Now belt-tightening has moved from being a fashion statement to a way of life it is vital to keep the spirits up while managing to find something worth drinking within a budget.
One of the best pieces of news is that Waitrose have cut their wine prices by 25 per cent across the whole range when you buy six bottles. Because this announcement was so secret I wasn’t able to give you details before it launched but the offer lasts until Tuesday the 18th, so you have several days left in which to stock up.
So what should you put in your trolley? Start off in front of the fortified wines and reach for a bottle of Apostoles Palo from Gonzalez Byass (normally £16.99).
This is a fabulous sherry that originally started off as a fino and then darkened to become almost an oloroso. The result is a dark, nutty sherry, rich and complex with notes of caramel and chocolate, although it is perfectly dry. For me this is an essential bottle to have on stand-by for cold weather since it permeates from glass to toes in the shortest possible time, warming the tonsils on the way.
Whilst you are considering fortifieds, now is the time to buy a bottle of port because it is the perfect accompaniment to the chocolate puddings that will inevitably be served up at winter dinner parties and any left overs can be enjoyed on a Sunday afternoon in front of the fire. I recently tasted Taylors Quinta de Vargellas 2001 (normally £28.99) which is on top form with deep black fruit and hints of liquorice and chocolate.
This is a single estate port, made at the beautiful estate high in the Douro valley where many of the grapes are foot-trodden in the traditional way, however since I last trod the Taylors’ vintage in 1997, you can be safe in the knowledge that my feet have been nowhere near the 2001 Vargellas.
The difficulty with vintage port is that it tends to lose its immediate fruit after opening and won’t last in the bottle like wood-aged ports. If you want to drink your port over several weekends, although no port should be kept from one winter to the next, then head for Taylors LBV 2004 (normally £13.49) which has typical soft, red berry fruit and a layer of spice.
With the heating on and logs stacked in the yard, I plan to drink more reds than whites in the coming months.
The temptation during any general offer is to buy the even better-value cheapies but in fact it makes more sense to trade up in quality instead and drink better, not cheaper.
With a sherry and a port already in my case, here are my suggestions for the rest of the spaces. Guigal Côtes du Rhône 2007, normally £9.99.
This used to be thought of as a junior version of Guigal’s famous northern Rhône wines, but now he has enough vineyards to supply his Côtes du Rhône and with average vine age of around 35 years and Guigal’s famous low yields, it is hardly surprising that this fairly ordinary appellation wine is chock full of lively, spicy fruit with layers of complexity that puts it streets ahead of most Côtes du Rhônes.
Poggiotondo Cerro del Masso 2008 Chianti, normally £8.99. Alberto Antonino is much-travelled wine consultant in demand at many top estates, but this is his own 50 hectare property close-planted with his own selection of Sangiovese clones. With low yields and careful winemaking he makes this cherry-spiked, truffles and earthy complex wine that will sit alongside a lasagne with ease.
La Rioja Alta Viña Arana 2004, normally £19.99. Push the boat out and grab a bottle of this while you can because it will be fabulous during the festive season. Made by one of the best, old-fashioned Rioja producers, it has been aged in American oak for three years but that process has hardly made an impression on the palate. Smooth, ripe raspberry and blackberry fruit, with an elegant, long finish makes this a wine to savour.
Waitrose Douro Valley Reserva Quinta da Rosa 2009, Portugal, normally £10.69. A partnership wine, blended just for Waitrose by one of the Douro’s top producers, this has all the dark plum fruitiness with structuring tannins and a touch of spice.
Cousiño-Macul Antiguas Reservas Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Chile, normally £9.99. This is the old-style of Chilean Cabernet with leather-wrapped plums and a touch of chocolate but it is a terrific match against a peppered steak.
Rustenberg John X Merriman 2008, South Africa, normally £12.49. A Bordeaux blend from one of South Africa’s top producers, this has a sheen of elegance as well as ripe red-berried fruit and a firm, creamy density of flavour.
Waitrose Chablis 2010, normally £10.49. This fairly ordinary-sounding Chablis has style and quality well above its price point so it makes sense to buy while you can get a bargain. Crisp, minerally fruit with the ability to develop.
La Vieille Ferme 2010, Luberon, France, normally £7.49. A fascinating blend of Southern French white grapes that gives a honeysuckle and herbal effect which goes wonderfully with food.
Saint Clair’s Vicar’s Choice Sauvignon Blanc 2010, New Zealand, normally £9.99. Vibrant with zesty, gooseberry fruit and enough concentration to make this a good foodie wine.
Waitrose Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne, normally £22.99. This is a great champagne, even at its full price so stock up while it is on offer. Made from 100 per cent Chardonnay fruit, this has lime and hazelnut tones with creamy flavours and a long, precise, elegant finish.
Prices quoted are the latest regular prices I have. This deal is also available online when you buy 12 bottles (www.waitrose.com/wine).