higher’ – supermarkets sell so much of the wine we drink that it paints a pretty accurate brushstroke picture.
So what happens when you want a different sort of drinking experience – let’s call it the full cinematic, rather than clips on Youtube on an iphone? Some stroll down to the cellar and reach for one of the bottles their private wine buyer Hugo suggested in his latest email, or a burgundy they bought years ago, en primeur. For others, trained only on discounts and low prices, there’s very often a system malfunction. I’m often asked for advice on buying £15+ bottles, and Valentine’s Day this week has acted as a bit of a prompt, so here goes.
Spending more on wine works better if you give yourself time to do it properly. Don’t just dump a £15 or £20 bottle in your trolley at Aldi. If you like buying online then find a website that suits you and make time to browse.
I’ll suggest a few. The Wine Barn is excellent for those who love German wines. Yapp is brilliant on Corsica, the Loire, the Rhône, southern France. The buyers at Haynes Hanson & Clark favour wines that are fresh, finely delineated and fragrant (try Scorpo Noirien Pinot Noir from the Mornington Peninsula in Australia, 13.5%, £25.30 – dreamy with a homemade burger). Those with traditional tastes (Chablis, Bordeaux, and so on) who also like modern classics (Margaret River, South Africa) could check out Private Cellar (try Lenton Brae Southside Chardonnay 2019 – 13%, £18.50 – with prawn cocktail, or Château Julia Assyrtiko 2021 – 13.5%, £18.50 – with crab linguine) and Lay & Wheeler (its very tempting emails will introduce you to parcels of wine that sell out fast).
Which raises another point: smaller production wines tend not to be constantly available, so be prepared to buy wines you like the sound of when you see them rather than when you hope to drink them. For instance, I love Chianti Classico and once bought a mixed box of wines from Riecine, Fontodi and Felsina from The Wine Society the moment a new vintage dropped, knowing they wouldn’t be in stock for long (The Wine Society currently has the beautiful Fontodi Chianti Classico 2019, 14.5%, £22.50; I’d pair it with leg of lamb).
Another good website, particularly for more contemporary wines, is The Sourcing Table. Strong on Spain and South Africa, it stocks a broad range of orange wines and seeks out wines with organic or sustainable credentials.
And, of course, there are local wine shops. Mine is Lea & Sandeman, which is brilliant on northern Italy, Champagne and Bordeaux, but has quirkier wines too (like the Quinta da Romaneira wines from Portugal, great with steak). If you have a good wine shop nearby, explore it. If you repeat-visit, you may well find someone there who learns your taste and becomes a personal wine guide.