This past month the Wine Wanderers have been mainly drinking Bordeaux. This is an unusual state of affairs, as while we’ve had our socks knocked off in the past by exquisite swigs of Pauillac, Ma…
This past month the Wine Wanderers have been mainly drinking Bordeaux. This is an unusual state of affairs, as while we’ve had our socks knocked off in the past by exquisite swigs of Pauillac, Margaux, Pomerol and Saint-Emilion, it’s been 20 years since we felt like investing a small fortune in a famous-name bottle.
The reason is that the elegance of these wines from houses which have been in the wine-making business for hundreds of years has led to many becoming investment vehicles which are now horribly over-valued. The wine may be good, but not so great that you can’t find much better value from star winemakers in other parts of France, not to mention Spain, Italy, Israel and the New World.
Nevertheless, we jumped at the chance to taste a few glasses of Chateau Angelus, one of the most famous Saint-Emilions, whose wines command three figures per bottle. One Wanderer had already met Stephanie de Bouard-Rivoal, the eighth-generation chatelaine now taking the helm at a house established in 1782. That was in Bordeaux itself; this time it was in London, at a Connaught lunch to launch a handsome tome Angelus has produced about its history.
The cost of lavishly entertaining wine writers and drinks buyers at meals cooked by Michelin-starred chefs is part of keeping these big names alive at a time when wine-lovers are gaining confidence no longer seek a prestige name as a badge of approval. Although the reds of Saint-Emilion and Pomerol, which rely heavily on merlot, are less likely to disappoint those shelling out than the left bank wines of the Medoc peninsula which are based much more heavily on cabernet sauvignon – one of the five permitted grapes in a classic Bordeaux blend along with cabernet franc, petit verdot, merlot and malbec. The result of cab sauv domination is lots of structure and ageing potential, but also heavy tannins which can take years to soften and become approachable.
One answer is to explore the“diffusion” wines of the grand chateaux, like the Carillon d’Angelus 2012, a mere snip at £42 per bottle, the Wanderers would happily have chosen to imbibe over the grand 2008 and 2006 vintages which followed, and which command three-figure sums. Angelus has a distinctive character, thanks to an unusually large proportion of cabernet franc; it is more elegant but less seductive than most right bank wines, which are almost universally voluptuous.
A good way to explore Bordeaux without breaking the bank is to invest £10 to £20 in a bottle from the high street, where superior buying power can bring the cost down a tad. Lidl, who made headlines a couple of years ago with an affordable “claret offensive”, is fielding a decent enough Chateau Jean de Gue Lalande de Pomerol 2012, £14.99, but more sumptuous is Marks & Spencer’s Moueix Saint-Emiliion at £14. Extraordinary value this month is Watirose Saint-Emilion, normally £13.49 but a positive steal on promotion at £9.99 from March 16 to April 12 – the perfect partner for your Easter lamb.
M&S also fields a lovely Margaux – Chateau Notton 2012 – but while a great special occasion bottle, it’s not exactly everyday drinking. That’s the thing about Bordeaux; mostly you have to pay dear for it, and you have to like that slightly austere inkiness which is the opposite of the easy-drinking, fruit-driven wine we have all become used to quaffing for single figures.
What to drink with Valentine’s Day dinner? Marketing hype says it ought to be fizz, still or sparkling pink or at the very least a red or white with a heart on its label.
So far, so cliched; what you really want is a sexy wine which will perfectly complement the aphrodisiac feast you plan to serve – or to enjoy as an aperitif before a dinner out. In respect of the former, pink sparkling wine is hard to beat; generally less acid than white, it immediately creates a festive air and provides a feast for the eyes as well as a tickle for the tastebuds.
Champagne is no longer de rigeur now that we’re growing our own fizz, and it’s hard to beat a sparkling rose from Chapel Down. But if the real thing is desired for its ooh-la-la cachet, Lanson rose is a bargain this week on promotion at £25 from Sainsburys.
Still rose is always a joy when well-made, particularly the gorgeous pale golden pinks from Provence. You’re unlikely to find any of the Miraval made by Brangelina till spring- inevitably this small production sells out every year – but you could try the delicate violet-pink Pure from the similarly-named Mirabeau at Waitrose; not cheap at £12.99 but elegant.
Mirabeau is owned by an English couple, ironic considering that the English are doing a pretty good job with still rose themselves. The Wanderers enjoyed the Broadwoods Folly, £7.99 at Lidl who have added three English wines to their selection for the first time.
Although rose is an apt partner for chicken, white meats and spicy food, if you have your heart set on oysters, you’ll want a decent white. One Wanderer believes nothing but Chablis will do for oysters, but the other thinks the money would be better spent on Sainsburys Taste the Difference Sancerre, a sensational example of the genre at £13. It will also work with asparagus, the other most-touted aphrodisiac food, which M&S have managed to get from their British growers in time for this year’s Valentines weekend.
A bottle with a heart on the label which would also partner asparagus is the Bordeaux sauvignon blanc known as Good Ordinary White from Berry Brothers & Rudd, who got Paul Smith to design a special Valentines Day label for this and their Good Ordinary Claret. While the white is lovely, the red suffers like most claret under £10 from being too young for full enjoyment. To accompany steak or duck, better to splash out a fully developed voluptuous wine from southern Europe – the excellent Ribera del Duero by Condado del Hazo, £15 at Sainsburys or the austerely elegant Terre del Barolo from Waitrose, £18.79. These are pricey treats, but decent reds from the New World are available at Lidl for less, including Lodi zinfandel from California, £4.99, and Axis cabernet sauvignon from Margaret River in Australia, home of great reds, for £6.49.
For value and reliability, you can’t beat the “i heart” range which is a lynchpin of convenience store shelves. Despite the rather naff label, most are eminently quaffable and true to variety, with the exception of the sauv blanc, which tastes suspiciously sweet – added sugar to please girly palates? A nice enough drop for an aperitif, but keep it away from the oysters!
The festive season started with some extraordinary fizz for The Wine Wanderers, continuing with a few excellent red wines which have reminded us what spectacular value the high street can offer.
First, the fizz – and none are more festive to look at than the exquisite hand-painted bottles and flutes which distinguish Perrier Jouet(pronounce that Jou-ETT), the favourite Champagne of Grace Kelly and Coco Chanel. The brand has just taken over the Winter Garden of The Sanderson, one of London’s buzziest drinking destinations, for a season of old-fashioned fizz served the old-fashioned way. For £65 a couple can enjoy a glass each of the spectacular Belle Epoque 2007 with a taste of Oscietra caviar, a pairing that always works. The non-vintage Grand Brut is only £15 a glass, but frankly no match for the spectacular Belle Epoque.
We saw in Christmas Day with more fizz, another spectacular vintage bottle from Veuve Cliquot, but the star of our feast was inevitably a rich red wine. Sainsburys Taste the Difference 2012 Amarone made a spectacular partner for our turkey and is worth grabbing while on promotion at £14 until New Years Day. Had we feasted on beef, we would have paired it with the Waitrose In Partnership Reserve Shiraz from St. Hallett, an elegant drop at £11.99.
It’s hard to beat supermarkets on price for still wines, given their buying power, and the quality you can get for under £10 is staggering. One of the best reds we’ve tasted this year was pinotage from Morrisons. The M Signature label was worth every penny of £6.99 for a rich red which Decanter rightly awarded Gold, and the everyday value version which just picked up its own medal in the International Wine & Spirit Competition is ridiculously good value at £4. This is a store whose own-label wine(like its meat department, also to be recommended) should be regularly checked out – out of nine new medals they won in the IWSC, seven were for wines costing less than £5; they include the excellent Morrisons own-label South African merlot which took Silver.
Lidl is no longer a well-kept secret, especially for lovers of affordable luxury, and we’ve greatly enjoyed being able to buy Californian zinfandel, one of our favourite grapes, there for £4.99 a bottle, less than half what a red this good should cost, while stocks last. The only problem with Lidl wines is that when they’re gone they’re gone, but their huge buying power means a great new raft of fine wine bargains will always follow; this store also had its fair share of IWSC winners.
Of course judging wine is subjective, and what shocks the experts can still please the punters. The Wine Wanderers’ guilty supermarket pleasure of the year was Apothic Red, a blend of zinfandel, merlot and petite syrah which has been sweetened up in production by industrial wine-makers Gallo, but to us seems the essence of the California we once lived in enjoying affordable but well-made homegrown wines, whence this blend came. Six out of seven Sainsburys shoppers who reviewed it loved it too( though one agreed with wine critics who deplore the added sugar), and it’s on promotion there at £8 till New Years Day. You may also find it at ASDA and Tesco.